10 Classic Running Rules You Can Apply to Everyday Life

The principles that make you a better runner can also help you out in other areas.

We’ve heard all these time-tested axioms that are handed out by coaches, retold during group runs, and discussed between running partners – to help one another out as we try to get stronger, run faster, stay safe, and see more success in our shared endeavour.

The thing is that many of these rules, like all good advice, have value in other areas of our lives. Running isn’t just about running: it’s about setting a difficult goal, working hard, putting in effort, and achieving something spectacular. Those objectives aren’t limited to the roads, trails, or track.

So we chose 10 of those golden rules and looked at how you can apply them to the rest of your life.

The Specificity Rule

“The most effective training mimics the event for which you’re training.”

How to Apply It
Whether you dream of publishing a great novel, growing a prize-winning tomato, or singing to a sold-out crowd of fans, you get there by doing the thing that you want to be doing, even if you’re not great at it when you begin.

As runners, we practice for our race-pace goals by regularly running at that pace. We don’t do all of our running at that level, but we need to do at least some, every week.

Whatever big goals you’re trying to accomplish, make some time to think about what “training” you need to do and make a point of doing it every week. If you hope to publish a novel, for instance, then you need to be writing – and writing fiction – regularly. Don’t worry if you struggle at the beginning. Most runners’ first marathons aren’t Boston Qualifiers – but you get better with practice, and accomplishing something big once will help you get better at it when you try doing it again.

The 10 Per Cent Rule

“Increase weekly training mileage by no more than 10 per cent per week.”

How to Apply It
Runners know the value of persistence and effort, but you should also know not to ramp up too quickly. Trying to bite off more than you can reasonably chew on the road leads to overuse injuries: knee problems, shin splints, IT Band syndrome, or worse. Your body can accomplish amazing things, but you need to build up to it.

And diving right into a major undertaking without first developing the skills and experience necessary to handle it can be dangerous in other areas. You wouldn’t want to start disassembling the engine on a classic car without first spending a lot of time learning about how the car works, practicing with the necessary tools, and doing more basic repair work first.  Ambition is a good thing – but so is an honest assessment of your abilities.

The 10-Minute Rule

“Start every run with 10 minutes of walking or slow running, and do the same to cool down.”

How to Apply It
The purpose of warming up is to get your body ready: raising your temperature, getting your heart pumping, increasing blood flow to the muscles. You want to give yourself a little bit of time to adjust to the thing you’re about to do. And when you’re done, you want to cool down.

And yet, how many of us try to roll out of bed and straight into our day, or snap immediately from one project to the next at work? Every time we transition from one thing to the next, taking a small period of time to make the adjustment can pay huge dividends.

In running, a cooldown or warm-up period can help you avoid cramps, nausea, or injury. At work, it can help you stay focused, pay closer attention, and do your job better. In the mornings and evenings, giving yourself a half hour ‘warm up’  after waking, or a ‘cool down’ before going to bed, can make you feel less stressed and keep you from spending half the night anxiously tossing and turning.

The Two-Day Rule

“If something hurts for two straight days while running, take two days off.”

How to Apply It
One thing runners have a hard time doing is taking time off.  You worry that you’ll lose your edge if you don’t get in those kilometres – especially when training for a race. We’ll run even if we’re exhausted, even if we’ve got a thousand other things to do, and even if we’re injured.

It’s easy to lose sight of the larger goal (complete a half marathon) for the smaller goals (get out and run today), especially when not running feels like a failure. But if you’re injured, you need to take some time off to recuperate.

When you get sick, or hurt, or suffer a major setback, you similarly need to take some time off. Ignoring the physical or psychological warning signs of stress, illness, or injury doesn’t mean that you’re being tough. It means that you’re being unrealistic. Two days is a great rule of thumb. If you aren’t feeling better after two days – whether the problem is physical, emotional, physiological, or psychological, it’s time to give things a rest. And if it’s still not better, it’s a good sign you need to get some professional attention.

That’s not losing your edge. It’s maintaining it.

The Race-Recovery Rule

“For each kilometre that you race, allow one day of recovery before returning to hard training or racing.”

