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The First Mile

If you find yourself hating running and quitting early, just keep at it. Running takes time to be enjoyable. It’s not a surgical strike; it’s a war of attrition.” –Matthew Inman

I used to hate running. To be honest, sometimes I still do. For the first 18 odd-years of my life, running translated loosely, meant punishment. For the last few years, I’ve found myself to be helplessly obsessed with running. Why? I’m still not quite sure. However, what I can tell you is that over this time frame, I’ve picked up on a few things.

Whether you’ve never run a step in your life or you’re a seasoned veteran, I’m going to give you my best sales pitch to convince you why running should be (or remain) an anchor in your life. Below is the ~short~ and sweet version of what I’ve compiled in my experience, best called a “Field Guide” that I recommend you reference whenever you have any questions about strategies, plans, and much more. graphics from “I Hate Running and You Can Too” a short read by Brendan Leonard that I can’t recommend enough

Training Plans

If, after reading the field guide, you’re thinking “Wow, what an intriguing challenge that I’ve always wondered if I could do. I’d love to try and run a 5k, 10k, or marathon while supporting my friend/acquaintance/masochistic and long-winded stranger“, the below plans/coaching services will help you get there!

These plans cover every skill level and distance, which have been created from my personal experiences in training/coaching. All you’ll need to do is choose what plan is right for you, fill out a quick Google Form, and you’ll be off and running, quite literally!


Overview

First, I’ll discuss a bit about what has kept me so addicted to the sport and what I’ve come to realize through personal experiences (and injuries). Next, I’ll brush up on a more detailed explanation of training exercises, nutrition/fueling, and tactics that, if they don’t deter you from the sport, will help increase your pleasure in running. At the end, there will be resources where you can waste countless hours scrolling through blogs and Instagram posts which won’t make you any faster or skinnier, but might help contextualize the way a runner thinks.

Always remember, running always ends up being less about staying in physical shape, but more about the compounding benefits that will ripple throughout your daily life. There hasn’t been a single day in the last few years where I felt like any run benefitted me more physically than it did mentally. Nike Master Trainer Joe Holder talks about running being a gateway drug towards positivity: “If I can run, I can meditate. If I can run and meditate, then I might as well eat mostly healthy. If I can run, meditate and eat healthy, then I can certainly do my best at work and home.”

A likely scenario:

Day 1

“I can’t WAIT to get out for my run this morning.”

Day 2

“This is miserable and I hate everything and everyone.”

It would be a mistake to assume that the initial excitement of a running program will extend past a few short days, or weeks at most. The pump-up music, the motivational videos, the incentives you’ve laid out and the “rah-rah” spirit dissolve faster than cotton candy in water (if this reference doesn’t make sense, let me enlighten you with –>THIS<– video). At this point, you’re left alone with your new best friends: burning lungs, gallons of coffee, pessimistic mental chatter, bruised toenails, sore joints, far too much dirty laundry, and a surreal sense of self-awareness. 

Yes, it’s awful, but it’s your awful. Sure you’re hurting, but in mere moments this window you’ve opened will close. The uncertainty induced by this discomfort isn’t a problem, it’s the point. Hover here. Make space for yourself. Like the calloused edge of a runner’s foot that’s accustom to impact, this mental rehearsal develops protection from the waves of shock you’ll encounter while racing, working or just daily life. 

What started as the method to improve as an athlete has become the simplest way to cut through all of life’s bullshit; using a hill, a path or a track to return you to the essence of yourself. You’re here right now, legs burning, mind screaming, tiptoeing along the cusp of failure because inviting this suffering builds strength and embracing this vulnerability provides peace.  Welcome.” – Peter Bromka

I’ve found distance running to be different than any other type of sport or workout I’ve ever completed. You can’t approach distance runs with anger or frustration like you might have been able to during high school football practice (albeit during sprint workouts, this might be necessary). I always recommend you first approach it with ease and caution. Make your first mile your slowest mile. Get to know what it feels like to run. Get to know what it feels like to run when you’re sore. Get to know how great food tastes after a run and how fast you are able to fall asleep after your long run day.

Unless you’re headed out for a highly specified high-effort run, be patient, don’t kill yourself within the first ten minutes you head out the door. Every run is going to be different than the last. Just like in life, some days you will go out and feel like you’re invincible. Other days you’ll wonder whether cutting your sleep short to run a seemingly arbitrary distance at 6:00 am for no apparent reason is worth it. In my experience, it always is.

