February 28, 2016

Reader Questions #27

As I mentioned last week, I'm bringing back the Reader Q&A. If you have a question you'd like me to respond to on the blog, you can email it to me at questions@runsforcookies.com (I don't respond personally to these emails--they're just for the Reader Q&A). I have an inbox full of questions right now, so I'll pick 2-3 to answer about once a week. Today's questions are about running...

Q. At what speed/pace do you consider someone a runner? I ask because I currently run intervals at 3:1 and my average pace is usually between 10:30-11:15 per mile. I'm not sure if I should call myself a runner or jogger. Can you still be considered a runner if you run intervals? What pace would be considered a runner and/or what pace would be considered a jogger?

A. I love this question, and I could seriously write a whole post about it. When I first started running, I refused to call myself a "runner". I was barely able to run a 13:30 pace, and I "only" ran a few miles each week. In my mind back then, a "true runner" was someone like my friend Renee, who has been running for years, who is fast, who regularly runs races, who is thin, etc. I was not a runner.

Eventually, I became very comfortable with that term when I was running regularly three times a week and following a training schedule. I had run several races, and it was my exercise of choice. It took nearly a year before I felt comfortable saying, "I'm a runner". And then, as a new runner, I despised the word "jogger"--it felt offensive, like what I was doing wasn't hard work. If someone called me a jogger, I outwardly smiled but really wanted to punch them ;)

Image source (used with permission)

Now, however, the word "jog" doesn't bother me in the slightest, and I even use it regularly myself. I use the word "jog" to mean running at a slow, easy (for me) pace. Depending on the person, it could be a 7:00 pace, a 10:00 pace, or a 14:00 pace--it just depends on the runner and what is easy or hard for him or her. For example, when I run intervals, I might say that I ran half a mile hard, then jogged a quarter mile, then ran half a mile hard, then jogged a cool down. In that case, the "jogging" is just a way of saying "easy running".

To be very technical, the moment that walking becomes running is when both feet are off the ground for a moment. When you are walking, one of your feet always has contact with the ground; to switch to jogging or running, both feet will be off the ground for a split second. So, whether you're running a 13:00 pace or a 7:00 pace, you're still running. And if you run regularly, you're a runner :)

About the intervals, this is just personal opinion. I believe that running intervals is still running, and I think you can still call yourself a runner if you run intervals. There will be some people who disagree, but in my opinion, it's still running. I dare anyone to say that I didn't run the Chicago Marathon just because I walked through all the water stations! ;)

Q. So I have been doing strength training 3-4 times a week for 8 years. This fall I got frustrated with the lack of weight loss progress and decided to get moving more. I started with walking and moved through a "Couch to 5k" app. My goal was a 5k on New Year's Day. I was hoping to finish in 40 minutes and finished in 37:45! So thrilled! 

So I decided then that my New Years Resolution would be one 5k per month for the year. So I'm trying to run 3 miles three times a week. I've done 2 more 5ks since then. Your b-day one and one in February. Both were slower than the first. How can I increase my speed and endurance? I rarely can run the 3 miles without walking. I don't really want to run further, but I would love for the 3 miles to be more comfortable and quicker! Close to 30 minute 5k by December? Is that doable?

A. First, I think running one 5K per month for the year is an awesome goal; second, congrats on finishing much faster than you anticipated!; and third, I absolutely think it's possible to hit a 30-minute 5K by the end of the year.

It's best to work on either speed or distance at one time--not both. Since you're currently running three miles, and you don't want to increase the distance, you're off to a great start. (For someone who hasn't yet been able to hit that distance, I would suggest increasing distance before worrying about speed. It's called building a "base", and it's a super important part of training. It should just be a lot of easy effort running, gradually increasing distances over time.) 

If you've run three miles without walking before, you know that your body is capable of it; so it is likely just a mental block that keeps you from being able to do it every time you run. I would suggest running SLOWER until you are comfortably able to run the whole distance. It sounds counter-intuitive, but trust me. 

