Dr. Jason Karp has become an internationally-recognized running and fitness expert and is the owner of Run-Fit. He is the 2011 IDEA National Personal Trainer of the Year and 2014 recipient of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Community Leadership Award. He possesses a rare combination of education and experience. Dr. Karp holds three degrees in exercise science, including a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from Indiana University and a master’s degree from the world-famous Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Calgary.
A prolific writer who is more widely published than anyone in the fitness or coaching industries, he has more than 200 articles published in running, coaching, and fitness magazines and scientific journals and is the author of six books, including Running for Women and Running a Marathon For Dummies. He is also a featured speaker at fitness and coaching conferences.
Dr. Karp is a nationally-certified running coach through USA Track & Field, has taught USA Track & Field’s highest level coaching certification, has led elite coaching camps at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, and is the creator of the Run-Fit Specialist™ certification. He has been a runner since sixth grade and was a member of the silver-medal winning U.S. Masters Team at the 2013 World Maccabiah Games in Israel.
I feel very fortunate that Dr. Karp has taken the time to put together such an informative blog post about his secrets to running. These tips can help you whether you are just starting out or want to run better.
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Secret #1: Train Smart.
Run as slow as you can to meet the purpose of every workout. Have a systematic, progressive training plan, with each cycle of training building on what came before so that the entire program is seamless.
Secret #2: Increase your weekly running mileage very slowly and spread it out over the whole week.
The slower you increase your mileage, the less chance you’ll get injured. Add only about a mile per day of running so that you spread the stress around. For example, if you currently run 20 miles in four days per week, run no more than 24 miles next week by adding one mile to each of the four days. Don’t run 24 miles next week by adding all four miles to only one day of running. Many books and articles quote the 10 percent rule of increasing mileage, but I’ve found nothing special about 10 percent, and you can often increase by more than that if you’re smart about how you do it.
Secret #3: Don’t increase your running mileage every week.
Run the same mileage for two to four weeks before increasing it. Give your legs a chance to fully absorb and adapt to the workload before increasing the workload. You want 30 miles per week to be a normal experience for your body before increasing to 35 miles per week. And that takes time.
Secret #4: Don’t increase the distance of your long run every week.
Repeat the same long run for a few weeks before running longer. Make a 9-mile run normal before you run 10 miles. Most marathon and half-marathon training groups make the costly mistake of ramping up the long run too quickly because their training programs are only five to six months long, so they increase the distance of the long run every week throughout their programs until it’s time to taper before the race. If you’re running your first marathon or half-marathon and you’re starting from a short(ish) long run, you need to give yourself much longer than five or six months to prepare without risk of injury.
Secret #5: Don’t make the long run so long.
Ideally, your long run shouldn’t be more than about a third of your weekly mileage. So, if your long run is 10 miles, you should run at least 30 miles per week. If your long run is 20 miles, you should run at least 60 miles per week. The majority of runners don’t run that much, so you need to be creative when training so that you don’t accumulate so much stress in one run. Don’t misunderstand—the long run should be stressful. However, you don’t want the long run to be so much more stressful than any other run during the week. It’s always better to spread the stress around. To reduce the injury risk associated with a long run being much more than a third of your weekly mileage, do a mid-week, medium-long run that’s about 65 to 75 percent of the length of your long run.
Secret #6: Take a step back before taking two steps forward.
Every few weeks, decrease your weekly mileage by about a third for one recovery week to give your legs a chance to absorb and respond to the training you’ve done. For example, if you’ve run 30 miles per week for the last three weeks, back off to 20 miles for one week before increasing above 30 miles for the next week. You’ll notice the difference it makes in how your legs feel, and you’ll be coming into a greater workload week on fresher legs.
Secret #7: Never increase your weekly mileage and the intensity of your workouts at the same time.
When you begin to include interval training and speedwork into your program, either reduce the overall mileage for the week or maintain your mileage from where it was prior to adding the interval training or speedwork. Your legs can handle only so much stress at once. Trying to increase your running while also increasing the intensity of your workouts is too much for most runners to handle.
Secret #8: Alternate hard days and easy days.
Every day you run hard, follow it with at least one day of easy running. And make sure your easy days are truly easy. Don’t run hard more than two to three days per week.
The biggest mistake runners make is running too fast on their easy days. By doing so, you add unnecessary stress to your legs without any extra benefit and you won’t be able to run as much quality on your harder days. Easy runs should feel gentle and allow you to hold a conversation (about 70-75% max heart rate).
Secret #10: Get adequate recovery.
All adaptations from training occur during recovery from training, not during training itself. If you recover between runs, your muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments won’t break down. The older you are, the more time you need to recover from training, so the longer you need before increasing your weekly running mileage and intensity. Young runners can get away with training mistakes; older runners cannot.
Secret #11: Reduce overpronation.
Because overpronation (when your foot rolls inward too much upon landing on the ground) is a common cause of many running-related injuries, try to reduce any pronation that is more than normal. Wear the correct type of shoes for your feet and running mechanics (e.g., cushioning/neutral, stability, or motion control), limit running on cambered roads (especially in the gutter near the curb), which increase ankle pronation of the outside foot, and strengthen your calves, which helps stabilize your lower leg when it lands on the ground.
Secret #12: Balance strength imbalances.
When muscles are weak, other muscles and tendons must absorb more of the stress. Evaluate any areas of muscle strength imbalance and strength train to strengthen your weaker muscles. Specific, targeted strength training can help eliminate muscle strength imbalances and thus protect tendons and joints from injury. Eccentric strength training, during which muscles are forced to lengthen under tension, is very effective for increasing muscle strength.