|The 25 Golden Rules of Running
You learned the golden rule back in grade school: Do unto others
as you would have others do unto you. But runners, being gluttons
for instruction, need more than just one rule. Here, then, are 25
of the most universally accepted rules of running.
In most cases, these rules started out as a lightbulb over one runner's
head. After a while, that runner told a few running buddies (probably
during a long run), word spread, and before you know it, coaches
were testing it, sports scientists were studying it, and it evolved
from idea to theory to accepted wisdom. Along with each of the rules
we present, however, we list the exception. Why? Because, as you
also learned in grade school, there's an exception to every rule.
The Specificity Rule
The most effective training mimics the event for which you're training.
This is the cardinal rule of training for any activity. If you want
to run a 10-K at seven-minute-per-mile pace, you need to do some
running at that pace. "Runners are best served by running at
goal pace and in the expected environment of that race," says
Ann Snyder, Ph.D., director of the human performance lab at the
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
The Exception: It's impractical to wholly mimic a race--particularly
longer distances--in training because it would require extended
recovery. So, when doing race-specific training, keep the total
distance covered shorter than the goal race, or run at your race
pace in shorter segments with rest breaks (interval training).
The 10-Percent Rule
Increase weekly training mileage by no more than 10 percent per
Joe Henderson, the first editor of Runner's World, and Joan Ullyot,
M.D., author of three women's running books, first popularized the
10-percent prescription in the 1980s. "I noticed that runners
who increased their training load too quickly were incurring injuries,"
says Dr. Ullyot.
The Exception: If you're starting at single-digit weekly mileage
after a layoff, you can add more than 10 percent per week until
you're close to your normal training load.
The 2-Hour Rule
Wait for about two hours after a meal before running.
"For most people, two hours is enough time for food to empty
from the stomach, especially if it's high in carbohydrate,"
says Colorado sports dietitian and marathoner Cindy Dallow, Ph.D.
"If you don't wait long enough, food will not be properly digested,
raising the risk of abdominal cramps, bloating, and even vomiting."
The Exception: You can probably run 90 minutes after a light, high-carb
meal, while you may need up to three hours after a heavy meal that's
high in protein and fat.
The 10-Minute Rule
Start every run with 10 minutes of walking and slow running, and
do the same to cool down.
"A warmup prepares your body for exercise by gradually increasing
blood flow and raising core muscle temperature," says Jerry
Napp, a Tampa Bay running coach. "The cooldown may be even
more important. Stopping abruptly can cause leg cramps, nausea,
dizziness, or fainting."
The Exception: It takes less than 10 minutes to rev up on warm days.
The 2-Day Rule
If something hurts for two straight days while running, take two
Two straight days of pain may signal the beginning of an injury.
"Even taking five days of complete rest from running will have
little impact on your fitness level," says Troy Smurawa, M.D.,
team physician for USA Triathlon.
The Exception: If something hurts for two weeks, even if you've
taken your rest days, see a doctor.
The Familiar-Food Rule
Don't eat or drink anything new before or during a race or hard
Stick to what works for you. "Your gastrointestinal tract becomes
accustomed to a certain mix of nutrients," says Dallow. "You
can normally vary this mix without trouble, but you risk indigestion
when prerace jitters are added."
The Exception: If you're about to bonk, eating something new is
probably better than eating nothing at all.
The Race-Recovery Rule
For each mile that you race, allow one day of recovery before
returning to hard training or racing.
That means no speed workouts or racing for six days after a 10-K
or 26 days after a marathon. The rule's originator was the late
Jack Foster, the masters marathon world record holder (2:11:18)
from 1974 to 1990. Foster wrote in his book, Tale of the Ancient
Marathoner, "My method is roughly to have a day off racing for
every mile I raced."
The Exception: If your race effort wasn't all-out, taking fewer
recovery days is okay.
The Heads-Beats-Tails Rule
A headwind always slows you down more than a tailwind speeds you
So expect to run slower on windy days. "I disregard the watch on
really windy days because headwinds cost me 15 to 25 seconds a
mile, and I only get a portion of that back after I turn
around," says Monte Wells, a longtime runner in Amarillo, Texas,
America's windiest city. "The key is to monitor your effort, not
your pace. Start against the wind, so it's at your back in the
The Exception: On point-to-point runs with the wind at your
back, you'll fly along faster than usual.
