I recently became certified as a running coach through a national organization that supports community running groups, events, and athletes (RRCA).
This process involved taking a 2-day course on running topics that covered physiology, psychology, and training. I already knew many of the basics but refined my knowledge and understanding of running principles, both conceptually and practically.
In addition to now being able to coach myself better, I hope to be involved in running programs as a source of personal development and transformation. Certainly, moving a group of people from minimal fitness to running a 5K can change them physically. But there are also lots of ways that running principles can be applied to life.
Here are a few things I deepened my understanding of or learned for the first time:
I will get better at what I practice
The principle here is called “specificity of training.” In general, the principle holds that to get better at Skill X, I need to practice Skill X (not Skill Y). This concept is not complicated but an important rule to remember.
It doesn’t mean that practicing other skills or engaging in other activities won’t be useful. But with limited time and a narrowly-defined goal, practicing a specific skill provides the most benefit.
A couple of years ago, when my husband was trying to get ready for a backpacking trip with the scouts, I tried at first to encourage him to get into shape by running or cycling with me. But as the time for the trip came closer, I realized that he simply needed to practice walking and hiking carrying a pack. He backpacked on local trails and did well on the trip.
The life lesson here is that if I want to get better at a certain discipline (whether writing, investing, or running), then I need to channel my energies into gaining competency and mastery into that specific skill.
Manageable levels of stress can help me grow
Generally, I think (or used to think) of stress as bad, something to be avoided.
But stress can help me grow and improve. For example, practicing a negative split (doing latter portions of a run at a faster pace than the earlier portions) should help me sprint at the end of a race when I am fatigued. Certainly, there are mental benefits to this exercise. Just as significantly, physical adaptations take place that allow me to race strong at the finish.
The right types of stress can stimulate my body, which adapts itself to adjusted circumstances. My ego or earnestness doesn’t cause these physiological changes. Instead, the body is designed to adapt; my job is simply to invite stress into my life so that I can be strengthened.
Too much stress can be harmful
Though the body (and presumably the mind) can adapt to new stressors, it can’t handle an overload.
For example, I can’t add speed and mileage to workouts at the same time without risking an injury. I need to introduce mileage first, and then add speed workouts.
Similarly, I can’t start adding a bunch of new habits or routines to my day all at once. Too much too soon leads to injury or withdrawal. Introduce new skills slowly, master them, and then move to the next thing. Improvement will take longer than I would like but patience will result in better and more consistent performance.
Rest is essential to becoming stronger
I have known that rest is just as essential to hard work in getting stronger for many years. But when I try to convey that concept to others, they look at me like I’m crazy or condescending. I’m neither. God created the Sabbath to remind us, urge us, command us to rest. Rest is good!
Yes, periods of intense focus are just as important as periods of relaxation. Effort workouts are just as important as easy or recovery days. No, you can’t merely rest and relax, and expect results. But you have to incorporate periods of rest with harder efforts.
During the rest period, the body recovers and rebuilds muscles. The mind also regains strength during these down times.
Benefits can be gained from dull work
Dull work, such as short or long easy runs, can benefit runners. Even world-class competitors are helped by low intensity training. This principle surprised me.
I’d rather spend just a couple of days each week doing speed workouts and take off the rest of the week, maybe with some cross training. For a while, I believed that I could get away with minimal running hours. So, I tended to focus on harder, higher intensity training efforts. And this approach certainly yielded results. I was able to get my 5K time to below 27 minutes, which was a nice accomplishment for me.
However, as I tried to run for longer distances and even just sprint toward the end of a 5K, I had a sense that I just didn’t have what I needed. And what I needed was a stronger foundation, a better base upon which to build.
Relatively easy runs (performed at a conversation pace, which will vary by runner in terms of actual speed) are necessary for this foundation. Low to moderate effort is required multiple times each week. This dull activity will help change me and make me into the person I want to be. It’s not exciting or interesting but it works.
These life lessons are just the beginning of learning, applying, and articulating what I discover to my work, play, and purpose outside of running.