Becoming A Runner: 5 Principles of Training

When embarking on something new it can often be overwhelming diving into everything you can about the subject.

Running would seem very simple at face value – lace up your shoes and go.

And it can be at first.

But once you begin to venture past a couple of miles and begin running on a regular basis you owe it to yourself to equip yourself with the knowledge to be successful. It is better to start off with good habits than to correct bad ones later on. 

There are 5 key principles in becoming a runner that apply to whatever your reason for running is, and grow even more important as you progress as a runner.

Principle 1: Progressive Overloading

Your running abilities will improve from your training as your body adapts to the stress training places upon it.

The adaptations that occur are at the cellular level.

You don’t want to overwhelm your system, as that can lead to injury, illness, fatigue or all of the above.

Your body is best equipped to improve itself from gradual increases in additional stress.

Additional stress from training includes increased time, distance and intensity. You would not go out and run a marathon without any training.

The same goes for starting off on regular running.

Remember the golden rule in running: never increase your distance by more than 10% per week.

Principle 2: Specificity

The type of improvement you experience as a runner will be directly correlated to the type of training you perform.

The principle of specificity applies to the type of exercise, intensity (pace), and duration (time or distance).

Of course, to become a runner you need to run, but how you approach your training will be different depending on your goal.

As a beginner you might aim to run for 1 mile without stopping. Perhaps it is run for 30 minutes.

Maybe you want to train for your first 5K. A more advanced runner might want to set a personal record (PR) in a half-marathon.

Each of these examples represents a different goal that requires a unique training approach.

For example, a new runner looking to be able to run for 30 minutes without stopping would be best served with a run walk program to build a base level of fitness and gradually increase the time spent running until 30 minutes is achieved.

A first time marathoner will want to have specific running workouts tailored to the demands of the marathon – long runs for endurance, cross -training for injury prevention, shorter runs for maintenance while recovering from longer runs.

If you are looking to get faster, logging more miles won’t be effective.

You’ll need to focus some of your training on specific running workouts such as interval training to increase your speed.

Principle 3: Individual Differences in Ability

Beginning runners experience the fastest gains compared to any other group of runners.

When you don’t have a core running base established simply starting a running routine will result in rapid gains as your body responds to the new stresses placed upon it.

If you are starting your running efforts with a partner or group not everyone will progress at the same rate.

Individuals are unique in their physiology. Some have a gift for running, others have to work harder to achieve the same result.

The most important factor is to not compare yourself to others when starting out.

It can be discouraging if you are one of those not progressing at the same rate. Instead, evaluate where you are now and where you want to be 3 months from now.

After running for a few weeks, take note of your progress. Think about what you can accomplish now that you could not accomplish just a short time ago.

Running is more about competing against yourself than it is against others.

There will always be those that are fitter and faster than you. Make your own goals to measure yourself against.

Even if others get to where you want to be faster than you we all end up at the same place eventually due to the next principle.

Principle 4: Law of Diminishing Returns

One of the biggest benefits of being a new runner is your early progress will be substantial.

As you make great gains you will start a positive feedback loop equating running with the increased fitness you are experiencing.

However, over time you will begin to approach your optimal performance.

Whatever training regimen you are engaging in will become less effective over time until you are simply maintaining the gains you have made.

As you approach that point, only small incremental improvements will be possible from hard training efforts, compared to large improvements that came from more moderate training at the very beginning. Don’t let this discourage you, but rather allow you to focus on a specific area of your running you want to target for improvement.

Principle 5: Use It Or Lose It

Just as the principle states, you have to keep running to maintain your fitness level as a runner. Consistency is the key.

This does not mean that you have to run at the same intensity year round. But if you train hard all summer and then hang it up completely for the winter you are going to be starting over with next to nothing the following Spring.

That can be extremely frustrating as mentally you will feel you can just pick up where you left off because you have done it before but physically your body will tell you otherwise!

It takes about 10 days of no running before you start to lose what you have worked so hard to obtain.

See more on how long it takes to lose your fitness level. Depending on your level of fitness, what it takes to maintain it will vary.

One of the most common beginner mistakes is to take time away and just pick up where you left off.

This can lead to injury or a bad case of delayed muscle soreness. Remember principle 1 – progressive overloading. If you have more than a few weeks away you need to build back to the level you were at.

No matter your running goal these 5 principles will start you off on the right foot.