If you are able to treat running as an art, a skill, or craft that you are developing, rather than punishment, this leads to sustainability and enjoyment during the process, making the end result of a successful training block all the more worth it. 

“Most people overestimate what they can achieve in one month and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.” Ambitions are great, optimism is better, but rationality is required. Meet yourself where you are at and be aware of what you can accomplish on any day or given workout. There aren’t shortcuts (that I’m aware of) to increase your running abilities, but after a few weeks, you’ll likely begin noticing small perception shifts, mood changes, and rippling optimism in everyday life that are a direct result of running. 

Momentum is real. Objects (more specifically humans) in motion, will remain in motion. The first couple weeks/months of adopting a new habit will be uncomfortable. Once you’ve come to grips with reality and accepted the situation, you can then go about learning how to best remove potential roadblocks that may arise.

Lies Disguised as Facts

“I can’t get up early to run.” Sure, you can’t get up early in the morning to run after a night out powering through a half-dozen drinks, but what if you cut those nights out? 

“I don’t have the time.” It’s not a matter of time, but a matter of prioritization. Most days will require less than one hour of commitment which surely can be carved out from the screen-time we’re so accustomed to (if the desire is there).

“Yeah, I did core yesterday.” Runners can fall into the all-too-familiar rut of monotony and laziness, altogether skipping out on any type of functional strength workouts. Remember, skinny does not always equate to healthy and maintaining/building muscle must be a necessity.

“I’m never doing that again.” The statement that surfaces at minimum three times per week, most often after sprints or long runs in which the physical discomfort seems masochistic for anyone to voluntarily come back to. 

Forming Habits/Routines

As soon as possible, find and establish a community. Whether that is a small group of runners in your neighborhood, Strava clubs, inspiring Instagram accounts, or a holistic trail-running cult, finding a group to share your experiences with (both good and bad) will be a necessity. 

When those around you make the extraordinary seem like the ordinary, your own expectations and ambitions rise along with what is now “par for the course”. Find friends, neighbors, coworkers, your dog, anyone to talk about running. They’ll get tired of it, you won’t. Not only does this keep you interested in the subject, assist in learning skills and knowledge that you may not have found, but most importantly it holds you accountable. Simply posting a photo to social media once every week may add the accountability that you need to get out there for a run (Miles in ✔✔). Search for a way to hold yourself accountable and stick to it. 

Print out your schedule (below), tape it to your closet door, put it on your car’s dashboard, in your office, your bathroom. Make it be the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you see before going to bed. Let it occupy your mind. Know that on most days, you aren’t going to be excited about the runs. That’s okay. That’s normal. 

When you become too focused on an end result such as a specific time/pace goal, adversity is crippling. Instead, focus on the single task immediately before you. Wins, losses, setbacks and triumphs will come and go. Results are never guaranteed and the only constant is the challenge of learning how you can piece together the puzzle of your newfound hobby. It’s about learning to enjoy the small sacrifices that are necessary for improvement. Satisfy your growing obsession to become something or someone that you’re proud of when you look back at your progress. 

Otherwise stated as, falling in love with the process. “New goals don’t deliver new results. New lifestyles do. And a lifestyle is a process, not an outcome. For this reason, your energy should go into building better habits, not chasing better results.” – James Clear

Self Care

General “Fueling” Advice

*Disclaimer: Always check with your primary care physician before starting any diet*

Running has made me reframe eating, as I directly refer to all food that we put into our bodies as fuel. It’s what keeps the engine running. You don’t put E-80 in your diesel truck (we hope), so why treat your human vehicle differently? Provide your machine with what it needs. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a scientist, and I don’t count calories, but I do take care of my body. While details often differ, top athletes all seem to follow a general template.

Stick to the edges of the grocery store. Fresh and frozen produce, chicken, fish, beef, eggs, etc. If it’s a food that didn’t exist 1,000 years ago, be very very weary (one exemplary exception would be a high-quality protein powder such as Garden of Life, MyProtein Pea Isolate, Sunwarrior, etc.). Try not to drown in the ungodly number of fad diets that are promoted, so to keep it simple – if you are eating real food, you’ll be fine. Ultra-marathoner Dean Kazarnes shares “If you can’t pick it from a tree, dig it from the earth, or catch it with your hands/a hook, don’t put it in your mouth.” There are exceptions, though I personally believe this recommendation to be broadly accessible, digestible, and practical. Things such as beans, quinoa, lentils, etc., are all healthy foods that exist in the middle isles of most grocery stores.

