RW's Training Basics

The 10 training foundations of a long running career

Posted: 10 May 2002

Running is a wonderfully simple sport. You're in charge, and you can run where you want, when you want. Best of all, if you follow these principles, you can make it last a lifetime

1. Walk before you run

Few people are able to run a mile the on their first day of running, so don’t try it. You’ll soon feel discouraged and give in. Instead, begin by mixing running with walking.

For example, run for 30 seconds then walk for 90 seconds, repeating this for a total of 20 minutes. When you can comfortably manage this four times a week, adjust your walk/run ratio to 45/75 seconds four times a week. Then try 60/60, 75/45, and 90/30. In time you’ll be running for several minutes without breaks, and then – hallelujah! – you will be able to run for 20 minutes without stopping!

2. Build steadily

If your running is to progress you will need to work harder over time, but if you punish your body too hard too soon you won’t improve and you’ll increase the risk of injury.

American coaching legend Jack Daniels advises his athletes to make a plan of their intended weekly training and then increase mileage or intensity only every third or fourth week.

For example, if your current mileage is 20 miles a week and you’re aiming to build that up to 40 miles, add five to seven miles every three to four weeks. Apply this same principle to increases in speed.

3. Warm up, cool down

Warm-ups let your body gradually adjust to the exercise, preparing you for the harder work to come and actually making the session easier. Five to 10 minutes of running or walking before you start putting your body through its paces will also lessen the strain on your heart and reduce the chances of injury.

After you’ve run hard the first thing you want to do is head straight for the sofa to crash; don’t. An abrupt finish to exercise can cause cramps, dizziness, abnormal strain on the heart, and hamper the removal of the body’s waste products such as lactic acid. Just spend five minutes longer on your feet at a gentle pace to cool your body.

4. Choose your running surface carefully

Most runners clock their miles on the open roads. Roads aren’t the worst places to run, but try to run on the Tarmac no more than three times a week. Certainly steer clear of concrete pavements, which will pound your body. Running tracks are okay for speedwork – although they are draining on the mind – but avoid them for recovery runs or fitness running.

Grassy areas are the softest surface to run on, but they can be uneven. Perhaps the best surface is a dirt track; it’s easy on the body and relaxing for the mind.

5. Set goals

Staying fit and healthy is great reward in itself, but setting a goal can make you more motivated and help you enjoy your running more. When you sit down and set yourself a goal consider four elements, incorporated in the acronym RACE. Firstly, choose a goal with a noticeable Reward. It could be a medal, a time, or a new set of clothes if your goal is weight loss. Secondly, make that goal Attainable – within your reach. Thirdly, make it Challenging. If your goal is going to be a cinch, you won’t work to achieve it. Finally, be Explicit: set out specific races, precise target times, and the crucial points along the path to achieving your ambition.

6. Run by time not by miles

This advice is especially valuable for beginners and those hoping to build endurance. When you find that you can gradually spend more and more time on your feet, all that hard work seems to be paying off. If you’re a more experienced runner, you’ll find that thinking of time can prevent you tearing round your training routes at breakneck speed trying to set a PB. This can ensure that your ‘recovery’ runs actually provide the rest and recuperation all runners need.

7. Build a base

‘You can’t fire a cannon out of a canoe.’ That’s how one coach once summed up the need for an aerobic base before the fast times will come. Once you’ve built that platform of steady work, and only then, should you start thinking about speedwork, hillwork and fartlek. This base of running can last from six months to as long as a year, and should consist of steady running and jogging. Enjoy this period; if you’re an ambitious new runner this may be a useful stress-free period of running when you can gauge which distances may be right for you to race over in the future.

8. Learn the hard-easy routine

Whether you’re one of the world’s elite or a beginner, stick to the ‘hard-easy’ method of vigorous exercise followed by either a rest day or a recovery run.

Even if you do feel fantastic the day after a hard run, temper yourself. If you don’t do that, you will struggle the following day, or worse, become injured. Stress on top of rest equals improvement, but stress on top of stress equals breakdown.

Still, just how gentle should a recovery be? The key is to listen to your body for warning signs – sore muscles, aches, pains and fatigue – and err on the side of caution. Remember, too, that as you get older you will need longer to recover.

