Why the First 6 Weeks of Training Are the Toughest

US Navy 030622-N-3953L-106 Basic Underwater De...
Training is hard.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not going to lie:  the last few weeks of training have been really hard for me.  At times I have felt like what I was doing could not even legitimately be called training.  However, as I have slogged through the miles, I’ve reflected back on past training seasons and have come to the conclusion that the last few weeks haven’t been hard because I am in an unusual situation.  Nope, the reality is that the first 6 weeks of training are always the toughest.

So if you are struggling with getting your training off the ground like me, don’t worry.  Keep at it and you’ll get into a great training groove soon; it just takes a little time.  If you understand that it’s only temporary and that there are identifiable reasons why it is so tough, it will be easier to make it through.

CHALLENGE:  It is hard to make time for training.  Whether you are new to running or are coming back from a recovery break, it is hard to make time for a training regimen.   Let’s face it, most of us have pretty jam-packed lives and we need the little bit of down time that we have.  With work, kids, a husband, and a ton of volunteer work, the only way I can get good training time in is if I get up early.  Really early.  I don’t mind once I am acclimated to early mornings, but it is HARD to get used to getting up at 5:00 am (or earlier) after sleeping until 6 or 6:30 for a few weeks or months.  Add to that the cold and the darkness when I’d rather snuggle under my warm covers instead of hitting the streets….UGH.

Answer:  Yes, it is hard, but it only takes three weeks for habits to form.  I know if I keep at it, soon enough 5:00 am won’t be all that painful.  In fact, I’ll likely start waking before my alarm ready to conquer the streets.  The same is no doubt true for whatever challenge you have (running after work or late at night).  For new runners, the biggest challenge may be getting used to getting out three times a week. But if you keep at it regularly, it will soon become second nature.

CHALLENGE:  I am out of shape.  It’s easier to get enthusiastic about training when the miles feel easy, your heart rate is low and you feel like a million bucks.  But of course that is not how we feel in the first few weeks of training…or at least I don’t.  Right now I’m tired, slow, and working way harder to hit my paces than I know I will be in a month or so.  Heart rate?  I’m not even tracking it right now because I know it would be disappointing to see.  It is so true that it takes so much longer to gain fitness than to lose it!

Answer:  True!  It is hard to see how quickly we lose fitness and how hard it is to gain it.  But in my experience, it takes a good 6 weeks of steady training before you start to feel the results of your hard work.  The corner is just up ahead – so keep at it.  The more you slack, the longer it will take.  Chin up and get out there!

Snow Job
(Photo credit: drp)

CHALLENGE: I don’t have a goal.  If you aren’t working toward something, it is too easy to hit the snooze button too many times or skip workouts.  I know I am REALLY struggling with this now.   For the last 7 years, my training schedule has been to train for 5 months, race a marathon, take a month off, repeat.  Now I have decided I’d train for shorter distances in Spring 2013 – culminating in a half marathon in April.  This is challenging because I know I don’t need to train for 5 months for a half marathon.  So it is too easy to want to slack off.  (Full disclosure, I skipped my long run today because of the snow.  Bad choice.)

Answer:  Set a goal.  If your goal is far out like mine, set smaller goals for base-building and fitness.  I am personally working on this one as we speak (write/read) because I really need to keep the motivation to ensure I don’t skip my runs when the weather is adverse.  I live in Wisconsin and need to face adversity from Mother Nature for at least 6 more months.

CHALLENGE: It hurts.  Sometimes when you are a new runner, running can hurt.  Maybe your knees or your ankles are bothering you.  Myself, I am hurting a bit because I am still not quite recovered from Chicago.  This has been a huge challenge for me as I usually run injury-free.  If you can’t nix the pains quickly, they can throw off an entire season.

Answer: Listen to your body.  If you are a new runner, perhaps you need to slow down.  Make sure you are in the right shoes too. Often aches are caused by muscle imbalances.  Keep at it (in the right shoes, at an easy pace and not building mileage too fast) and you should be okay.  If you are like me and are recovering from hard training/racing efforts, also listen to your body.  Do you need to do more stretching or take more time off?  If you don’t listen early on, you could end up regretting it.  Be smart and prepare yourself for a strong season ahead.

Does anyone else struggle for the first 6 weeks?  If so, what are your observations and solutions?

Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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  1. Wow this article hits home right now! I have a training plan set up based on a realistic goal, my heart rate, etc. Yet during last night’s tempo run, my HR was well above where it is supposed to be. I took two breaks during the tempo portion. I’ve been in the training cycle for three weeks. You are absolutely right: I’m just not in the groove yet. I will get there and so will you. But this first six weeks! Agh!

  2. Totally agree. I always tell friends who want to start running that until you can run 30 mins comfortably, you probably won’t enjoy it much. But once you can…it gets good!! Thanks for the reminder…I’m starting training on Monday after a good six weeks ‘off’ (although I’m still running regularly) and I know it’ll be no fun for a while!!