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I still remember the day I became a runner. I was 10 years old and I began noticing my mum sneaking out for her daily ‘jog’. Curiosity got the better of me and I asked her where she was going, what she was doing and could I come. Mum agreed and off I went for my first run. It was 3.8km, around my city’s botanical gardens. I remember being exhausted, but experiencing a powerful happiness and sense of pride once we were finished.
Pro freestyle skier and former Olympian Anna Segal hits the trails.
24 years later, I’m still running. I have never conventionally trained or competed in the field. I am the definition of a running recreationalist. Living in a snowy part of the world I prefer to take the full winter off for other activities. Then when spring rolls around, I pull my trail runners out of storage and get ready for 2 – 3 weeks of pain and stiffness while my body readjusts to the movement. However, this year, I decided there had to be a better way to go about this. I reached out to Eric Carter, a professional endurance coach and elite ski mountaineer living in Squamish, B.C. Not only is he a current member of the US National Mountaineering Ski Team with 25 + career World Cup starts in ski randonee racing under his belt, but he also has a BSc in Exercise Physiology, a Masters in Environmental Physiology and a PhD Endurance Performance at Altitude. He seemed like the right guy to ask. I picked Eric’s brain for tips on how to successfully kick start (or restart) your running. Here's what he had to say:
Professional endurance coach and elite ski mountaineer Eric Carter.
"Almost every runner is motivated for different reasons. Some run to accomplish goals, some run to get away from distractions. Personally, I am highly intrinsically motivated by the reward of the spectacular places my runs take me to."
1. How many times a week should I run when starting out?
This depends a lot on where you’re starting from. If you were absolutely sedentary, like coming back from a long-term injury or period of inactivity, switching between 3 minutes of easy walking and 3 minutes of brisk walking or jogging for 15-25 minutes total, three times per week would be a great place to start. If you’re already fairly fit, playing tennis regularly or cycling, starting with 20 minutes of very easy running, three times per week is totally reasonable.
2. Is it better to do more frequent, shorter sessions or less frequent, longer distance sessions?
I definitely push people towards more frequent sessions. Better to move every day for a short period of time than try to pack it into one session that leaves you crushed. It’s still important however to have at least one rest day per week. Constant pounding from running every day, especially for a new runner, is a quick way to injury.
3. Is there an optimal heart rate zone that I should stick to when training?
For an athlete just starting, it’s easiest to focus on breathing rather than heart rate. Runs should be at a conversational pace, meaning you can tell a minutes-long story without having to stop and gasp for breath. If you can breath through your nose, you’re perfect. That might mean you need to slow down. It might even mean you need to walk! By going slower, you’re building your aerobic base that will help your endurance in the long run (pun intended).
4. What should I do to warm up before a run?
Five to ten minutes of walking is a great warm-up but as long as you’re not sprinting out the door, just ease into the run and your warm-up is done!
5. Are there any mental techniques you use to push yourself to run for longer?
Almost every runner is motivated for different reasons. Some run to accomplish goals, some run to get away from distractions. Personally, I am highly intrinsically motivated by the reward of the spectacular places my runs take me to. I’ll admit to extrinsic motivations of peer approval in my success and the occasional (or frequent) donut post-run. As long as I let the former motivations dominate, it’s often quite easy to keep going.
"By far the majority of my job as a running coach is spent holding my athletes back. Very rarely is an athlete under-motivated. The problem is always trying to do too much, too quickly."
6. If you have set yourself a distance or time goal for your daily run, are there any instances when you should abandon this? I.e. signs that you should stop?
Daily training goals should always be loose. A single workout very rarely makes you a better runner but it can absolutely cause an injury. Being too rigid in training is an easy way to become sidelined. I find the first few minutes of a run to often be the hardest part. I always try my hardest to get out the door and run for a minimum of 15 minutes. After that, I’m almost always feeling way better and glad that I got out the door. Occasionally though, I still feel down after those first 15 minutes and that’s when I give myself permission to call it and head home. The success isn’t completing the workout, but trying!
7. Best ways to recover after a training run?
On the couch! Get in a mix of carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes and then relax. Sleep is the most often overlooked component of training. If you’re regularly missing out on sleep, you’re not getting the most out of your training.
8. Should I be doing strength work alongside running? If so, what should I focus on?
Absolutely. Running is very repetitive so a general strength program will help increase range of motion and balance out the muscles that are neglected in training. A running specific program is great but if you’re having trouble finding the right one, look for a general powerlifting gym and jump on their program. You’ll be humbled by the lifters but learn a ton about how your muscles work.
9. Any other common training mistakes that you notice runners making?
By far the majority of my job as a running coach is spent holding my athletes back. Very rarely is an athlete under-motivated. The problem is always trying to do too much, too quickly. Give yourself the time to recover between training sessions (and races) and keep in mind that the sport is a lifelong one if you do it right!
If you are interested in more info about Eric and his training tips for long distance running, you can check out his coaching business RidgeLine Athletics or follow along with his adventures via his Instagram account: @skiericcarter.
By Anna Segal. Anna is former Olympian and professional freestyle skier who makes her home in beautiful Pemberton, BC.