The Running Rules Revisited

06/10/2008 - 09:36

By Cedric Jaggers/Running Journal/May 2008

We all live by rules whether we want to admit it or not. Some rules are written and enforced; others are unwritten but bind us anyway. There are some rules that affect our running and racing even if we don’t know about them. Most long time runners learn these things ‘the hard way’ or by being told about them by other runners. Most of us don’t believe they are true until we try them. Experience sometimes really is the best teacher, but for those who want to just hear about them, here goes.


I wrote about some of these rules (and called the article ‘The Rules’) back in the April 1997 issue of Running Journal, and still hear about them from runners sometimes. Maybe now is a good time to review those rules since a lot of runners are relatively new to the sport and may not know about these ‘secret’ rules.


The one extra hour of sleep rule. What happens when you decide to get serious about running and racing? Usually you start running more and you start running faster. This causes your body to get more and more fatigued. If you want to give yourself adequate time to adjust to the extra stress on your body you need to add an extra hour of sleep. If your normal amount is eight hours of sleep per night, you need to change it to nine. The extra hour of sleep will pay lots of dividends. You will feel better and run better. What happens if you do not add this sleep time? Nothing serious; you just will feel fatigued a lot of the time and you will not perform as well as you could.


Interestingly, recent research has shown that EVERYONE needs and performs best with at least seven hours of sleep. This is especially critical for runners or other serious athletes, and the extra hour when we are adding speed or distance applies in spades to us.


The hard/easy rule. Every hard day of running should be followed by an easy day of running. What is a hard day and what is an easy day? A hard day is a long run, speed work, or a race. An easy day is a day when the distance is shorter and the pace is slower. How much slower? We’ll talk about that later. Taking an ‘easy’ day after every hard day gives your body time to recover from the little aches and pains and keeps them from turning into serious illness or fatigue. As we get older some of us discover that we have to take two easy days after every hard day. I’ve learned that an easy day for me now has to mean a day of not running after any hard effort, but I know that isn’t true for everyone. However hard/easy is important. Don’t believe it? We’ll be seeing you on the injury list soon.


The one to one and a half-minute slower recovery pace rule. Let’s say you just ran a race at a seven-minute pace. The next day you go out for a run. How fast or slow should you run to let your body recover from the race effort? Would you believe eight to eight and a half-minute per mile pace? Your body needs to run a minute to a minute and a half slower than race pace to afford the body the recovery it needs.


This applies to really fast runners also. I know those of us who are slower sometimes forget how fast ‘they’ can be. I was running down Cherry Road one day really training hard for me at the time – probably a 7:00 pace, when a guy came by me like I was standing still. He had to be running six-minute miles. I recognized him and it made sense since he had just won a local 10K the weekend before at a sub five-minute pace. So the six-minute or so pace he was running was an easy day for him.


We have to base our recovery pace on what we really run now, not on what we used to run. I know I couldn’t do a training run at seven minutes per mile now. When you figure your slower pace -- keep it real. If you do not, your body will not get the recovery it needs.


The one day of recovery for every mile raced rule. It takes one day of recovery for every mile you run at race pace. People ignore this rule, but they usually pay a price for it with slower recovery, more injuries, and slower times in races they run when they have not recovered from their last race. For example if you race a 5K, it will be three days before your body has recovered fully and you can train hard for your next race. If it is a so10K it takes six days to recover. Full recovery from a marathon takes about a month. There is a reason people who over race get burned out or injured. They never let their body recover. Sometimes it is hard to follow this rule, especially when we have gotten ourselves into prime shape and want to run lots of PRs (Personal Records or Personal Bests) or fast times.


The 10-second fast start rule. You can only run the first mile of a race 10 seconds faster than you are in shape to average for the race without hurting your finishing time. This means if you are in shape to run a race in an eight-minute pace and run the first mile faster than 7:50, you are going to pay for it in the last miles. You will usually run those miles 20 seconds or more slower than what you should be averaging. You will get to ‘enjoy’ having lots of people who should not be able to out run you say "Hi" as they pass you in the final mile. And what is worse, you will be hurting so badly that you won’t be able to keep up with them. There are exceptions, such as downhill starts, but they are exceptions rather than the rule.