The difference between any two runners’ dietary preferences can be immense, from peanut butter and bacon fueled Low Carb athletes to High Carb “engines” running exclusively on bagels, fruit, and stroopwafels. The spectrum is vast and the good news is that there are highly successful athletes across the board. Try and see what works for you. Keto? Vegan? Paleo? Whatever makes you feel best. After some experimenting, you should be able to find a relationship with food that works perfectly for your needs.

For example, what a successful vegan diet can look like is put on display across the world is by well-known athlete Rich Roll. Rich abides by a strictly vegan diet (no, this doesn’t mean he eats impossible burgers filled with seed oils and highly inflammatory processed ingredients) and has been able to complete dozens of Ironman Triathlons and Ultramarathons with hard to comprehend times and top-tier finishes.

“Train Low –> Compete High” 

Training in a glycogen-depleted state (there are a couple of ways to achieve this state) has become somewhat of a hot-button topic in the running community. The idea of prepping your body for competition by training “low” the majority of the time is one that I’ve personally grown very fond of. Two of the most popular ways that one can utilize this ideology during training would be carbohydrate periodization or by training fasted.

These strategies need not be taken lightly, particularly for women (Dr. Stacy Sims is a great resource in this area). Fasting and low-carb diets work for some, but can be detrimental for others. Again, I highly recommend you to check with a physician prior to committing to a diet as extreme/regimented as keto/low-carb/fasting, and I am only speaking to my personal experience.

In the “Train Low → Compete High” strategy, my personal preference is to complete the large majority of your workouts/runs while being roughly 12-16 hours fasted. Similar to carb periodization, when your body is in a fasted state, it learns to utilize body fat for fuel. Performance benefits aside, I find working out fasted to be a far superior feeling nearly every day (with the exception being 1.5-2hr + workouts). This also allows me to still enjoy a diet that I find to be more sustainable: mostly plant-based with the inclusion of ~4-6oz of meat a day, plenty of oats and fruits, and even more eggs and fish. If you want further information about carb periodization, check out this article (https://extramilest.com/blog/zach-bitter-on-nutrition-ketosis-and-carbs/)

It is important to be careful in the “Train Low → Compete High” strategy, by ensuring that you always complete high-intensity workouts in a fed state. While running for upwards of 60-90 minutes at a low intensity has been great for me to complete in fasted states, on days where there is sprinting or workouts completed above my first *ventilatory threshold, I am always sure to eat/drink some type of fuel prior to the workout.

*The first ventilatory threshold (VT!) is a marker of intensity that can be observed in a person’s breathing at a point where lactate begins to accumulate in the blood. As the intensity of the exercise begins to increase, VT1 can be identified at the point where the breathing rate begins to increase. In simple terms, if you can hold a casual conversation, you are below your VT1.

Tracking Calories/Macros

While I typically never would recommend that one obsesses over the macronutrients or caloric information in the food that they eat, it can make sense in certain situations. If you have a goal of gaining/losing weight, tracking calories surely is the best way to ensure a structured and predictable outcome. There are plenty of calculators online to calculate your basal metabolic rate and fitness trackers that do fairly accurate jobs of tracking caloric burn, and with that information achieving a calorie surplus/deficit will be a surefire way to get you to your goal.

I will also say that we live in a society saturated with opinions. Do what works best for you. Thoroughly read nutrition labels. Become hyper-aware of what you are putting into your body. If you’ve never heard of an ingredient, if it sounds like the name belongs in the Scripps Spelling Bee or was created in a lab, stay away from it. 

*if you want further recommendations, have any specific questions, or are interested in talking with a Registered Dietician whose focus is specifically based around athletic performance, I highly recommend my friend Lexi Bevans (powrdnutrition) who is incredibly well-versed in the area: linktr.ee/powrdnutrition*

Cross Training

If you’ve been in the endurance athlete community long enough, you’ve seen this plenty of times. The runner who never spent a day in the weight room runs 5-6 days a week and is constantly injured. While cross-training is most often discussed as the number one injury prevention tactic for runners, the benefits of keeping your strength up go far beyond staying healthy and reaping performance benefits. 

Cross-training (including interval/HIIT training) is an easy way to continue to build an endurance base without putting excess wear and tear on your legs from additional miles. Incorporating a couple of days of interval training, functional weight workouts (kettlebells, bands, bodyweight exercises, etc) will keep you feeling strong, energized, and rejuvenated for your runs and everyday life.

