Speaking From Experience

The more we run, the more we learn. Here's a lifetime of running lessons at your fingertips


Posted: 1 June 2002
by Steven Seaton

I’ve never been an outstanding runner. I’m not listed in any record books. I don’t have any trophies or international vests gathering dust in my home. In fact, I would struggle to be classed even as a good runner. If I were looking for an adjective to describe the type of runner I used to be, ‘stupid’ would probably do it. I could happily go from zero to 60 miles per week, in less than seven days. I could proudly wear a pair of running shoes until they literally fell off my feet. I treated injuries as a badge of honour, regarded warming up and stretching with deep suspicion and felt that mid-race drinking would only slow me down. There was little plan or structure to any of my running, and racing never failed to disappoint.

Now, though, I would regard myself as a smart runner, or at least a smarter runner. I understand training, I listen to my body, pay attention to what I eat and drink, and sometimes I even stretch. The difference between the runner I was and the runner I am, are the people I have run with over the years.

Through a seemingly random series of conversa tions and comments, I have picked up more practical information about training, nutrition or equipment than you will find in any coaching book. Similar people, with years of running behind them and a wealth of practical experience to draw on, surround most of you. They might be outstanding runners, but they are just as likely to be ordinary middle-of-the-pack performers.

As with coaches or training manuals, the advice they offer and the emphasis they put on different parts of their running life are far from consistent. However, the lessons are no less valuable. To tap into this knowledge, I contacted 20 runners of varied ability and background, all of whom have been running for more than 10 years, and asked them to share the three most important lessons they’ve learnt from running.

Nick Troop

Running life: Runs three to four times per week; set lifetime bests for 5K and half-marathon as a 41-year-old.
Years running: 15
  • No matter what you expect your race pace to be, always have a warm-up jog – preferably with a couple of strides thrown in – before the gun goes. This ensures you can start at your race pace, and not feel as though you have to work up to it over the race’s first couple of miles.
  • Do some speedwork! One session a week where you’re doing a structured amount of running at faster than your normal training pace will revolutionise your running. You’ll be able to handle discomfort better, recover more quickly and, most importantly, run faster.
  • Another race-day tip: always make sure you’re wearing your shorts before you take off your warm-up tights or Tracksters. This will save both you and those around you from a shared experience you’d perhaps rather not have.

Simon Taylor

Running life: Runs three to four times per week; completed a 3:17 marathon in 1998 after recovering from open-heart surgery.
Years running: 25
  • A variety of sessions – including rest – is the way to improve. Too many runners go out and run the same course every day, usually as hard as they can, with no real variation. You need to mix different kinds of running into a programme. There is no escaping from speedwork, in whatever form, but don’t forget long runs to build endurance and easy runs and rest days so you can recover. With the right balance and patience, you will improve.
  • Don’t be obsessed with numbers. It doesn’t matter whether the run was 5, 5.5 or 6 miles, or if you ran it in 30:27, 38:11 or 45:16. Nor does it matter if your running streak is 158 days unbroken or whether you ran 20, 31.75 or 66 miles in a week. All that is really important is that you are getting out consistently and that you find it rewarding.
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day and during your runs. Drinking regularly isn’t going to make you a faster or stronger runner, but not drinking will make you slower and weaker.

Sean Fishpool

Running life: Runs five times per week; ran a 1:19 half-marathon in 2000.
Years running: 11
  • To do your hard runs hard, you have to do easy runs easy.
  • Discomfort and pain aren’t the same thing. Discomfort always makes you stronger. Real pain only comes with injury or illness.
  • There’s more to life than running. Train with dedication, but don’t lose sight of the people and pleasures you love.

Steve Smythe

Running life: Trains every day, and occasionally twice a day. After 27 years of trying, he won an individual Kent title in 2000.
Years running: 31
  • Running is generally a fair and honest sport. If you put the work in, train diligently and consistently, and are sensible about rest, you will get the rewards.
  • Enjoy competition. Taking part in regular competition gives you a chance to visit new places, meet new friends and assess your progress. It also acts as a motivator to maintain training levels and force you out on days when you might be tempted to miss a training session.
  • Where possible, stay off the road. In more than 30 years of running, I’ve missed only a few scheduled races or training sessions; I think it’s because I always try to run on softer surfaces. Most of my longer runs are on trails and many of my speed sessions have been on grass.

