For many, the lure of running at our best, discovering what lies inside us and what we are capable of, will always hold appeal. What kind of runners are these? The kind who are inspired and driven to train methodically for months for a single event and then run the very best that they are capable of from the starting line to the finish line—personified by Olympians.
Can recreational runners train with an Olympic approach if they’re not world-class athletes with the talent and ability to run at an international level? Yes, they can. Believe it or not, essentially what goes into training as a committed enthusiast runner physically, mentally, and emotionally is the same as for elite runners. No matter your age, your experience, or your cumulative talent package, you can train like an Olympian if you fully commit to it.
As a coach, before I prescribe a training plan for age-group runners, I ask them to be honest with themselves and with me and to think hard about not only what kind of runner they have been but also what kind of runner they want to be. The two are sometimes the same but more often are quite different.
I’ve found that, more often than not, most runners fall into one of four categories. While these categories are fairly well defined, any runner can aspire to move into a higher-level category if he or she is willing to commit to it.
The “I Want to Get Back into It” Runner
This runner is running little if at all but talks about it frequently with family, friends, and coworkers. She might catch the New York City Marathon on TV or get goose bumps watching inspirational Olympic highlights and then exclaim, “That’s it! I need to get back in shape.” This runner has a sincere interest in getting started but lacks a goal to keep motivated.
If this is you:
- Without a goal, it is all too easy to get derailed and slip back into complacency. Don’t wait to get into shape or improve your fitness; register for a race or challenge as soon as possible, and you’ll have all the motivation you need. Choose something that sounds fun or unique or features an attainable challenge, sign up, and start training consistently.
The Seasonal/Occasional Runner
This runner typically uses the annual 5K or 10K road race as the impetus to get out and start a standard 6- to 8-week training routine in order to avoid total agony and just complete the race. That’s just enough time to see progress but not enough time and commitment to maximize race-ready fitness. After the race, this runner’s training often becomes sporadic, and that new pair of running shoes ends up seeing more mileage going in and out of Starbucks.
If this is you:
- You’ll benefit from picking more than one goal race. Pick three target races over a three- to six-month period, and hold yourself accountable for the consistent training and gradual improvement that yields real results. You have proven that you can be consistent in spurts; just extend that over a longer period, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at your increased fitness.
The “Run Every Day at the Same Pace” Runner
This runner is committed and consistent, enjoys staying in shape, and recognizes the joy of running but struggles with implementing the necessary type of training to improve. The standard neighborhood loop at the standard pace becomes too easy and methodical and often lands this runner in a training rut or an extended plateau. Ongoing commitment and motivation to get out the door are not the issues here; the problem is lack of variety in training stimulus and perhaps lack of incentive to endure the discomfort necessary to improve.
If this is you:
- If you always run at the same pace, you can’t expect to run any faster on race day. What you need is a new perspective on how to train and a training plan, training group, or coach. That will help spice up your workouts with tempo, fartlek, and progression runs that use different paces with varying amounts of rest to stimulate higher levels of fitness. Assuming you already have a good aerobic base, you should see big gains within four to six weeks.
The Enthusiast/Lifelong Achieving Runner
This runner is committed and goal-oriented and enjoys the running lifestyle and camaraderie of training and racing. The aspects typically lacking are workout variety and individualization. Workouts are usually moderate tempo-paced efforts, just hard enough to feel challenging but without the true discomfort and suffering necessary to improve. This runner sometimes runs with a group but often runs too hard or too easy depending on the group dynamic and how she trains with others.
If this is you:
- You need to develop a specific training plan that complements a specific goal. Choose a race four to five months in the future. Before you start your training program, pick a reasonably aggressive time goal and then select a plan or coach that can help you achieve that goal. The more specific your goal, the more individualized your training needs to be. Write down your goals in a training log, and share them with your training group or coach as a means of holding yourself accountable.
You might waver between the lines of these types of runners, but the differences are tied largely to commitment, investment, and what you want to achieve. While the committed runner will already have a comprehensive understanding of many training principles, all levels of runners can benefit from a check on motivation and training methodology. No matter where you fall in that spectrum, there are ways to address your specific needs so that you can train better, get faster, and improve your running.
Adapted from Run Like a Champion: An Olympian’s Approach for Every Runner by Alan Culpepper, with permission of VeloPress.