The best is yet to come, and babe, won’t it be fine….
For many adult onset runners, this isn’t just a catchy Sinatra song. It’s the truth, backed by solid research as well as a heap of inspiring anecdotal evidence.
By now, you’ve probably heard the 10 year/ 10,000 hour rule touted by researcher Dr. Anders Ericsson as the slowest but surest road to success in any one discipline–spanning the spectrum from the creative arts to computer science to athletics. Sure, talent is part of the equation. But time–focused, deliberate qualitative practice over thousands of hours–is actually what separates the good from the great.
In Catherine Utzchneider’s book Mastering Running, she asserts that running is no exception to this rule.
“My own research shows that masters who started running after age 30 improved their absolute times after 7.5 years of training no matter when they started running. Some of my athletes who ran casually in their 20s and 30s and who started focused training at 40 have achieved their personal best times in their mid-40s and even mid- to late-50s.”
This is good news for those of us who have only recently begun focused training in the sport we love. Even if we’re already a solid five years and ten marathon cycles in, the odds are good that our personal bests really ARE yet to come.
Let’s take a step back and run the numbers. Seven (plus) years of deliberate training can add up to well over 15,000 miles, more than 350 individual tempo runs, 350 long runs, and thousands of laps round the track. While it’d be a heck of a lot easier if results came overnight versus over a decade, I’d argue that the long, patient road affords a richer and more meaningful experience. Not to mention, it sure takes the pressure off when a tempo run is a total fail. Because it’s just one of hundreds, right? Whether we faded hard in a 5k, limped through a long run, or tanked a track workout, those tiny training or racing “failures” are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
Because in the long run, we are making progress. In the long run, we are getting faster and stronger. We’re not talking about weeks or months. We’re talking years! So when I get injured and have to take 6 weeks completely off, followed by 4 weeks of ridiculously slow pitter-pattering with walk breaks, guess what–it’s not a big deal! Three months is a blip on the screen when we’re gunning for a decade or more of training.
So the next time you’re tempted to beat yourself up for a crash-and-burn race or an awful training run, the next time you feel frustrated by slow (or nonexistent) progress, the next time you’re sidelined by an injury, take a deep breath and count to 10,000. Or maybe just take a deep breath and think about how long it’d take to count that high (Answer: too long). The research tells us it could take years–as much as a decade–to achieve our lifetime personal bests. So relax! We’ve got time! Not every run has to be perfect. Not every race has to exceed our wildest expectations. In the long run, even after setbacks and failures, if we just keep running, if we just keep working hard at the sport we love, then there’s no doubt about it. The best really is yet to come.
How many years of focused training do you have under your belt? Have you seen the progress you’re hoping for? For you lifelong runners, was there a threshold (number of years of training) after which you felt you had hit your peak?