The three-mile distance will eventually feel quite easy! (Before I was a runner, I never dreamed I'd say that sentence, haha.) Run at a very easy pace to where you feel like you could probably walk faster than your run. At that point, you may want to add just a little distance (maybe four miles instead of three) so that the actual 5K distance will feel easier; but if you want to stick with three, that's fine, too.

Once you're running three miles at a time comfortably, I would start to work on your speed. You don't want to push yourself hard every time you go out for a run; most of your running should still be at a very easy effort. I would suggest once a week, adding in some speed work. Speed work options are endless, but here are a couple of simple ones you could use to get started:

400 meter repeats: These are quarter-mile intervals where you run hard for a quarter mile, then jog or walk very easy to recover, and then repeat. You can use the McMillan Race Calculator to determine what your speed should probably be during these 400's, but to keep it simple, I would say just run at a hard effort. Not an all-out sprint, but faster than your 5K pace. 

Then, the recovery portion should be roughly half the amount of time of the fast interval (so, if you ran your quarter mile in 2:30, then you would walk/jog for about 1:15 before starting the next interval). You could start with 4 intervals, and then slowly build your way up as you train, until you're able to do 10-12 intervals. (Always warm-up for at least 10 minutes before doing these, to avoid getting injured.)

Tempo run: Start out with a warm-up of about 10 minutes (jogging, or even fast walking). Then run at a moderately-hard pace for X minutes (start with maybe 10 minutes, and build your way up to 20 or more). The pace should be difficult, but not so hard you can't speak. You should be able to say a few words at a time. You'll feel like you want to slow down, but you know that you can keep going at that pace. (Again, you could use the McMillan Calculator to determine a good pace, but for now, I would keep it simple and run by feel). 

Hills: This isn't an option for me, because I don't have any hilly routes, but if you happen to live near hills, they can be great at making you faster! Just pick a hilly route, and run at an easy pace until you come to a hill--pick up the speed until you get to the top of the hill, and then jog again. These simulate intervals, because they get your heart rate up high from the effort, even though you aren't going as fast.

Again, you want to keep the majority of your time spent running (at least 80% of it) at a low intensity. Most recreational runners (myself included, until a few months ago) run their easy runs too hard and their hard runs too easy, which keeps them from reaching their full potential. I've had a lot of success at getting faster since I started obeying this running "law" ;) 

Make sure you share a picture when you hit that 30-minute 5K! 

Tomorrow is Leap Day! I'm going to be running the second "annual" Leap Year 4-Miler. I ran it in 2012, and my time was 35:15 (8:49/mi). Nathan is going to pace me tomorrow, so I can hopefully run my 10K goal pace of 7:55/mi. However, I was thinking it would be kind of cool to take 4 minutes off of my previous race time (4 minutes for 4 years, because Leap Day), for 31:15 (that would be a 7:49/mi pace). It would be really tough, but it IS possible, so we'll see. 

The race is in the evening, after sunset, so that could make it more challenging (I wish it would start a half hour earlier). Also, it's supposed to be very windy, and wind is my nemesis. My goals:
"A" goal: If I have a REALLY good race, I could probably do sub-31:00 (7:45/mi).
"B" goal: Take 4 minutes off of my last Leap Day time, for 31:15 (7:49/mi)
"C" goal: A sub-8 pace, for a time of sub-32:00.
"D" goal: Just finish.

At my 5K a few weeks ago, I managed sub-8:00 for my pace, so I really should be able to do that tomorrow. I don't want to push the pace too hard in the beginning and crash before the finish, though; so most likely, I'll have Nathan pace me at 7:55 for the first 3 miles, and then see if I can push it for the last mile. And in about 6 weeks, I'll be doing it for my 10K! (I hope so, anyway)


  1. Great Questions and answers! I really struggled with calling myself a runner, too. I still have a hard time with it actually and I have been running since 2010.

    Katie, you are amazingly inspirational to me. I hope your Leap Day run is fantastic!

    Happy New Week!

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  3. I love this answer about being a runner!

  4. My friends and I are running the Leap Year run too! Have a great run!


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