9. Build up your long run

Long runs are the definitive way to build endurance; strengthening the heart, the legs and the ligaments in the process. They also burn fat and boost confidence. Sounds good? It certainly does, but be cautious. If the longest you are used to running for is 30 minutes, gradually build up to an hour by adding five minutes to your run each week. Just minutes of extra running make a difference – but too much and you’re setting yourself up for injury or illness.

10. Make running a part of your life

‘Holistic running’ was a term coined by athlete Kenneth Doherty in 1964. He believed that the runner trains 24 hours a day, not just for an hour or so of running. Take a look at the way you organise your life, how much you sleep, eat, and drink.

Then consider the balance within your training programme. Are you racing too much? Are you not making time to run those routes that are personal favourites? Are you running too much speedwork with little time to recover? Just as you should keep the balance in your training, do so with the other areas of life.

Previous article
Nothing But The Best
Next article
Intense Benefits

beginner misc, training misc

Discuss this article

I have justed started running again and while not slow (about 11k/hour) I am not fast either.

My training plan says to do a particular mileage so I do it. Why should I be running by time, doesn't that discourage trying to get faster? Currently doing between 16-20 miles a week.

Posted: 09/11/2004 at 15:26

I think, as it says in teh article, if you run by time you are not trying to do the same route in a quicker time each time you go out.

My plan is in distances, so I convert those to times, knowing my average plodding pace and go out for half the time and then back.

And 11 km/hr is a lot quicker than me!!
Posted: 09/11/2004 at 15:36

My route is treadmill unfortunately!!! Except for my long runs at weekends. Does anybody have any opinions about treadmills? I always feel like a bit of a fake runner.
Posted: 09/11/2004 at 16:29

Easier to measure speed. Easier to increase/reduce speed so very good for speed/interval training. Easier to run at a constant pace. Softer surface so better for knees, hips, ankles etc.

One tip for you though. If you run on a treadmill set the incline to 1.0 to replicate the wind resistance you'd get running outside
Posted: 09/11/2004 at 16:35

Time is perhaps a little less daunting for begginners - miles better once you reach praps an hour.
Posted: 09/11/2004 at 16:36

Thank you to you both, very useful. I already set it to one so feel a bit more "authentic"!
Posted: 09/11/2004 at 16:49

Also time is just easier to measure! If like me you vary where you go almost each time you run.
Posted: 09/11/2004 at 16:50

Hi to everyone. This is my first time on the forum and have been reading all the tips from you all - most helpful. My question is - why does everything hurt so much when I first set out on my runs? Ankles, legs, arms everything aches, gasping for air etc until I've done a mile or so when it all settles down and I feel OK. Am I doing something wrong or does everyone feel like this?
Posted: 17/11/2004 at 15:31

Maybe you are going too fast.. or maybe it's because you haven't warmed up yet (if you're fine after a mile or so).

Have you thought about maybe starting off with a 5 minute fast walk to warm up?

Posted: 17/11/2004 at 15:49

You could well be right Laura although I do lots of stretching I do tend to start running as soon as I turn out of my gate. Will try the 5 minute fast walk and see if it makes a difference. Thanks for the tip. By the way, I use the term "running" loosely as I only plod along at about six miles an hour - all the other runners in the area seem to whizz past me at great speed!
Posted: 17/11/2004 at 16:11

I think six miles per hour is quite fast.. I don't actually know how fast I run as I do my continuous runs around parks (it's too hard to measure).. the only thing I will say though is the 5 min walk warm up is quite hard when it's cold.

Weirdly enough, I find the first fewm minutes running after setting off the easiest. The middle is often the hardest, then I get a second wind. How far do you run?


Posted: 17/11/2004 at 16:43


I wrote a reply to this, but somehow it's not appeared. The basis of it was that I agree with what you're saying - but I don't think it's entirely the same for everyone. I find the first section of my run the easiest.. plus, I run for 20 minutes, so if I used the first 10 minutes as a warm up, there wouldn't really be much left! However, I think GO's problem is related to not being warmed up, yes. How far are you running?

