Stop Beginning

Way back in May of 2011, in Part III of my series on marathon training, I introduced the concept of The Idea of the Perpetual Beginner, and briefly discussed the importance of fostering proper running form. I further discussed running form and suggestions for developing it in a post entitled Form, Form, FormI've mentioned form in passing a few times since.

Get the picture? Good running form is vital to safe, effective, and above all fun running.

We all know people who refuse to run - or at least refuse to do much running - based on the argument that running is painful and unpleasant. Maybe some of you who are reading this right now also feel this way. In your mind, running is legitimately painful. You probably believe that running comes naturally to me and that I cannot possibly understand your own unique aches and pains. For you, it's "different." You're "just not built" for running.

Depending on how convinced you are that this is the case, there may be no good reason to implore you to do any additional running. But if running is something that you're interested in doing, and doing in a way that is easy, painless, and fun, then read on...

Starting Today, You Are No Longer A Beginner
The first step to running painlessly and enjoying every minute of it is to purge the "running industry's" lies from your mind and embrace the fact that if you have been running for a couple of months now at least, then you are no longer a "beginner" or a "novice."

Congratulations! You just graduated from being a "beginner" to being an "experienced runner!" If anyone second-guesses you on this, just tell 'em that Ryan from Stationary Waves certified you as a running veteran, and if that's a problem, they can take it up with me.

In all seriousness, there is a two-tiered issue at play when it comes to The Idea of the Perpetual Beginner.

The first tier is psychological; that is, if you always see yourself as a novice, then you are predetermining the extent of your own abilities. You are needlessly limiting yourself. Give yourself permission to graduate to a new level of experience.

You're not lying about it, either. You learned how to buy shoes, you learned how to stretch, you spent some time grimacing through the first few months of a running career. You've earned your merit badge. Now, look forward to a brighter future, i.e. the rest of your running career!

The second tier pertains to running form. As a beginner, you have unwittingly adopted some bad running habits. It's okay! We all did this when we were beginners.

But now that we're not beginners, we need to think about how to run safely and effectively - and have more fun - for the rest of our running careers. Thinking about form is an important "next step" for you as a runner. When you were a beginner, you had many other things you had to think about. Now that that's over, it's time to put some thought into what your body is doing.

Stop Run/Walking
Run/walking may be a great way to get active, get outside, and get some exercise. For many of you, it might even be fun. If you like it, I encourage you to keep doing it.

But I will say this: Run/Walking is not the same thing as running. They are two completely different types of exercise.

There are a lot of differences between walking and running when it comes to form and technique. Run/walking is more or less and alternating pattern of one and then the other. There are good practices for walking and good practices for running, and they are not always (or ever?) the same.

If you want to run safely, effectively, and enjoy yourself a lot more, then you must become aware of the unique aspects of running, and hone them like any other skill you acquire in life.

The Problem With Run/Walking
So what's the problem with run/walking? I will sum up the main problems, as I see them:

1 - It Fosters A Low Endurance Threshold
Successful running involves being able to endure for a long period of time. There are many ways to travel 5K. For most of us, the most efficient way is to get into a car and drive for 5 kilometers. That will get you there quickly and painlessly. In order to drive five kilometers, you need access to a car, fuel, a driver's license, and a viable road.

If you want to walk five kilometers, you'll need access to shoes, and a little patience. No matter what speed you walk, you'll get there eventually. Almost all of us have the ability to walk five kilometers, should the need or desire arise. The only real preconditions are legs and shoes.

But if your intent is to run a 5K and you do not currently have the athletic ability to run 5K, you will never gain that athletic ability by driving 5K repeatedly, nor will you gain that ability by walking 5K repeatedly. Why not? Because you need a level of endurance that is not offered by driving or walking. To get level of endurance, you have to run.

Furthermore, every human being in the world requires more than 10 minutes to run a 5K. If you want to be able to run a 5K, you will need to be able to last longer than 10 minutes. Run/walking at a 10:1 ratio (or whatever ratio you choose) will definitely hone your ability to run in X-minute increments. Therefore, at the end of your training regimen, you may be good at running X minutes. But X minutes is not 5 kilometers.

