The Usual Approach
There are normally two main approaches to becoming a better runner:
- Quick fix, get it now.
- Progressive and long-term.
Let’s have a brief look at each of these, as they both have positives and not so positives.
1. Quick fix, get it now
We live in a quick fix society. We don’t like waiting and are constantly searching for the magic bullet – and running is no different.
This is why we have a huge selection of running shoes. A selection so large and confusing that it’s almost impossible to make an informed decision about which pair to buy.
We have shoes that “fix” over-pronation, under-pronation, foot instability, knee pain, shin pain and plantar foot pain. We have shoes that have big wedges of cushioning and others that have barely any or none at all… and everything in-between (it is so difficult to choose that I’m in the middle of writing the Ultimate Guide to Choosing Your Running Shoes).
But do any of these different types of shoes really fix anything, or do they just change how you run to alleviate your symptoms for a while? I’m sure you know the answer to this, but like most of us you pretend they do fix stuff because it’s easier than the alternative of putting in the effort to change how you run.
And how about sports massage, trigger point therapy, repeated physio visits? Are they fixing stuff or just masking it and hiding the symptoms for a while? To answer this, think about the last time you had any of these services: how long did the relief last? Two days? Three days? A week at most is my guess. And yes, there are those times when a single visit results in a “forever” fix, but they are rare and certainly not the norm.
The biggest issue with the quick fix is that it rarely does any good in the long term. You may feel better or smoother or faster for a while, but before long the same old niggles and same old lack of progress creeps back again, and off you go in search of another quick fix.
2. Progressive and long-term
This approach is the one we all know deep down is the right one, but it usually takes a lot of effort, time and commitment. This is exactly why we go for the quick fix!
Most of us just don’t have the time or inclination to stick to a long-term plan. This is the exact reason why most diets fail beyond the first couple of months.
One one hand, as human beings our bodies are designed to adapt to our environment and the stressors that are placed on it. This adaptation process takes time, and taking shortcuts is when a lot of running injuries happen: the common “too much too soon” syndrome. Ever in a rush for a quick fix, we ignore the laws of human adaptation and push on regardless. So this is why all the good systems of coaching fit into this category – and there are some brilliant coaches and systems out there.
On the other hand, your body (or specifically your brain) likes to stay the same – it likes the status quo; the equilibrium. You don’t get overweight overnight. You don’t lose muscle mass overnight. You don’t lose your fitness overnight (although sometimes it feels like it!). All of these things happen progressively over a period of time.
So why do we think we can reverse these things overnight? Why do we think we can crash diet and lose loads of weight and magically our body will accept that?
Why do we think we can do a couple of interval sessions and suddenly our PBs will tumble? Why do we think we can learn a new aspect of running form and it sticks just like that?
The reality is that none of these things will remain changed in the mid to long term without it being a progressive and adaptive change, unless… we’ll come back to this shortly.
So in summary, I seem to be saying:
“there’s no quick fix to running better, faster and getting out of pain. We all just need to take the progressive and long-term approach, and get on with it.”
But it’s not. I believe there is another way – there’s a problem with only approaching things from a long term perspective: it doesn’t take into account our desire to achieve our running goals quickly – our need to see quick transformations that keep us motivated and progressing.
Without some element of quick fix, some measurable transformation, you are going to lose your motivation along the way.
And that’s where most of the coaches and systems fall down. They focus on human adaptation at the level of the tissues; that is at the level of muscle, connective tissue and bones. At first this makes perfect sense and I can hear you asking “yeah…?”
But this is why it takes so much effort to make a small change like lifting your heels – only to find that the change doesn’t stick and you go back to running how you used to. There is a vital part that is missed by almost everyone, and it’s missed because while elite athletes work on this aspect all the time, no one really notices because it’s not sexy and not fully understood by many coaches.