Posted: 18/11/2004 at 09:17

It appeared this time :-)
Posted: 18/11/2004 at 09:17

Lots of helpful advice - thank you. Am currently doing 5-6 miles every other day but can only run after work so being so dark it limits the places i can run. Have only just started back running having had a rest following the Dublin Marathon so have not yet got the long weekend runs in but weather permitting will try on Sunday to go a bit longer.

Once I get over the initial struggling on a good day I can just plod along for ages. I find it also helps clear the head as I don't actually think about anything at all whilst running - or at lease anything sensible that is - and if I start to get tired I count from 1 to 100 over and over as I find it focuses the mind and blots out any feeling of tiredness - what do others think about when running?
Posted: 18/11/2004 at 10:05

I actually get really bored and want to stop on 'longer' runs (I say longer, but probably still what some people think are very short). I enjoy running for 15 minutes, but after that want to stop, and start thinking about wanting to stop! However, with any kind of session that isn't a continuous run (e.g. 300m reps on grass) I don't have this problem at all, and have to try to stop myself doing more than is probably necessary. I find it's worse if I'm running out and back as opposed to a circular route.

It being dark is a nightmare.. (can't run off-road)

How was the Dublin Marathon? Hope it went well.

What's the longest run (in terms of hours/minutes) you've done?

Posted: 18/11/2004 at 10:11

I find running on grass really difficult - so much hard work!

Dublin was OK - cold and very windy but most enjoyable despite suffering a calf injury at about 2 miles when a spectator stepped out in front of me and I had to do a sudden swerve to avoid him - and stubbed my toe - ouch!! Time was not too bad - a little over 5 hours but wanted to do better.

Longest training run is about 2 hours
Posted: 18/11/2004 at 14:14

I like running on grass.. running on the road I tend to feel my feet banging down a lot more.. on the grass I feel more like I'm prancing!

I can't imagine running for 5 hours. Actually, I can - but it's more likely to be in one of my nightmares than a daydream! Why did someone step out in front of you? That's bad.
Posted: 18/11/2004 at 20:36

A couple of people mentioned problems with short dayligfht hours. I run in the dark all the time except weekends at this time of year - it's not impossible, and actually rather fun if you have the right gear.

I use a Petzl Zoom headtorch at the moment. On trails with absolutely no artificial light, and with tree cover, it's barely adequate. I'd prefer a more powerful one like a Silva or something. When there's snow on the ground (like now) it's a lot lighter.

It's very tranquil running in darkness. On an easy run you have time to look at the stars, and there is never a whippet racing past you. Plus you get loads of mental brownie points for being out at all.
Posted: 19/11/2004 at 09:11

It's scary though, around city parks (especially certain ones!)
Posted: 19/11/2004 at 09:14

Unfortunately the Dublin Marathon is not as well organised as London and although most of the spectators stand out of the way you do get one or two that just wander around all over the place and if they want to cross the road at any time then they do - regardless of runners - so you have to dodge round them! After three or four miles the spectators thin out to little pockets of people every so often. Coming back into the City is better - at least there are barriers up. Also they don't close all the roads off so at times you are running alongside the traffic - nice dose of carbon monoxide/diesel fumes!!

I like running in the dark -no one can see my red face - but it's OK for you men - us women have to be a little careful unfortunately.
Posted: 19/11/2004 at 09:46

I take the point, but I think the risks must be quite low. First, you're clearly not carrying a handbag or heavy wallet, so the risks of mugging almost disappear. If you're running past, any sexual attacker first has to catch you! You probably wouldn't attract opportunist attention bundled up, with a headtorch. If it were a bright one, it might be hard just to see what sex you are. Someone who saw you on a regular route might plan, but you would not be an easy target, which might be preferred. On balance I would be inclined to not take a run only if there was a warning specific to time and place. It might be more risky on a lifetime basis NOT running. But that's only MHO and I respect others.
Posted: 19/11/2004 at 10:09

Hi folks

Sorry to butt in on unrelated question but SteveC got me thinking.

I much prefer trail running as it means the dog can be off the lead and we both get a good session. Unfortunately now it's too dark to set off at 6am through the local woods but I hadn't thought of a head torch! Aren't they a bit big and cumbersome (and wobbly?).

