When I started writing this post, I tried to come up with a catchy title for about a minute before it occurred to me that you can’t sugar coat a bad habit. It is what it is. At the karate school I use to teach at, we would say “Good habits are hard to make but easy to live with; bad habits are easy to make but hard to live with.” That’s a bit too long for a title, but I think it serves as a great lead in to this important topic.
Some bad habits are known to you, others might be things you have never thought of but do anyway, some are things you are neglecting to do, but they all have one thing in common: they make you slower.
THE ELAPSED TIME BAD HABIT
Ah, the elapsed time differential…that quiet destroyer of momentum and cheater of endurance. We all do it, but, many of us probably never think of the effects it has on a run. What I am talking about? When you run with a Garmin or similar GPS watch, the device will measure both the time you are moving and the time you are stopped. It will give you a moving time and an elapsed time. Usually these numbers are not the same because you have to stop at things like stop lights and crossings. So My 8 mile run might have a moving time of 1:04:00 but an elapsed time of 1:05:30, meaning we probably had to stop at a few lights or maybe I stopped to tie my shoe.
That small of a differential is not an issue; however, when gaps of 5,10 and 15 or more minutes show up on your runs on a constant basis, it can have an effect on your running. Take the long run for example. The whole point is to lay down the systems (capillaries, glycogen storage, muscle recruitment) to maintain your running and speed in a longer race. When you stop for long periods of time during a long run, your system is not being forced to change. It can simply rest. So, instead of forcing the body to become more efficient at running at a steady pace and heart rate, the body stops and rests, lowering heart rate and demand for oxygen in the tissues. In addition to the physiological problems with long rest periods during a run, there is also a mental aspect. A race has no stops, no pause button, no auto pause. Your chip timer will not shut off to preserve the pace you were running before you stopped. You can build much more confidence by maintaining an even pace that you can sustain through an entire run rather than a pace that forces you to start and stop.
IMPROVE: Do your best to think ahead. Plan routes that don’t cross as many streets, discuss on time meetings with fellow runners, and get your group on board with the “minimal stops” philosophy. It might be tough at first if you are use to all those breaks, but, in the end, it will make you a better runner.
Plus, you’ll get done faster, which obviously means you get to eat a lot sooner!
THE ALL WRAPPED UP IN PACE BAD HABIT
PACE: a four letter word signifying everything. Or nothing. Or both at the same time? I don’t think anything (except maybe injuries and NOT running) causes more anxiety in runners than pace. And pace itself has so many variables: how much rest have you gotten this week? what has your training been like? what is the temperature? the dew point? the elevation of the run? Yet we tend to boil down whether or not a run was good to pace alone. A runner who typically runs around 8 minute miles for easy runs may feel frustrated, anxious and worried if they, on a hilly route with a high suffer index, ran 8:30s today instead.
Why is this a problem? I think the problem here is, again, two fold: physiological and mental. Every runner has an easy run range, which is pretty wide. For example, my own easy window is about 7:30ish all the way to 8:20ish. Very little is gained by running 10 miles at 7:45 over running at 8:00 minute miles simply because these both represent a pace that is aiding me in building aerobic capacity, which my goal on easy runs. I base my easy pace on feel; I know I should be able to hold a conversation with my running partner without gasping for air in the middle of my sentences. In addition, getting all wrapped up in pace breeds negativity and worry. If you don’t hit the numbers, how do you feel?
IMPROVE: Start thinking of easy pace as a range. Not sure what your individual range is? Try out a running calculator. But don’t let the calculator rule your mind or your run. Let it be a guideline; then take that range and find where you are comfortable on any particular day. Be ready for your pace to change in higher dew points and hotter weather; let it be faster if you are flying downhill in the fall. Simply adjust. A coach said to me once “The adjustments we have to make are small; it’s when we do not adjust that we pay for it.”
THE INCONSISTENT CONSISTENCY BAD HABIT
I heard Greg McMillan talk once at a local running store and my favorite part was when he said “A cycle is one block of weeks, but imagine what you could do consistently running for a year. or two years? or three? that’s where the improvement lies.” Consistency depends on dedication and health. I have written in the past about how inconsistency caused me to DNF a race while breaking the habit lead to a 20 minute PR; you can read all about that here.
IMPROVE: Find a training partner, hook up with a group, target a race with a friend and keep each other dedicated, have a goal, reward yourself…these are all ways to keep up consistency. But, like I said, it is not just dedication that leads to consistency, it is also good health. Staying injury free is a key component to steady training. Many authors have written on the subject of staying injury free; here is a list of common points:
-do not do too much too fast; increase weekly mileage slowly
-have adequate rest days…that’s TOTAL REST days for all you obsessed athletes out there
-maintain good nutrition, especially post workout nutrition
-listen to your body; know the difference between a lazy “let’s shave a mile off” and “I feel on the edge of injury, I need to cut this run short.”
-keep your easy days easy and your hard days hard (but under control)
-build endurance before speed
-Pick up some heavy stuff! Don’t forget to strengthen your core, legs, back and hips
Bad habits are easy to make but hard to live with, like a race you bomb. Good habits are hard to make but easy to live with, and they will help you towards a PR.