The Conversation Rule
You should be able to talk in complete sentences while running.
A recent study found that runners whose heart and breathing
rates were within their target aerobic zones could comfortably
recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Those who couldn't were running
faster than optimal.
The Exception: Talking should not be easy during hard runs,
speedwork, or races.
The 20-Mile Rule
Build up to and run at least one 20-miler before a marathon.
"Long runs simulate the marathon, which requires lots of time on
your feet," says Gina Simmering-Lanterman, director and marathon
coach of the Denver Fit training program. "And knowing that you
can run 20 miles helps you wrap your head around running 26.2."
The Exception: Some coaches believe experienced marathoners can
get by with a longest run of 16 to 18 miles, while other coaches
suggest runs up to 24 miles.
The Carbs Rule
For a few days before a long race, emphasize carbohydrates in
"Carbo-loading" became the marathoner's mantra after
Scandinavian studies in 1967 suggested cramming down carbs
following a period of carb depletion produced super-charged
athletes. Experts now say simply emphasizing carbs a few days
before a race over two hours works just as well.
The Exception: There's a word for carbo-loading during regular
training or before a short race: gluttony.
The Seven-Year Rule
Runners improve for about seven years.
Mike Tymn noticed this in the early 1980s and wrote about it in
his National Masters News column. "My seven-year adaptation
theory was based on the fact that so many runners I talked to
ran their best times an average of seven years after they
started," he recalls.
The Exception: Low-mileage runners can stretch the seven years
to well over a decade before plateauing.
To keep safe, run facing traffic.
"While running, it's better to watch the traffic than to have it
come up from behind you," says Adam Cuevas, a marathoner and
chief of the Enforcement Services Division of the California
Highway Patrol. It's the law in California and many other states
to run on the left side unless you're on the sidewalk.
The Exception: The right side of the road is safer when running
into leftward blind curves where there's a narrow shoulder. The
right side can also be safer if there's construction on the left
The Up-Beats-Down Rule
Running uphill slows you down more than running downhill speeds
So, you can expect hilly runs to be slower than flat runs. "You
don't get all of the energy that you expend going uphill back
when you run downhill," explains Nimbus Couzin, Ph.D., a
marathon-running physics instructor at Indiana University
Southeast. "That's because when your feet strike the ground on a
descent, a lot of energy is lost."
The Exception: When you run point-to-point with a net elevation
drop, your average pace should be faster than on a flat course.
The Sleep Rule
Sleep one extra minute per night for each mile per week that you
So if you run 30 miles a week, sleep an extra half hour each
night. "Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on training,"
says David Claman, M.D., director of the University of
California-San Francisco Sleep Disorders Center. "The average
person needs seven and a half to eight hours of sleep, so
increase that amount when you're training."
The Exception: The extra sleep may not be necessary for some
The Refueling Rule
Consume a combination carbohydrate-protein food or beverage
within 30 to 60 minutes after any race, speed workout, or long
"You need an infusion of carbs to replace depleted muscle
glycogen, plus some protein to repair and build muscle," says
Nancy Clark, R.D., author of Food Guide for Marathoners.
"Ideally, the carb-protein ratio should be 4-to-1. Some examples
would be 150 to 300 calories of low-fat chocolate milk, a
recovery-sports drink, flavored yogurt, or a bagel and peanut
The Exception: Immediate refueling is less important if you
aren't running hard again within 24 hours.
The Don't-Just-Run Rule
Runners who only run are prone to injury.
"Cross-training and weight training will make you a stronger and
healthier runner," says TriEndurance.com multisport coach Kris
Swarthout. "Low- and nonimpact sports like biking and swimming
will help build supporting muscles used in running, while also
giving your primary running muscles a rest."
The Exception: The surest way to run better is to run. So if
your time is limited, devote most of it to running.
The 25 Golden Rules of Running
The Even-Pace Rule
The best way to race to a personal best is to maintain an even
pace from start to finish.
Most of the 10,000-meter and marathon world records set in the
last decade have featured almost metronome-like pacing. "If you
run too fast early in the race, you almost always pay for it
later," warns Jon Sinclair, the U.S. 12-K record holder and now
an online coach (anaerobic.net).
The Exception: This doesn't apply on hilly courses or on windy
days, when the objective is to run an even effort.
The New-Shoes Rule
Replace running shoes once they've covered 400 to 500 miles.
