This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 issue of our magazine. It was written by Rich Stiller.
I never lucked into a fast race time. I never raced well by following regimented training schedules either. If you’ve followed my columns, you know that I’m not a big rules and regulations. Truth be told: I’m uncoachable. I know this is true because enough coaches have told me just that. You’re uncoachable!
I believe them.
The thing that first attracted me to running back in the dark ages of the 1960’s was the freedom of the sport. I could run pretty much wherever and whenever I wanted. Still, over time, I start to make goals for myself, and this somewhat limited the complete freedom of my earlier runs. I knew I had to do certain workouts to maximize my potential.
I decided that I needed meta rules. These were overarching guidelines that would allow me a level of independence while helping me to significantly improve my race times. Here’s what I decided:
I could run somewhere between 7 to 8 hours per week. I had a full time job and only so much energy. My commitment was an hour a day during the week and 60-90 minutes on the weekend. Given my average training pace, I was pretty sure that I could run between 55 to 70 miles a week. Every week.
I needed to mend my late night partying ways. To race my best I knew I needed between 7.5 and 8 hours sleep a night. I had friends who got by on less. Me? I broke down if I didn’t get enough sack time.
If you read my last article you already know that I wasn’t a naturally skinny guy. My genetics told me that my ideal weight was between 135 and 145 lbs. Most of my PR’s came at 140. I weighed myself religiously every several days to make sure I avoided massive gains.
There have always been a great many theories about an endurance athlete’s diet. I tried almost everything, but any success I had boiled down to two words: Carbohydrates and specifically pasta. If I didn’t eat enough carbs, I bonked. I tried Atkins and early versions of the Paleo diet. They seemed to work fine for maintaining weight, but lousy for long distance running.
After a few years of racing everything from the mile to the marathon I realized that if I wanted to be a much better runner, I would need to focus on race distances that were compatible to one another. In other words if I ran a decent mile, it helped me be faster at 5k. If I ran a good 5k, it helped my 10k. Back in the 1970’s and 80’s the 10k was the cornerstone racing event. These days it’s the half marathon. No matter the distance, I have found it essential to focus on races that are compatible and complimentary to one another.
For me, the marathon was out. It just wasn’t compatible with my other goals. I ran my last one in February 1977 and then eliminated the event from my repertoire. The decision, though tough, served me well. That year I was the thirtieth ranked runner in Norcal. I focused on distances of 5 to 10k. Now and then I raced longer, but the faster I became the less I wanted to race outside my sweet spot.
Not teams. Training partners. I only did group workouts if they helped my cause. Otherwise, I ran alone. This may sound self-serving, but that’s what you have to be on workout day if you want to be the best you can be. Likewise, I chose my training partners carefully. If they were workout winners or step-aheads, I avoided them. If they incessantly talked about work I either changed the subject or peeled off to run alone. Running was an escape.
I did belong to a running club. As long as I could follow my own workout schedule, this was a bonanza of opportunity. My club often held weekend races that I could use for tempo runs. The truth was my club was filled with individualists. They liked the camaraderie without the team pressure too.
There you have it. These rules served me well. When I deviated from them, my running suffered. When I stuck by them, my running prospered.
Rich Stiller has been running and racing since 1968.
To read more from our March/April 2015 issue, click here.