The coach approach to running

Running coach Janet Hamilton shows me the error of my ways
The author runs a half-marathon


Janet Hamilton is a psychic in sneakers.

She must be. Before meeting with her for a session, I had asked this certified distance running coach and exercise physiologist from McDonough-based Running Strong to put together a list of things that runners do wrong.

And the list described me and my running, pretty much to a T.

Mind you, I’m not a new runner. I’ve been pounding the pavement (literally, as I found out) since junior high. I’m not a medal-winner by any means, but yeah, I run.

And apparently, I do it all—well, almost all—wrong.

Here are the common errors that Hamilton listed before we met for an evaluation of my fitness, strength, flexibility, training plan, and cadence.

1. You run at an inappropriate pace on most runs. I’ve always assumed that you should run as fast as you can without falling apart before the finish line. It really didn’t occur to me that slower runs are a good part of training. Sounds obvious, I guess, but my approach to working out has always been to bust my butt and then go home and eat. But there’s a lot of value in doing an easier run during a week’s training.

2. You try to cram for a test, and don’t allow enough time to train up for an event. So after years of running almost every day, I kind of burned out and came up with a cross-training program that I like: I teach indoor cycling and strength training four times a week, run once, and maybe swim or do something else on one other day.

When Janet heard this—that I only run once a week, and did that in advance of my first half-marathon—her jaw dropped. “You should be running twenty-some miles a week if you’re doing a half-marathon. But you just do nine, all at once?”

Apparently all the cross-training is great for my health but doesn’t mimic a run experience. So it doesn’t help build a base for a longer event like a half-marathon. And then to go out and haul ass for nine miles, maxing myself out once a week—that’s an injury waiting to happen.

3. You fail to incorporate overload and recovery runs into weekly training. Overload? Got that covered. Recovery? My recovery is on the couch, watching “Project Runway.” (Cue Hamilton’s head shake.)

4. You fail to respect the purpose of the workout, running the same distance and pace all the time and assuming that a short run is a waste. Yup. (Cue Hamilton’s exasperated sigh.)

During my evaluation, Hamilton put me through a series of stretches to pinpoint where I’m tight (lower back, calves) and what needs strengthening (butt, abs). Then she put me on the treadmill to watch my running cadence, first in socks and then in my sneakers.

I’ve always assumed that longer strides are better; they get you there faster, right? But Hamilton showed me that when my stride is longer, I bounce more and land hard, which burns up more fuel.

Shorter, faster strides were more economical and kept me compact and lighter on my feet (and yes, they do force you to strike the ground with your mid-foot instead of your heel, though Hamilton isn’t an evangelist from the Church of Barefoot Running).

Hamilton also encouraged me to keep the same cadence (more than 164 beats per minute) whether the treadmill was moving at a 12-minute or 10-minute mile speed.

At the end of the session, I promised to take her advice to heart, and do it fast—I have my next half-marathon in about thirteen weeks. (Cue Hamilton’s forehead slap.)