Vikki McPherson

Running life: A full-time British international, with a half-marathon best of 1:11:33, she runs every day.
Years running: 15-plus
  • Keep a training diary. This will ensure that you stick to a gradual progression, will reveal the secret of your success when things go well, and also where you went astray when things don’t quite end up going to plan.
  • Include as much variety in your programme as possible. There’s no need to stick to the same tried and tested training routes all the time. As well as varying the pace of your sessions, vary the location and terrain. It keeps you stimulated mentally, reduces injuries – and besides, part of the joy of running is the ability to explore!
  • Set yourself a goal. No matter how dedicated an athlete you are, it’s hard to drag yourself out day after day in the winter months without a goal. It’s also something that you can use to measure the success of your programme.

Crispin Hetherington

Running life: Runs four to five times per week, and recently ran 34 minutes for 10K.
Years running: 20
  • In winter, if you can, run in the daylight – run to work or run at lunchtime. Too many times I planned to run at some point in the day, but left it until the evening and then abandoned it because I was too tired. Either that or I managed only a light jog.
  • It doesn’t hurt to take a break to recover from injury, or simply to start afresh in two or three months’ time. Use the time to cross-train, and discover swimming, cycling or other sports.
  • Go to watch a big event like the London Marathon or a Grand Prix track meeting. They’re great fun and they’ll inspire you to reach new heights in your own running.

Alastair Caisley

Running life: Runs three to four times per week; aiming to run 3:15 at this year’s London Marathon.
Years running: 25
  • Join and support your local running club. Apart from providing company for training, it will open a broad range of competitive opportunities and give you the chance to make new friends.
  • Avoid ‘junk’ miles. It is better to train harder and do fewer miles than to run at a consistently slower pace to achieve a high mileage.
  • Listen to your body. If you’re ill, injured or simply tired, don’t run until you feel up to it. Missing the odd few days doesn’t matter.

Cath Mijovic

Running life: A top-quality club runner; now back to daily running following the birth of her first child.
Years running: 20-plus
  • Don’t wear your running shoes until they drop off – it’s a false economy. You will save money on the physio bills in the long run.
  • Whatever your expected race pace, make sure you practice running at this speed during some of your training sessions.
  • Don’t eat high-fibre foods in the 24 hours before a distance race. This will help to avoid mid-race pit stops.

Andy Bristow

Running life: A former 10,000m World Championships finalist. He now runs five times per week.
Years running: 25
  • Don’t assume that this injury will go away like the last one did.
  • If you train in the evening and enjoy running off-road during the summer, make sure you introduce some road running before the clocks move back. That way the body doesn’t have to switch suddenly from one extreme to the other.
  • There will always be another ‘favourite’ pair of trainers in the future. Running shoes are there to do a job and don’t have to be considered a family member!

Mark Hewison

Running life: Runs three times per week for fitness. Races two or three times a year.
Years running: 15
  • If you train consistently with a purpose, you’re likely to have about 10 years of improvement at whatever age you start running, but you can’t expect to improve forever.
  • Don’t cheat on sleep. What you do when you aren’t running can be as important as what you do when you are.
  • No matter how bad the hangover, and no matter how awful you feel on the run, running is one of the best hangover cures going. But do drink extra water before and after.

Finbarr Costigan

Running life: A former sub-2:20 marathoner, but an arthritic hip currently restricts him to bike riding only.
Years running: 20-plus
  • Try to train with someone. It’s very solitary if you don’t, but uplifting if you do.
  • If you want to better yourself, train with people who are slightly faster than you.
  • When the going gets tough, banish negative thoughts about how much longer you have to go, and break the distance up into smaller challenges.

Tim Janaway

Running life: Runs three to five times per week, work permitting.
Years running: 20-plus
  • Don’t, after 15 years, drive around a favoured training route and discover that your eight-mile route is, in fact, only 7.5 miles. And if you do, don’t worry – your heart, lungs and legs can’t read mileometers.
  • If you find yourself making excuses not to go out training as you arrive home, set yourself the challenge of recording the time taken from the moment you open the door to the moment you take your first step of the run – and then try to beat that time.
  • If your work regularly involves international travel or commuting to the same place, leave a pair of running shoes at that destination and you’ll never miss out on the opportunity to get out on a run. Runners never seem to forget their shorts and T-shirts, but curiously the shoes don’t always go into the bag.