Runners specifically love to focus on the posterior chain (aka the backside of your body), which is the primary driver for runs. While the posterior chain is incredibly important in running (glutes, hamstrings, etc), focusing on overall functionality, particularly the core and hip flexors, will help maintain proper form throughout your runs thus, again, leading to fewer injuries. On top of this, working out the upper body (chest, rear delts, lats, traps) will also allow for your posture to remain as flawless as possible, keeping your chest/chin up and air flowing freely in and out of your lungs.

Plyometrics

The purpose of plyometric workouts is to increase power and/or speed. By completing explosive exercises such as box jumps, jumps squats, or even movements as simple as jump rope, you can train your muscles to lengthen and shorten at quicker rates, leading to increases of speed (also may be referred to as rate coding). Additionally, working on full-body/functional movements such as single-leg squats, box step throughs, etc., you can also teach your body to recruit multiple motor units or muscle bases (i.e. hamstrings, glutes, and core simultaneously) to become a more efficient runner. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the details, but just remember that any explosive workout involving multiple muscle groups is always a great choice. If you do want to dig into the weeds with plyo, a quick Google search will bring up an endless stream of information. 

80/20 Rule

Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and describe why the 80/20 rule (also known as Polarized Training or even the Pareto Principle) should be at the forefront of every athlete’s mind, I’ll defer to fitness guru/health aficionado Ben Greenfield.

There’s a big, big problem in endurance sports. It’s a hole. A black hole. 

The black hole goes something like this…The runner who rolls out of bed 3-5 days a week to run 45-60 minutes at the same speed every time. The triathlete who hops in the pool at lunchtime and swims 30 minutes steady every time. The cyclist who goes out every weekend and rides at a steady cadence and speed for 2 hours every time. Same speed. Same RPM. Same intensity. You may also be familiar with this type of training as “junk miles” or “single-speed” or “no man’s land” training.

For example, despite what a coaches’ training plans may dictate, runners tend to run too hard on easy days and too easy on hard days. Suddenly, training sessions that are supposed to be long and slow become fast and short. Simply stressing the same energy system over and over again not only results in a single-speed endurance athlete who can’t go fast when it matters and never goes slow enough for recovery, but may also result in more rapid onset of overuse injury from repeated stress on the same joints.

When you look at endurance athletes from world champion rowers, professional marathoners, elite cyclists, and high-level triathletes, nearly all the top athletes competing in these sports are engaging in this kind of polarized training – in which they a large amount of time at relatively easy aerobic intensities, and occasionally throw in extremely hard bursts of high intensity.

And these athletes are spending very, very little time in the black hole region, that zone where you’re training above an easy, aerobic pace, but below any pace that becomes extremely uncomfortable.” [Source]

Simply put, keep easy days easy, and make yourself puke on hard days. Depending on whether or not you are wearing a HR monitor while running or are using perceived exertion, we can discuss how you can find what “Zone” or “Threshold” you are training at, where to stay below, and when to hit the throttle. Believe it or not, it’s often much harder than one would anticipate staying below a specific threshold on days that are meant to be easy (particularly if you’re running in a public area and someone passes you) but the payoffs are well worth it. 

Recovery Methods 

No, a $400 HyperVolt is not required (although it would be nice). No matter how often you foam roll, how many massages you get per week, or if you stretch with fanatic rigor, joints will be sore and ligaments will ache. In fact, a strong case can be made (justified by no science and only subjective opinions), that the best time to learn proper running form is actually while you have shin splints as it forces you to make efficient and painless contact with the ground. 

If you go to the gym for the first time in a year and squat for two hours, your legs and ass are going to be sore. Don’t expect running to be different. These initial aches and pains will fade away after 8-12 weeks of consistency as your body adapts to the new demands. If this isn’t the case, please don’t send me your hospital bill.

However, expecting to be sore doesn’t mean that you should forgo self-care. Do what works for you. Yoga, mindfulness practices, acupuncture, extra sleep, and foam rolling are all popular options that may help mitigate some of the extra stress that comes with a program. It’s easy to get caught up in “what’s new” or “what’s the best”, whether it be cryotherapy or cupping, but remember that you’ll never be able to incorporate everything and the best recovery method will always be the method that you find easy to incorporate into your routine every day. 