"But even before they have that much wear," says Warren Greene,
Runner's World gear editor, "buy a new pair and rotate them for
a while. Don't wait until your only pair is trashed." Consider
shoes trashed when the spring is gone.
The Exception: A shoe's wear rate can vary, depending on the
type of shoe, your weight, your footstrike pattern, and the
surfaces you run on.
The Hard/Easy Rule
Take at least one easy day after every hard day of training.
"Easy" means a short, slow run, a cross-training day, or no
exercise at all. "Hard" means a long run, tempo run, or speed
workout. "Give your body the rest it needs to be effective for
the next hard run," says Todd Williams, a two-time U.S. Olympian
and online coach at pushthepace.com. Apply the hard/easy rule to
your monthly and yearly training cycles by treating yourself to
one easy week each month, and one easy month each year.
The Exception: After the most exhausting long runs and speed
workouts, especially if you're 40 or older, wait for two or even
three days before your next tough one.
The 10-Degree Rule
Dress for runs as if it's 10 degrees warmer than the thermometer
To put it another way, dress for how warm you'll feel at
mid-run--not the first mile, when your body is still heating up.
This means choosing the right apparel. (See the "Dress for
Success" table) "On cold days, the new soft-shell tops and
tights are light, warm, and breathable," says Emily Walzer,
fabrics editor for Sporting Goods Business Magazine. "On warm
days, wear a lightweight performance fabric next to your skin,
which will disperse sweat through evaporation."
The Exception: There's a limit to how many clothes you can take
off without getting arrested, so if it's in the 70s or warmer,
wear minimal lightweight, light-colored apparel.
Dress for Success
Here’s a cheat sheet to help you dress appropriately for your
runs, no matter what the thermometer says. This chart factors in
the 10-Degree Rule but doesn’t account for a significant
windchill. On very windy days, you may need to dress warmer.
above 70 Lightweight/light-colored singlet and shorts
60 to 69 Tank top or singlet and shorts
50 to 59 T-shirt and shorts
40 to 49 Long-sleeve shirt and tights or shorts
30 to 39 Long-sleeve shirt and tights
20 to 29 Two upper-body layers and one lower-body layer
10 to 19 Two upper-body layers and one lower-body layer
0 to 9 Two/three upper-body layers, one/two lower-body layers
below 0 Three upper-body layers, two lower-body layers
The Speedwork-Pace Rule
The most effective pace for VO2-max interval training is about
20 seconds faster per mile than your 5-K race pace.
The best way to increase your aerobic capacity and long-distance
speed is through VO2-max interval training. A pioneer of VO2-max
training is Jack Daniels, Ph.D., coach at the Center for High
Altitude Training in Flagstaff, Arizona. "By stressing your
aerobic system," he says, "this pace optimizes the volume of
blood that's pumped and the amount of oxygen that your muscle
fibers can use."
The Exception: The exact pace is closer to 10 seconds faster per
mile than 5-K race pace for fast runners, and 30 seconds faster
per mile for slower runners.
The Tempo-Pace Rule
Lactate-threshold or tempo-run pace is about the pace you can
maintain when running all-out for one hour.
This pace is about 20 seconds slower per mile than your 10-K
race pace, or 30 seconds slower per mile than 5-K race pace.
"The key benefit of this pace is that it's fast enough to
improve your threshold for hard endurance running, yet slow
enough that you don't overload your muscles," says Daniels. The
ideal duration of a tempo run is 20 to 25 minutes.
The Exception: The exact pace is less than 20 seconds slower per
mile than 10-K race pace for faster runners and slightly more
than 30 seconds slower per mile than 10-K race pace for slower
The Long-Run-Pace Rule
Do your longest training runs at least three minutes per mile
slower than your
5-K race pace.
"You really can't go too slow on long runs," says RW "Starting
Line" columnist Jeff Galloway, "because there are no drawbacks
to running them slowly. Running them too fast, however, can
compromise your recovery time and raise your injury risk."
The Exception: Galloway says you should run even slower on hot
The Finishing-Time Rule
The longer the race, the slower your pace.
How much slower? Jack Daniels and J.R. Gilbert spent years
compiling a table (see "Predict Your Performance") that shows
how much you should expect to slow down from one race distance
to the next. "We did some curve-fitting to come up with a
formula that generates a pseudo-VO2-max for each race time,"
says Daniels. They sweated the math; now you just need to sweat