How to Apply It
Effort needs to be respected, on the road and in life. If you’ve just attempted to PR in a half marathon, you should take about two weeks off from doing speedwork. That doesn’t mean quit altogether (though you may want to take a day or two off), but when you do run, take it easy and let your body repair itself.

It’s a strategy that can help you avoid burnout on any big project. Did you just make a major presentation that took you weeks to prepare? Don’t expect to go in to work the next day firing on all cylinders, and try to give yourself some down time before pulling an all-nigher, or taking on another major project.

The Heads-Beats-Tails Rule

“A headwind always slows you down more than a tailwind speeds you up.”

How to Apply It
And if there is a wind, it will be a headwind – that is the Murphy’s Law of running. We notice when outside events hold us back much more than when they aid us. It’s part of human nature. We want to think that our success is due to effort, and when we fail, we look for outside circumstances to help justify why the effort didn’t pay off in the way we wanted it to.

The headwind vs. tailwind scenario is the same with external factors in almost any activity. You will notice what gets in your way to slow you down.

How to avoid frustration? On windy days, As Monte Wells puts it: “The key is to monitor your effort, not your pace”. This is good advice whenever the winds of outside influence start interfering with your progress. Keep pushing yourself to do your best, and give yourself a little bit of a break in terms of trying to accomplish everything. As long as you keep at it, you’ll make some progress. On less windy days, you just run that much faster.

The Conversation Rule

“You should be able to talk in complete sentences while running.”

How to Apply It
Running is a difficult thing. Whether you’re training for a 5K or a marathon, or just getting out regularly to lose weight, it’s an accomplishment every time you lace up your shoes and get out the door. But every run doesn’t need to be so strenuous – in fact, it shouldn’t be. Running like that, all the time, is a surefire way to get yourself injured, or to see yourself plateau and then burn out.

Outside running, it’s important to have goals, but a hyper-competitive attitude is an easy way to stress yourself out and fail. And it’s a vicious cycle – you think you failed because you didn’t work hard enough, so you make yourself even more stressed out the next time.

Stress is terrible on your body, and not so great for your racing either. This doesn’t mean that you should never work hard – in fact, the Conversation Rule goes out the window when you’re doing intervals or racing. And there are times in life when you need to buckle down and power through to get something accomplished. But the bulk of your efforts should be at a conversational pace. Your mental and physical well-being depends on it.

The Opposite-Side-of-the-Road Rule

“To keep safe, run facing traffic.”

How to Apply It
The better you can see potential dangers coming down the road, the easier they are to avoid. What more needs to be said?

The Don’t-Just-Run Rule

“Runners who only run are prone to injury.”

How to Apply It
The non-running version of this, of course, is the old adage “variety is the spice of life”. But this rule makes an important distinction: it doesn’t just encourage variety, it warns that invariability can be dangerous. And if you keep doing the same tasks at work over and over without learning anything new, or keep to the same rigid routine without doing or trying anything different, the results can be disastrous.

One of the worst things it can do is leave your brain without a lot new or challenging information to process. This isn’t so terrible, necessarily, when you’re young, but as you get older it can lead to all kinds of problems, including cognitive decline and dementia.

So make sure to check out a park in a new part of town, tackle something new at work, get a cookbook out of the library and try some dishes you’ve never made before, or sign up for dancing lessons. The surprising thing is that, just like cross-training, you may discover the new skills you build in other areas end up having benefits for you in the activities you already know you enjoy.

The Even-Pace Rule

“The best way to race to a personal best is to maintain an even pace from start to finish.”

How to Apply It
The old adage “slow and steady wins the race” gets a bad rap – as well it should. Slow never won anything. But steady wins a lot of races, especially when it comes to distance. And starting out too fast makes a steady race impossible. Many runners know this, but having the discipline to keep to a predetermined pace early on can often make the difference between a PB – or a even a race win – and a DNF in the last half of the course.

Whenever you are preparing for a major undertaking, it’s important to make a plan. But it’s even more important to stick to that plan, especially in the beginning when you may be tempted to race ahead in the excitement of the moment. Set a reasonable pace and save that energy for the long slog in the middle; you’ll be grateful that you did.

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