If you want to drop some weight and start whipping yourself into shape, slapping on your running shoes and hitting the streets or track is a sure way to make it happen. Running is something of a spiritual experience for some people — and a tortuous, but necessary evil, for others. The fact of the matter is that running will torch calories, build and tone muscles, and develop grit and mental toughness.
Learning to love it, however, is the tough part.
If you’re looking to get started running, there are several programs that you can use or follow to get going. It’s often not as difficult as it seems, and once you start, your endurance and stamina grow with each passing run. But for those who want to take the sport to its extreme, it requires more than just the ability to squeeze a 20-minute jog into your schedule. Professional runners dedicate years of their lives to training.
Tina Muir — a Saucony-sponsored professional runner, and member of the British running team, having participated in Olympic trials and World Championships — spoke with The Cheat Sheet about her path to becoming a pro long-distance runner. We discuss her training regimen, the equipment she uses, and the challenges she’s overcome, among other things. Having just finished up the London Marathon with a personal-best time, Muir was kind enough to share her insight with us, hopefully to help those interested in becoming better runners to reach their own goals.
She’s also a writer and Community Manager at Runners Connect — a site dedicated to helping runners push their personal boundaries.
Here’s our conversation.
The Cheat Sheet: At what age did you start taking running seriously?
Tina Muir: I would say I went through various levels of increasing commitment with my running. At age 14 I started to take it seriously….as serious as a 14 year old could! At 19, I really started to train hard and do all those little things we like to put off, and then at 24 when I became a professional runner, I really began to do everything I possibly could to be the best I could be.
CS: For you, what’s the biggest challenge involved with long-distance running?
TM: Staying balanced. You would think that it would be the intensity of the training or staying motivated, which are definitely things I struggle with sometimes, but it is much easier to go overboard as an elite runner and become obsessed with it, to the point where you have no life outside of your running. When I get to that point, it is dangerous for me, as there is so much in life we cannot control, and it drives you (well, me) crazy!
CS: Do you have any personality traits or specific strengths that make you a stronger runner or competitor?
TM: I like to think that my intuition, grit, and honesty are my two biggest strengths. The intuition means that I am good at listening to my body and understanding when to push and when to hold back. I am also good at pacing myself because I listen. My grit is the other part that comes out when I allow it to, this allows me to dig deeper than most and push myself to my limit. Finally, I feel like my honesty and willingness to show vulnerability is a strength. Most see it as a weakness, but I feel like if you are able to be honest with yourself and those around you, you have nothing to hide, and can just be yourself.
CS: What advice do you have for those just starting out?
TM: Be consistent. It can be tempting to just go crazy with it (and lose that balance I talked about earlier) when someone first discovers the benefits of running, but unfortunately as I mentioned, when you go into it too quickly, that is when we (myself included) get into trouble as our bodies and minds are not prepared for such a high intensity. It is better to run twice a week for 20 minutes building up to 40 minutes for three months than it is to run for 60 minutes every day for three weeks, and then not run again for 2 months. If you are consistent, and build up gradually, that is when your body can adjust, and you will be able to keep it up. The second thing I would say is to believe that you are a runner. I see so many people who think that they do not “look like a runner” or they are “too slow” to be a runner, but I honestly do not think that exists. If you are out there doing it, you are battling the same self doubt and fears that every runner has, we are all out there together, so remember that you are still a runner.
CS: What does your training regimen look like?
TM: I generally run once a day, but a few times a week I run twice. Of those runs, 1-2 days of the week will be hard, which will involve some intervals of hard running with a short recovery or a longer hard training run. One run per week will be a long run, and then the rest will be easy, slow runs. I also cross train 3-4 times per week for around an hour (strength training twice, swimming and using my elliptigo the other days). My total mileage per week is running 80-90 miles.
So, most days I exercise for around 2 hours total … not as much as most people think.
CS: What are the best training programs out there for people looking to get started?
TM: Many people think that using a coach is unnecessary and that they are just as capable of coming up with a training program on their own, but honestly, it will help you in more ways than you imagine. Those runners who think that way, and then give a coach a try are always astounded by just how much of a difference it makes having that person there to hold us accountable, and give an outside opinion to make sure we are doing the right training.
Runners Connect is by far my favorite training program, and I love that they have a focus on a community setting. Once you are an athlete, you not only have access to the coaches, but to a community of runners who will support you through the good and the bad runs. Whether runners are looking for a training plan to prepare for their first 5k to a full-on marathon training schedule, runners of every level will benefit from being a Runners Connect athlete and they have a free two-week trial, so you can see if it works for you.
CS: What equipment (shoes, etc.) do you use, and are there any you would recommend?
The only thing you NEED to have is a good pair of running shoes and as much as the running stores are great to go to, the best way you can find out if a pair of shoes will work for you is your own comfort. Try a few different pairs on in a running store, walk around for a few minutes, and see which feels most comfortable to you. It comes down to that intuition again!
I am sponsored by Saucony, and I absolutely LOVE all of their shoes, clothes, and products. They really design with a runner in mind. My favorite shoes are the Saucony Triumph ISO 2 (men’s Triumph ISO 2) and Saucony Ride (men’s Ride 9) for training in, and the Saucony Fastwitch (men’s Fastwitch) for racing in.
CS: How do you prepare for a race?
TM: I will do a 20 minute jog warm up to start with (yep, running before a race is very important!), followed by some dynamic warm up exercises, and some strides. I actually save the regular stretching for after a race as the muscles are fully warmed up. Although it may seem counter intuitive to tire yourself out before a race, warming up through jogging and strides will mean that your body will be prepared for the race, so you can make the most of the opportunity from start to finish.
You can connect with or follow Tina Muir by checking out her blog, and by following her at Runners Connect — where she serves as Community Manager.