In order to run 5K, you need an endurance threshold that exceeds the amount of time required to run 5K. To get it, you'll have to stop run/walking, and start working on extending your endurance threshold. It is the only way.

2 - It Gives You "Permission To Walk"
I'll be the first to admit that running involves a lot of psychology. There is no doubt that, in order to push your body beyond what it wants to do (which is stay on the couch), you have to muster up a little will-power. You have to tell yourself to keep going, even when you want to stop.

If your training philosophy is to stop running and start walking the minute you get tired, then you will never really improve.

Think about this for a minute. When running gets difficult, that is the very moment when you need your will-power the most. That moment is when you decide to keep going, overcome the odds, overcome your fears and doubts, put mind over matter, and improve your ability to keep going.

If your training philosophy is one that allows you to stop every time you have an opportunity to go harder, faster, longer, etc., then your training philosophy is fundamentally flawed.

3 - It Ruins Your Form
Most importantly of all, when you only run in short bursts, then you don't develop a smooth, safe, and efficient running form.

It does not take any development of technique to run 50 yards. Anyone who can move 50 yards can run 50 yards, and it doesn't much matter what they look like, because they will make it at least that far.

But not everyone can run 400 yards. In order to do that, you need to have at least enough running technique to get you that far. It may take every ounce of energy you have, but if you have enough technique to get you that far, you'll make it.

And, of course, if your goal is to run a 5K, you will need even more technique. By the time we get to the distances involved in endurance running, energy requirements are eclipsed by technical requirements. You can't do it on guts and energy alone, you have to develop a running technique that will get you across a five-kilometer span.

When you run/walk, you are confined to whatever distance you can traverse over the running interval. If you're doing the 10:1 thing, then you are confined to, at the very most, about two miles of distance. For most of you, the ten minutes of running is far less than that, perhaps less than one mile.

Well, five kilometers is over three miles. You will never develop an efficient running form if you never require your body to develop one. Remember, it takes a little over 20 minutes of running for most people to trigger aerobic respiration. 10:1 running stops you before you even get started!

How To Stop Beginning
Now that you're no longer a novice, you'll need an alternative approach to running. Luckily for you, it's not as difficult as you might fear.

What I tell less-experienced runners who want to achieve a running goal is to start with something you know you can do, and work up from there, in small increments. Rather than doing some kind of ridiculous 10:1 run/walk regimen, try the following.

Set aside a static amount of time for your daily workout. Let's suppose you want to work out for 30 minutes, but you're not sure you can run 30 minutes in a single stretch. No problem! We'll get you there.

Start with an amount of running that's doable for you. For some people, that might be 5 minutes. For some people, perhaps even less. The important thing is to choose something that you know you can do.

On your first day out there, run for 5 minutes, then stop running altogether and walk for the remaining 25 minutes of your workout.

The following day, run for 6 minutes, stop, and walk the remaining 24.

The following day, run for 7 minutes, stop, and walk the remaining 23.

In less than a month, you'll be running 30 minutes in a stretch, and you'll be surprised how easily you did it. Try it yourself. You'll be surprised how well it works.


  1. You don't need shoes to walk 5km. I've done it in the forest. Very possible without shoes. It is less comfortable on paved roads, but still possible (if it's not too hot or cold). :)

  2. In all seriousness the girls are doing a 2k race this spring/summer and there form is amazing. However, they have almost no endurance and even less will power. I was instinctively developing a technique of run/walking but I think instead I will use your approach. I will have them set their own achievable goal (with coaching from me if it's too easy/hard). Then we will expand that goal out to 2km. I am sure they will be able to 'run as fast as they can' for 2km if they train right. In fact, they probably already can. They just don't know it. Thanks for these posts. Very interesting and informative.

    1. Phil - I tried this last summer, and it works. I worked up only a minute or two every time I ran, which wasn't every day. And I ran 30 minutes by the end of a month and a half or so. Good luck to the cuties!