Mike Foy

Running life: A former amateur footballer. Runs three times per week for fitness.
Years running: 30-plus
  • Try to give a warning of your approach to lone walkers in remote places.
  • Long training runs can take you to unfamiliar places. If you get lost, look for satellite dishes. They always point south.
  • When the going gets tough, try inwardly chanting a mantra every few steps.

Wendy Magner

Running life: A former track international, but now a running mother. Runs five times per week for health and fitness.
Years running: 20-plus
  • If you have – or are about to start – a family, try to get your training run done as early in the day as possible.
  • If you do some easy running for between five and seven minutes first, and then do your stretching, you’ll be stretching warmed-up muscles, rather than cold ones.
  • If you are coming back from injury, illness or a break from running, don’t avoid racing just because you aren’t as fit as you once were.

Paul Magner

Running life: Once a sub-14-minute 5K runner. Runs four to five times per week, but with no current competitive goals.
Years running: 25-plus
  • You don’t get lucky in running. There is a reason for everything.
  • For your easiest recovery run, run alone; for your hardest sessions, run with company.
  • If you are struggling with motivation, put up two charts in your home. Chart one is, ‘Runs when I came home feeling better in myself than before I set off’. Chart two is, ‘Runs when I came home and felt worse in myself than before I started.’ After every run put a tick on the appropriate chart. If you or anyone else wants to know why you run, look at the charts and you will have the answer.

Janet Edmonds

Running life: Runs four to five times per week. Has a 3:26 marathon best, set in 1997.
Years running: 14
  • Just because you’re a runner, it doesn’t mean you can eat anything. Your body will run better on high-quality fuel than it will on junk.
  • Set yourself one big goal a year. You can have smaller goals that lead towards it, but remember what it is that you are aiming for.
  • You will be surprised with what you can achieve if you believe you can do it. The mind is often stronger than the body, but it takes time to become a believer.

Jenny Stewart

Running life: Runs three to four times per week; hoping to break four hours at this year’s Flora London Marathon.
Years running: 23
  • Smile whenever you get described as a ‘jogger’ instead of a ‘runner’ – who cares?
  • Bad races fade from the memory quicker than good ones.
  • If you’re a woman, search out and buy a specialist running sports bra. You won’t believe the difference it makes.

Richard Nerurkar

Running life: Formerly Britain’s top male marathon runner, with a PB of 2:08:36. Still runs every day, but now simply for the pleasure of running.
Years running: 27
  • Hard training and application can take you a long way. On January 28, 1989, I ran 13:27 for 5000m indoors, winning the race by over 150 metres. I’d been running seriously for almost 15 years, but only then did I realise that I had the chance to be really good. So, if you enjoy running, are committed and have the opportunity, it’s worth giving it a try.
  • To progress with your running, you’ve got to learn how to cope with, and overcome, injury. Perhaps it was no coincidence that a few months after running that 5000m race I picked up my first serious injury. Had I not received the right advice then, my progress would have been much slower. If you get into problems, seek good advice and take the necessary action.
  • Aiming for goals can set you up for either success or disappointment. However, whether or not you achieve your goals, the process of working towards them can be immensely rewarding.

Andy Parker

Running life: Runs six times per week. Has a best of 50:11 for 10 miles.
Years running: 14
  • Rest and sleep are as much a part of a successful programme as natural talent and hard work.
  • There are ups and downs in every running regime, but if you persevere and stick with your plan, you will reap the benefits.
  • Consistency, above all else, is the key.

Bud Baldaro

Running life: One of the UK’s top running coaches. Runs four to five times per week.
Years running: 30-plus
  • Running is a personal pursuit. It’s up to you, not anyone else, to decide what kind of runner you want to be and how you want to fit running into your life.
  • Use your imagination in your running. Experiment with new and different race distances, try new training routes and keep your mind open to new challenges.
  • Respond immediately to injuries and illnesses. Few, if any, running injuries respond positively to sustained hard training.

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