Dear Dumb Runner,
I'm a freshman in high school and this is my first year running with the high school team and doing their workouts. It's a thousand times better than the junior high cross country team, and I've been enjoying it immensely. However, I don't feel like my 5K time reflects the amount of training I've been doing. In my very first 5K—the first meet of the season—I ran 22:16.3; my current PR is 19:46.9.
I can see the other freshmen on the team running 17:08, 17:31, 16:49, and I just feel like I'm not fast enough. If I start running tempos before school, will that help? What should I do?—Anonymous
Thanks for your note.
Before diving in, I have to ask: Where is your coach in all this? He or she would be in a much better position to advise you here than I am. So my first bit of advice would be to have a heart-to-heart with your coach. (Though it must be noted that coaches aren't infallible; if yours gives you advice that seems off, don't be shy about seeking a second opinion.)
Meantime, based on what you've told me, I have five pieces of advice:
1. Be patient. This is one of my 3 Things Runners Need to Know, and it's crucial. I understand your eagerness and frustration, but if you're serious about getting stronger and faster you need to accept that it's going to take time. Impatience can be a runner's worst enemy, leading to burnout or injury or both.
2. Avoid comparing yourself with others. It's a natural impulse, especially when you're part of a team, but try to resist it. Instead turn your focus inward: Determine where you are today; decide where you'd like to be in a month, six months, a year (set ambitious, but realistic, goals); and then measure your success or failure based on that. Not on your teammates' PR's.
3. Make a plan. Winging it—e.g., by adding some tempo runs to your existing regimen, a la carte—just isn't a smart approach. This is not a time to throw things at the wall and see what sticks. Be smart. Be strategic. Again, this is where your coach comes in. He or she can help you map things out.
4. Have fun. Granted, runners can have pretty weird ideas of what constitutes "fun"—we're out there voluntarily making ourselves hurt, after all—but, generally speaking, you really should be enjoying yourself. Otherwise running will soon become a chore, a joyless grind. And who needs that?
5. Be grateful. I'm 47 years old(!), but I vividly remember being your age. A lot of it, at the time, sucked. But you know what? In a lot of ways, looking back, I was in a pretty special place back then. I was so young! Discovering so much! Able to eat an entire large pizza with no ill effects!
You're in that place today, brother. Embrace it. Especially when things get tough or you're feeling discouraged. Remember that, no matter what else, you are young and healthy and you're out there running. You're able to be out there, running.
That is a singularly wonderful thing. For real.
As for getting faster? That will come. Maybe not as quickly as you'd like, or as dramatically. But if you do the work— keeping these five things in mind—you will improve. I promise.
Best of luck to you, and best wishes for many years of happy, healthy running.