I could tell you about running the first mile of a 10K with Bob Schlau and Silky Sillivan the year after they had finished second and third in the Cooper River Bridge Run. When we got to the first mile mark and they called out 5:10 (instead of my usual 6:10), Bob looked at me and said, "Cedric, what are you doing here?" He knew I had no business running with them, but it felt so incredible to be with those great runners. Then reality set in and I ‘died,’ suffered the agonies of Dante’s lower regions of the Inferno and did not even finish the race under 40 minutes that day. I had not just broken, but destroyed the 10-second rule and paid for it.


The 20-second double distance rule. When you double your race distance, how much slower should your pace be? Everybody slows down at longer distances. The average slowdown is about 20 seconds each time we double our distance. In real terms, let’s say you run a 5K at an eight-minute pace, then you should expect to run a 10K at an 8:20 pace. One study showed that elite runners tended to fall off by about 18 seconds per mile, while those of us more human runners fell off by 20 seconds or more when we double our distance.


You can use this rule to improve your racing. How? By comparing the pace time of your races. If your 10K race pace is more than 20 seconds slower than your 5K race pace, this tells you that you need to do more long runs to increase your endurance so you do not fall off the pace at the longer distance. If your 10K pace is less than 20 seconds faster than your 10K pace, then you need to add speedwork so that your 5K pace can get down where it should be.


The two seconds per mile per pound rule. How much does weight affect speed? Everybody knows that fat runners do not win races. But how thin should we be and how will it affect our running and racing? The evidence seems to show that we run two seconds per mile per pound of weight we lose UNTIL we get to our ideal weight. Then we start running slower because our body doesn’t have the strength it needs to make us run our fastest.


If you are 20 pounds overweight, continue to run and train properly and lose those 20 pounds, you can run a mile 40 seconds faster with the same amount of effort. However if you lose for example 25 pounds, you will actually not be 50 seconds faster because you will have cut into your strength base. Determining your ideal weight is always problematic, and you need to check body mass index charts and your muscle mass and consider your health when and if you decide to lose a lot of weight. Despite the famous quip that you can’t be too rich or too thin, you can get too thin. Anorexia is a serious medical condition. One most of us will never have to worry about.


The 10-year rule. Most runners improve their race times for about 10 years after they start serious training. This makes it hard for some runners who start too young (you’ve seen the pre-teen running phenoms) when their time runs out and they are never heard from again as adults. It also encourages those of us who start late, that if we are willing to put in the training and make the sacrifices, we can improve for a number of years. There are probably a few exceptions who defy this rule of time, but they are for sure few and far between.


The uncertified courses are short rule. If a race course is not USATF certified and run on the course as described on the certification map, it is a short course. This is probably only true in 999 out of 1000 race courses. Are you feeling lucky? If you run a race on a course that is not certified (and sometimes we all do it) you have to accept that the time is meaningless except as a comparison to the other runners on that course that day. We cannot call it a PR or tell people we ran a 32:15 10K as I did on an uncertified course -- when my real PR on a certified 10K course is in the 36s.


If you call an uncertified course a PR you are only kidding yourself. Remember, an uncertified course is an estimated distance. The cruelest uncertified courses are the ones that are close. I know I ran a ‘PR’ at the Rose Festival in 1987. The next year the course was measured for certification and it was 200 feet short. I ran a ‘PR’ at the Turkey Day run one year and the next year the course was certified and the old course found to be about three miles and 100 feet instead of three miles and .185 to make it a full 5K.


Believe it, uncertified courses are short courses. It takes a lot of time and effort to go to all the trouble to certify a course so some race directors do not bother. Be aware if you run the race that you probably did not run the full advertised distance.


These are the rules. There are probably some more that we have not covered here. Some people think they do not have to play by the rules. Some people do not play by the rules. Theses rules of running apply to most of us, and the more rules we break the worse our running and racing performances will be. The more rules we break the more likely we are to burn out on running or to get injured and drop out of running. As I said back in the ’97 article: Break the rules at your own risk.


Copyright © 2018 Running Journal