Where did you get yours SteveC?

Posted: 19/11/2004 at 10:49


Yeah, that's true and I do agree benefits (of running) outweigh the risks. I haven't found Birmingham to FEEL that unsafe all the time I've been here (5 years).
However, when you can still run but not alone in the dark, around some city park, then that's what's preferable! Some of them have a lot of youths hanging about, and I hate getting comments shouted (which is what happened specifically every time I went to one of them, in the autumn). I prefer to run along well lit main roads with plenty of cars around and students (although statistically, I don't know how the risk compares). Having said that, the one girl I do know who was raped whilst running was running in the day time.

As far as headtorches go, I've seen one advertised in Bournesports (mail order). You can probably get lightweight ones so I wouldn't have thought they were cumbersome.

Posted: 19/11/2004 at 12:48

listening to radio combats boredom.
I like the radio anyway, and don't get much time to listen, so 2 or 3 hours listening on a Sunday whilst running is a treat for me!
Posted: 19/11/2004 at 13:08

Good point SteveC about the headtorch - perhaps I was just looking for excuses not to go too far and perhaps the one or two dark spots will make me run faster.
Posted: 19/11/2004 at 14:15

Bootlegger - you asked about headtorches. I actually live in Norway so it wouldn't be much use telling you where I got mine :)

Field and Trek stock the Petzl brand that I use.

The Petzl Zoom I feel is (barely) adequate for unlit and totally shaded trails, but that's what I use, for about £20. The one I have has a spare low watt bulb built in. I think it lasts about 90 mins - I'm not sure - I use rechargeable NiMH batteries, three off. They sit in a battery pack at the back of the head, which balances the lamp nicely. The lamp can also be angled vertically as well as the zoom.

I ran out of light once and it was very difficult picking my way home in total darkness, so I also carry an LED light as backup - Petzk Tikka.

There are much more expensive and powerful lights used by orienteers. Silva are good but F&T don't seem to have them. The battery packs are heavier and tend to be carried in a pouch, harness or pocket rather than the head.

Given unlimited money I'd get a more powerful one with a flood - say 20W - I'd like to have more light in the periphery because I get a strange feeling of running into a tunnel with a narrower beam.

I also use the same light skating and skiing. It is handy on a bike too - in addition to the normal light you can swing your beam at cars on junctions if you think they haven't seen you and are going to come out.
Posted: 19/11/2004 at 14:21

I once heard that statistically it was safer to run at night than during the day (in terms of numbers, and incidents - does anyone know if this is true because I really want verification!), so if the dark spots actually don't bother you then I'd go for it. I guess some of it actually depends on where you live.

I like driving and listening to music/to the radio, so presumably running for that length of time whilst doing the same shouldn't be boring. Longest I've ever run, I'm actually not sure - but am retrieving my old training diaries from the 1990s when I next go to visit my mum, so will know then!

I think a torch would be a good idea anyway, as you're less likely to trip over things or step into a hole/mess.

Posted: 19/11/2004 at 14:32

I found this thread on another forum:
Posted: 19/11/2004 at 15:15

Thanks SteveC.... didn't realise you're from Norway! Must be some nice trail running there.

Headtorch will go on my Christmas list.

Now that I have a dog to run with I'm not too worried about running in the dark, just falling over and looking like a prat. It would be a brave wouldbe mugger/rapist who took on Bootie but I wouldn't wear headphones... I like to hear what's going on around me.

I do have a small (but powerful) handheld torch but when I tried running with that it didn't feel right... got in the way somehow.

Have a good w/e all.
Posted: 19/11/2004 at 15:25

Thanks for the link. I agree with most of what was said on there, but unfortunately those are *reported* incidents - I think the actual amount is likely to be significantly higher (how many people report incidents?).

On the torch issue - funnily enough, my sister bought me a bizarre little fish you squeezed which then gave out light for xmas once! lol

Posted: 19/11/2004 at 15:49

With reference to tread mill running a good tip I had recently was to put a 1.5+ incline on the machine which should give a similar resistance to running on the road.
It worked for me
Posted: 08/05/2006 at 17:23

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.