The Simple Secret to Becoming a Better Runner

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As a running coach, people often want to hire me to train for a specific race. "I signed up for XYZ marathon in eight months. When do I need to start training with you?"

"NOW! Let's start now!" is what I want to say. 

And that's not because I want your money, don't get me wrong. I want to start working with you six or eight, or even twelve months before your big race because I want to make you a better runner! 

If we start working together only four months before your marathon, I'll have to figure out a way to rev up your engine from 0 to 60 over the course of several weeks. At the risk of being too blunt, the truth is that yes, I will probably get you ready to complete your event within that time frame. But just barely so. You will finish your race, we will say our "until the next one" good-byes, and you will likely stop running altogether, simply because that last training cycle took so much out of you that you need a break. And months later, when you decide to begin training for another big one, you may come to me -- and we will once again have to rev you up from 0 to 60 over the course of weeks.

The problem? All this on-and-off "training" is not allowing you to develop to your potential as a runner. When you begin each training cycle from scratch, it's hard to increase your training load enough that you truly improve. Old injuries resurface easily when you've let your body hibernate, instead of continually working to maintain its fitness and make it stronger.

And this is what you pay a coach to do, right? Help make you stronger. Avoid injury. Be able to run more, and run faster. 

So, what is the best way for us to make that happen? The answer is simple:


If you want to see results, you need to be consistent. Turn “training” into your lifestyle. Always be active. Don’t be a runner for three months, then go back to the couch after running your first half marathon — only to try and become a runner again after months of doing nothing.

If you feel like consistency is something you can do on your own, then sure: take a break from your coach for a few months. But keep running. Come back with a solid base and ready to build on top of what you achieved when we last worked together.

If you do decide to stay with your coach after your big race, here is what you can expect:

"Freestyle" recovery period.

I give my runners a short period, usually at least a few days or a week, of "freestyle" time after a big event. (The bigger and harder the event, the longer the break.) During that time, they are encouraged to remain active, but do whatever they want to do and have fun. Hikes, family activities, easy bike rides, walks. Some people continue to run during that time, and that's OK. The key is to do something because they want to and it makes them happy. This is the short, but oh-so-important mental break from "training" that everyone should have after a big race. Mind you, as your coach, I still want to hear from you regularly during this time: I want to know how much soreness there is, how you're sleeping, how you're feeling overall. All this helps me determine how we approach the next steps in your recovery.

Reverse taper.

This is exactly what it sounds like, a taper in reverse. Rather than decreasing your training load to get your body rested for your race, we will gradually increase it as your body recovers. How long it will take us to get you back to "base" depends on where you were before your race, how your race went, how hard you worked, and how well you adapt. Experienced runners may only need two weeks to feel completely recovered from a marathon. Less experienced runners may need a month of recovery from a half. 

Base building.

Once you are recovered from your race, and assuming you have nothing on your calendar for a few months, we will spend some time building a better you. You may start running more trails, or we may add some cross training activities to your schedule. We may even lower your run mileage for a bit, while we focus on strengthening certain muscle groups - especially if you have had any injuries pop up in training. You "running schedule" may look boring or even inadequate, but over the long term, it is a building block towards making you a stronger runner.

Easing into the next training cycle.

When the time is right, you will officially start training for your next big race. Chances are, the training will be different this time around - because your starting point is different. If we did this correctly, we can now have you work harder and do more. This is how you become stronger. 

Consistency. It's the simple secret to becoming a better runner.

“The fight is won or lost away from witnesses — behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” — Muhammad Ali

Interested in learning more about California Running Lab's approach to training year-round? Get in touch.

Coach Aleks