Getting good at something takes a lot of time, dedication and patience. As impatient, driven and successful leaders we like the idea of being good at stuff – better than good, actually. We want to be able to ace whatever we turn our hand to.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an approach that works well with mastering the art of running. There’s a generally accepted idea that it takes 10,000 hours to gain expert-like proficiency in complex disciplines. Running is no exception, but the problem we face is the limited time and physical capacity to practise running eight hours per day like we do in our work.
With the possible exception of the freakishly gifted, expecting to learn to run really well in a matter of weeks or even months isn’t a realistic or helpful ambition. Often runners come to us for coaching and might anticipate being able to solve an injury concern with a few lessons and a training plan. Occasionally we see someone who makes dramatic improvements quite quickly, but on the whole most runners are like me; needing to gradually work at it over months and years.
While it’s possible to instruct someone on how you’d like them to move, it’s much harder to put those ideas into practice. It may take weeks of gradual strength training work with only a modest volume of running before your body develops the capacity to meet the demands placed on it by the mind. And in these early weeks and months the duration of these exploratory runs needs to be quite short – fitness being a natural restriction on how far you can run while maintaining a better running pattern.
Many runners don’t think they’ve been for a proper run unless they’ve been out there for an hour, so it’s a bit of a shock to the system when we advise a lesser regime of 20 to 30 minute jogs a few times per week while they’re working on improving running technique and/or coming back from an injury. In the case of beginner runners or those just starting back from being hurt it’s likely the running volume will be even lower and include walk/jog sessions – eg 20 minutes of exercise comprising 60-second jogs broken with 60-second walks.
We also encourage runners to try out small volumes of faster-paced tempo running (if they’re not injured) and to run in different styles of shoes. Both these measures afford the opportunity to try out sending different messages from mind to body. What you’re doing is giving yourself the chance to learn through experience without the pressure of needing to run to exhaustion – a state where it is impossible to practise complex movement and skill. Everything you try won’t work, but you’ll make discoveries that you can build upon as you gradually increase the amount of running you do over time.
So you should approach learning to run like a career – or perhaps even a career change – in doing so you’ll accept that a few steps backwards might be needed to progress successfully towards your ultimate goal. Just as it takes many years to accumulate the experience to excel in your work, so too will it take time to master the art of running. Acceptance of this fact will mean enjoying your running more and, oddly enough, deliver better and faster results than would be achieved by the runner who impatiently embraces the boundaries of injury.