When it comes to improving as a runner, there's talent, and there's hard work. Sometimes, the stars align, and both elements are in place. But hard work - and consistency – will almost always get you farther than talent alone. Part of that hard work involves completing a running apprenticeship. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Putting in consistent running and training time - daily or almost daily
- Being open to learning from runners, coaches and other experts who know more than you
- Studying up on running on your own via books, web sites, workshops, etc
- Learning from your mistakes, as well as from your triumphs (I think you always learn more from the former)
- Understanding the holistic aspect of running: nutrition, sleep, stress and life-work-training balance all come into play
How long does an apprenticeship last? There are no hard and fast rules, but the short answer is – a long time. This may not be popular in this era of immediate gratification and quick fixes, but it's reality.
In his famous book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell estimates that the time required to master a skill is about 10,000 hours. This means practicing that skill regularly – daily or almost daily. During one of my first writing courses in graduate school, my professor, writer Dr. Dick Wertime, said that the apprenticeship for most things, including writing, is 10 years of practicing every day. At the time, I was around 27 years old, and a decade seemed ridiculous to me. I've been writing professionally now for almost 25 years (my day job). Over the years, I have probably managed hundreds of fledgling writers who make fledgling mistakes that can only be corrected with time and experience. In retrospect, I see that Dr. Wertime was absolutely right.
I am going to say that the apprenticeship for running is the same – about 10 years. I've been running seriously now for about 7 years, so technically, I am still in the apprentice phase. Even though I have put in much work, there is still much more to learn.
Age versus years running
Being older does not always mean you are wiser. Regardless of your age, the number of years you've been running count more than your age. Despite the fact that most of my Philadelphia Runner Track Club teammates are decades younger than me, when it comes to running experience, they are Yodas. Many of them have been running seriously and competitively for well over a decade, and certainly at a higher level. A few are elites or sub-elites. Regardless of the fact that I'm 52 and most of my teammates are in their late 20s/early 30s, I am the student and they are the teachers. I learn about running from watching them, running with them, and talking to them.
On the same note, my coach is young enough to be my son but when it comes to running, I am the young grasshopper and he is the wise old monk. This is why, despite my blog name, I'm not a fan of the term "masters runner." I may change the name (and direction) of this blog in the future, because it causes a lot of confusion. But more on that another time.
So in summation, if you want to improve as a runner, first accept where you are. If you are just starting out and are not getting the results you want, it may simply be that you need to put in more time/work and reframe expectations about how quickly you should improve.
Start where you are. You will learn more if you embrace your inner grasshopper than you will if you crush it.