Short sprint – Streaking on

Somehow, I’ve created a run streak that goes back into the 2010s. Admittedly it’s only just a decade ago as my last rest day was December 7th 2019 but it’s still a streak of over eighteen months. It’s been 5K every day often more.

It sounds impressive to anyone who isn’t a runner.

It sounds impressive to people who are runners.

No-one has asked me about it but I imagine the sort of question I’d get is “How do you motivate yourself to keep getting out there?”. Well, motivation has rarely been something I had to think about. I have running goals and to reach those goals, I have to get out and do the training, but equally I make it manageable so it never becomes a strain.

My seven day week splits into three workouts and four recovery runs. The workouts are the exciting part of the week where I get to do something that’s different, that’s exciting and which I know will progress me towards my goals. How can I not be motivated to go do those?

The recovery runs are more mundane but they’re usually only around forty minutes long. Once you’ve been running consistently for a while it’s the sort of run that seems to be over before it’s started. If I were a less experienced runner, I’d probably only do twenty or thirty minutes until the fitness expanded to make them feel achievable.

But it’s the pace of the recovery runs that makes them, and therefore the streak, achievable. I always keep them very easy. Some of them have been closer to ten minute miles even though I can run much, much quicker. I focus on my breathing from the beginning and never put in any undue effort on the hills. I never try to speed up, I just let my body take me along at the pace it wants to go. Sometimes there are days when I have to stumble through the run because the legs are feeling hollow but, more often than not, it’s a chance to get out, look around and think about life.

It wasn’t always like this. When I trained a decade ago, I pushed myself harder on every run but that then lowered my motivation for getting out there frequently. Your body is good at telling your mind when it’s had enough but, while people hear it, invariably they don’t act compassionately towards themselves. Some days I turned round after a mile because I knew my legs couldn’t handle the run. It’s just not possible for a poorly trained runner to run hard every day and not need the occasional break. I haven’t been taking rest days but that doesn’t mean I have been taking a break.

Short Sprint – Three max

Simple rule: never run hard more than three times per week. Use the rest of the week for easy running and do it often to offset the effects of the hard runs. You might be able to do a fourth hard run once in a while, or if you’re still young and full of growth hormones and getting quick recovery, but as a rule, three is the maximum.

But what do I mean by “running hard”? Obviously if you go to parkrun or a race, that’s running hard. If you do an interval or speedwork session, that’s running hard. If you do some kind of tempo or marathon pace workout that’s running hard. Anything that gets you breathing hard or sweating counts as running hard. Introducing a new type of session, e.g. a long run, counts as running hard because your body isn’t accustomed to the work involved. It’ll need time to recover from that.

When Paula Radclifffe was at the peak of her marathon training she worked to a nine day cycle with one workout every three days. It’s the workouts that get you faster but you need the recovery days to allow the body to rebuild. Slot in too many hard sessions in place of easy runs and you’re making it hard for the body to adapt.

Often though, what runners think of as easy sessions actually count as ‘running hard’. If you arrive home sweating, or your breathing is raised, or don’t feel like you could do it again, then it’s probable you’ve been running hard. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and run what feels like ‘too easy’. Generally the only runners who undertrain are those who don’t train regularly.

So that’s my simple rule – maximum of three workouts each week with the rest of the week spent recovering and building a base. By all means don’t even do three each week, Paula didn’t. I’ve seen myself and other runners make decent progress off just one hard run per week. But start to understand that a hard session is anything that’s more than “too easy” and start limiting yourself.