Take. Care. Of. Your. Feet. (I promise that I don’t think I have a foot fetish) The advice you weren’t expecting, but will soon understand the importance of as your weekly mileage increases. Your feet are the differentiator of a pleasant long run, and a miserable walk/jog death stroll. Stretch your toes, roll out your feet with a lacrosse or golf ball daily (can get one on Amazon for $7). Invest in a quality pair of shoes that feel comfortable to you. Personal favorites as of late have been: Altra Rivera and Escalante 2.5, Hoka OneOne, Nike Pegasus 37, Altra Lone Peak 4.5. You don’t want to be the person hobbling around your house/office which undoubtedly will stir comments such as “Running is terrible for your joints, why are you doing that?” Neglecting foot care is a surefire way to run yourself into an injury.

I am also a big proponent of active recovery days. Even on days off, make sure to move your body in some fashion. Whether that be low-intensity yoga, stretching, Spike Ball, or a walk, keeping your body active is a reminder to your muscles that they are still meant to work, just not today.

Do not forget to address your mental state each day. Not only does being in a healthy mental state help you push harder during training, but it also allows for a better rest period and can physiologically improve your well-being. Set aside time to do breathwork, meditation, reading, yoga nidra or taking a walk. Become aware of the “voice” in your head. It will tell you to stop when your legs are burning, but don’t. Go just a little further. It might tell you to have one more drink when you know you should head to bed. It may tell you that missing one day of training isn’t the end of the world. Ignore it.

Lastly, a quote from Branden Leonard’s “I Hate Running and You Can Too“If you stick with it, you will likely have some negative side effects like stiff joints and muscles, some calluses, a new hatred for the alarm clock that wakes you up for your training runs. But you will have many more positive side effects, most of which you may not have imagined at the start of your training. You might notice you’re sleeping better at night, or that you feel less stressed, or that you have more patience, or that food tastes a little better after having run, or that you actually like the aches and pains you have the day after a long run because they tell you that you worked hard.  Anyone who starts running and sticks with it for a few months or years will improve in other ways while improving as a runner: You begin to understand commitment, you develop patience and maybe you even learn a little bit of self-discipline. Even if all you get out of it is proof that you can stick with something difficult and see it through, that’s something. Sure, part of the process is about the miles, proper hydration, the finish line and maybe keeping tabs on how fast you go and how fast you get, but if you don’t become a better, more realized person while doing it- well, then, you’re missing something.”

Resources

Pick and choose from these videos, articles, and social profiles as you please. Again I will emphasize from my own experience, the more you surround yourself with resources and information, the more you are immersed into the running community (which has an incredibly strong draw in itself)

The Joe Holder Running PlanBut let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In the beginning, the key to running is patience. It’s going to take some time. That time is going to pass anyway, and if you do the things that you should do, the results are going to come. And that’s the beauty of running: So many things in life are outside your control, and there are so many things in life where you can’t tell if you’re improving. With running, if you put in the work, you can (literally) see how far your own feet can take you. Mine have taken me pretty far—and along the way I’ve learned some lessons that I hope can get you moving too.

Chi-Running – This is also a book available on Amazon for ~$10, but I think most benefits will be accessible in this 10 minute YouTube video.

Proper Foot Striking Techniques – At first don’t worry too much about your form, however, if you start to notice pain at any point, try to hone in on exactly what in your biomechanics might be causing the pain. If your knee hurts, it’s likely not because you have weak knees, rather, are you not allowing your hip flexors to open up? Running too rigid? Etc.

Run RX Instagram – Since I know we are all already wasting our time away on Instagram, here’s a great follow to dose your feed with some incredibly beneficial tips to help your running. 

Tips to Improve Form and Avoid Injury – From Mark’s Daily Apple, another great video to help emphasize that running for distance (anything over ~5 miles) is drastically different than the short burst sprints you may be used to from sports or being a child

Nike Run Club Warm-Up – Although I don’t personally warm-up for any steady-state low intensity runs, making sure your body is ready on days where the effort and intensity will be pushed is an absolute must.

Runner’s World – For anything, and everything regarding running. The content is limitless.

Chi-Running Visual…Again – Yes, the Chi-Running technique is so important I included it twice.

Runners on Instagram: Tommy Rivs / Dean Karnazes / Peter Bromka / Courtney Dauwalter / Cam Haynes / Zach Bitter / Joe Holder / David Goggins / Mary Cain / The Foot Collective