TRAINING: How to get started

I'm using this Blog as a personal Diary for my running experiences, but I also want it to be a place where I can share tips and tricks about how to become a great runner, how to learn to face challenges bigger than those you have faced before, and how to use running as a metaphor for improving the other aspects of your daily life.

The idea is not new, in fact, I am merely a messenger of people with vastly more experience (Mike Stroud, Katherina McKiernan), or vastly more insight (Eckhart Tolle, Danny Dreyer).

My Step-by-Step Guide to Running
There are many guides on how to get started doing any kind of activity out there, and while some will be better for you than others, because they have been given more thought by the author or because it suits your individual needs better, any framework is a good start. The most important thing is that you acquire some focus and some structure in what you do.

Talent and determination will take you a long way, but without proper planning you are not getting out of yoru training what you should.

The Steps
These are the six basic steps I have for myself. I may very well revise them soon, as I am just throwing them out there to provide a framework within which I can present you with examples of how you get started.
  1. Think
  2. Read
  3. Prepare
  4. Practice
  5. Maintain
  6. Evaluate

Over the coming months, I'll be putting special focus and detail on each of these steps. Today, I'll look into how to do a proper self-assessment.

Step 1 - Think

This is the step in which you must think, really hard, about your own background, your skills, strengths, weaknesses and much more.

Personally, I find this part very easy, but then again I know from experience that self-reflection comes natural to me (meaning, my brain has created a residual pattern for thinking about my own activities at some stage in my childhood, I do not know the trigger for this particular characteristic).

So don't be put off if you don't do this too often, residual patterns such as self-reflection can be learned (or indeed unlearned) as they become necessary. If its not natural, it will simply slow you down a little bit in the beginning, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I started out by looking back at my past experiences as a runner, originally, these were unstructured, but I decided to use the SWOT analysis (known from business but recommended for running, I forget my source unfortunately):

Strengths (Internal)

  • Good experience (15+ of Trail Running)
  • Not injury prone (just two minor injuries to feet and legs)
  • Quick Healer (based on self-observation)
  • Defiant/Stubborn
  • Analytical/Methodical
  • Open to information
  • Good mix of long/short muscle fibres (estimated from my physiognomy I would guess 70% long/30%)
  • Naturally lean
  • Experience with mountain hiking
  • Very fast descender
  • Good sprinter in finishes
  • Tactical acumen
  • Highly motivated
  • Very flexible ankle joints

Weaknesses (Internal)

  • Bad eyesight (corrected by lenses, but still a potential shortcoming)
  • Too high level of body fat (currently around 17%, for my level of ambition, 10% is the target)
  • Slight periodical pains in left foot after last injury (receding, but suggests cartilage buildup)
  • Slight pain in right glute/quadriceps after very long runs
  • Relatively inexperienced mountain runner (only 10 runs in mountainous terrain so far)
  • Weak calves
  • Low base speed/not naturally quick
  • Bad ascender
  • Reckless tendencies

Possibilities (External)

  • Very active mountain running scene nearby
  • Very active road running scene nearby
  • Active athletics clubs nearby (Crusaders and Rathfarnham)
  • Have friends/family who share my hobby
  • Income supports purchase of necessary equipment and nutrition
  • Good running shops/easy access to equipment

Threats (External)

  • Demanding job
  • Located in city centre with little direct access to mountains
  • No car (see above)
  • Active social life

As you can see from the above all of the factors I have considered could be grouped inside the following categories:

  1. Physique/Genetics
  2. Experience/Knowledge/Training
  3. Equipment/Gear/Material
  4. Social Factors/Life Situations
  5. Personality
Try to use these 5 basic categories to dissect every aspect of yourself into tiny pieces and put them into a SWOT analysis. This will force you to think about every aspect of yourself and will give you a great overview of where you currently stand. Without this baseline, your training will most likely be ineffective, or even inappropriate and your objectives consequently skewed.

Question Time
Next you must ask yourself important questions based on the SWOT Analysis. Below are examples.

  • How do I best utilise my strengths?
  • Do I want to focus on runs catering only my strengths?
  • Can my strengths be further improved?
  • Are my strengths hard/costly to maintain?
  • How far will my strengths allow me to go?
  • Can my weaknesses be amended/corrected/remedied?
  • How can I correct or minimise my weaknesses?
  • Is my weakness permanent/unchangeable?
  • What obstacles/challenges/dangers will my weakness present me with?
  • How can I avoid the threats? Is the threat avoidable at all?
  • Can I plain in contingencies to minimise the potential harmful effects of any threats?
  • What is the worst case scenario of the threats and how can I recover from its effects?
  • When most I be most wary of the threats?
  • How do I best harness the positive effects of the opportunities?
  • Is there only a slight window to act upon my opportunities?
  • Am I using the opportunities to best effect?
And so on...

Once you've completed this face, you're ready to start your education in your running career. Yes, you heard me, its time to hit the books and become an expert in the field of running. Never rush out of the blocks knowing only half the story. At this stage you know all you need about yourself, including how much more information you need to take in. Only once you're an expert in the fields of knowledge related to running (technique, anatomy, genetics, nutrition etc.), can you fully harness your own potential.

And why settle for less....