Advice From an Untalented Runner


Here are a few things I would highly recommend if you would like to make a substantial improvement to your running in the quickest possible time, whether you’re a newbie or have been running for a few years. – BY TRAD CRUIKSHANK

I’ve been running for seven years. I started running because I wanted to run the Comrades Marathon, a bucket list thing, but then the proverbial bug bit and after a few months of building a basic fitness, running became more enjoyable. From that point there were small personal bests here or there, but after four years I realised I had reached a plateau. My times were not improving, I didn’t feel any fitter, and my body composition was kind of fit but flabby. So what do I think were the main changes that helped me break that plateau and get to the “next level?” I’m no super-athlete, but considering my first marathon time was 4:45 and my most recent time was 2:43, I think I can make a few suggestions.

1. Long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity, both with exercise and diet.
It’s what you do most of the time that is important and not what you do some of the time. Consistency is doing what we set out to accomplish long after the mood has left and staying committed to build ourselves over a long-term period. This theory applies to long-term training, over years, just as much as it does to our day-to-day training. The correct training needs to be applied consistently and evenly. The alternative is the weekend warrior who doesn’t train for five days and on the weekend tries to make up for it by running too many kilometres, a prime example of how to get injured and never improve your running times.

2. Run solo to improve or social to enjoy.
The South African race calendar is set up for athletes to fail, with races every Saturday and Sunday in many areas. Going to a race implies that there is an expectation of a time, or challenge to beat someone, but consistently running harder that ideal means you never give your body a chance to peak for a performance. You may gradually improve your results using this method, but in reality there are much faster and better training methods to achieve your goals.

The same goes for running too easy. Big social morning runs are great for a chat and coffee, but often these groups accommodate all types of runners and incorporate more walks and water breaks than may be necessary for you. There is, of course, a place for social running groups with motivation and structure, but if you really want to improve, the best thing you can do is run to your own effort and requirements every run.

3. Listen to those with experience.
If they look like a runner, talk like a runner and smell like a runner, they may still know nothing about running… Many runners share advice and what works for them, but you should look for runners in your club or running circles who have improved over a period of time, or have consistently great results, and ask them what they’ve been doing. These runners are not always naturally talented, but most have just worked out the system, worked hard and are a great wealth of knowledge.

For example, I had maxed out on my marathon PB at 3:25 before I asked a good friend with over 20 years’ running experience, Drew Fisher, to help me out. It took some time, but at a target race a few months later I ran a 2:56 just doing the ‘right things.’ Find a mentor or coach to assist you and your improvements will far outpace your expectations.

4. Do you run to eat or eat to run?
Everyone running a marathon burns between 2000 and 3500 calories, which is about the average recommended daily intake, so why is it that some people never seem able to lose weight. The answer is partially due to understanding diet properly, which I believe a sports-specific dietician could assist with, or a mental misperception that “because I run so much, I can afford to eat more.” For weight-loss, or running that personal best, diet is simply as important as training. You cannot afford to have a burger, chips and milkshake after every run. Your body requires protein, and glucose for muscles to recover, but pure sugar and oily fatty food will just clog your system while providing no benefit for the body to recuperate from the hard effort of running. In other words, your diet is the most important factor for recovery.

Final Word
Some people assume they are born fast, or that running is easy for them, but in reality they have to work hard all the time to maintain that level. I truly believe everyone can run well, but if you want to be the best runner you can be, it takes the effort to understand and work at it.