How-To become a Running Master

We are on a journey to running mastery. It’s not about running 5 km or 10 km or 160 km, this journey is about becoming masters of running. To become a master at anything requires hours and hours of Deliberate Practice.

Andres Ericcson is a scientists who has dedicated his life to studying masters or Peak performers as Ericcson calls them. In one study of young violinist at the Berlin University of Arts. Teachers were asked to stream students into 3 different groups. The top group who were capable of becoming soloists , the middle group who were likely to become professional musicians and the bottom group would be streamed to become music teachers. These are all good musicians and the classification was a case of good, better, best.  All the students were 18 years old or slightly younger and the most obvious difference between them was the number of hours they had practiced in their lives.

The good group had practiced an average of 3 420 hours, the better group 5 301 hours and the excellent group 7 410 hours. Even supposed prodigies were still practicing the same kind of hours as the excellent students. A further study of adult violinists in the Berlin Philharmonic came up with a strikingly similar result of 7 336 hours of practice before the age of 18.

Ericcson has studied many other Masters of various disciplines and there is one simple conclusion. The top performers are those who have spent a lot of time practicing their discipline. Practice alone though is not what is producing the results. It’s Deliberate Practice that produces the results.

Purposeful practice is distinct from deliberate practice. Purposeful practice is when a person pushes themselves hard to improve, deliberate practice is both purposeful and informed. Informed by the best performers achievements and an understanding of what these experts have done to excel.

Deliberate Practice is characterized by

  • Deliberate Practice Develops skills that others have already figured out how to do and for which there are already well-established training techniques. The practice regimen should be designed and overseen by a coach who understands the skills required and how best to achieve them
  • Deliberate practice always takes place just outside of the student’s comfort zone. These efforts are always at near maximal effort and are often not enjoyable.
  • Deliberate practice always has well defined goals aimed at improving some aspect of the target performance. It is not aimed at some vague overall improvement. Once an overall goal is set a teacher or coach will develop an overall plan for making a series of small changes that add up to the desired result.
  • Deliberate practice is deliberate. The student must bring their full attention and concentration to each practice session. The student must understand and concentrate on the specific goal for the practice in order to adjust the practice to meet the expected target for the exercise.
  • Deliberate practice requires frequent feedback and modification based on the feedback. Initially that is the role of the coach but in time the student will know enough to make their own adjustments.
  • Deliberate practice depends on and creates internal mental representations. These mental representations are improved upon as the students understanding deepens with practice. They allow one to monitor both in practice and in performance whether what you are doing is correct. They show the correct way to do something and allow one to adjust during performance.
  • Deliberate practice depends on skills being built on skills by modifying and adjusting previously acquired skills a good coach is able to incrementally improve a student’s performance over time. It also means that the coach must ensure that the students’ fundamental skills are sound and that new skills are built on solid fundamentals in order to avoid having to relearn skills when moving to a more advanced level.

What does this mean for distance runners

Distance running compromises many skills that can be constantly improved upon. Running form, strength, agility, power, mobility and mental strength. Then there are the softer skills like race strategy, eating for training and racing. There is always something that can be improved upon that adds to the overall skill set that distance runners thrive on.

If you want to reach consistent peak performances then you need to be using Deliberate Practice in your running. They way to go about that is write down what Peak performance means to you then find a coach who can help you through the process. Together with your coach, establish a benchmark of your current skills, draw up a plan to build the skills you need, have ongoing feedback mechanisms to determine if you’re on track and adjust the program as needed.

Identify what your running aspirations are

To run 5km, run fast, run far. Finish a goal event. To run for health. To win. To find peace in a hectic lifestyle.

Understand where you are in your running

  1. Movement Screening – (Biomechanical assessment)
  2. Running form assessment
  3. Time Trials – Max effort 1600m, Max effort 5 k
  4. Time Trial – Low HR test

With your coach and in line with your goals determine which skills needs the most attention

Looking at the assessments that have been done. Your coach will be able to advise you on the steps needed to move towards your running aspirations. Set measurements in place to establish benchmarks to which you will return to assess if the targets are being met.

Put in place a plan of action(POA) to work on the skills identified

The POA  will be an overview covering 6 months to a year and for some as much as 3 years and those with aspirations of representing their country the POA could be as much as 8 years. The plan will lead to your monthly program which in turn will lead to your daily workouts. The plan needs to include regular measurement to determine whether you are moving towards attaining your goals. You may need to adjust the program based on whether or not your goals are being met. You may also find that your goals change over time and this also needs to be taken into account.

Understand the purpose of every workout

The only way to achieve peak performances is to understand the purpose of every workout. You must know why you are doing a workout, how it is moving you towards your goal and how to know if you are doing it properly.

Have feedback metrics for your workouts

You must have useful and quantifiable feedback mechanisms that can be used in training and in racing to help you understand if you are doing the right thing in the right way.

Learn to visualize what your body is doing and what it is expected to do

Know what it is your body is supposed to be doing, visualize that movement while you are doing it and learn to connect the sensations of your body to the mental picture you have. In time this biofeedback will become invaluable as you will know when you are moving properly.

No matter who you are or where you are in your running you will find your running more rewarding if you start working towards producing your own Peak performances. Don’t let age, weight, ability or your current state of fitness put you off. Find a coach who understands these principals and get started.

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