The 25 Golden Rules of Running

I came across this list recently and was pleasantly surprised to find myself either in agreement or relating to the vast majority of the 25 Golden Rules of Running…

The 25 Golden Rules of Running: 25 of the most universally accepted rules of running.

By Bob Cooper

September 2005

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Runner’s World a few years ago. The article remains popular online, and the rules are as good now as they were when first published.

Golden 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.

1. 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).

2. The 10-Percent Rule

Increase weekly training mileage by no more than 10 percent per week.

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.

This is a good rule of thumb to use to avoid getting shin splints or other similar “new runner” ailments. While it’s easy to get sucked in and want to go full steam ahead right from day 1, ramping up slowly is a really good idea. Of course, if things start to hurt, feel sore, or just generally not work quite the way they are supposed to, 10% might even be a bit too much (especially during high milage training).

3. 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.

What? Really? PPPPFFFFF! So if I didn’t eat within two hours of my meals I would never run. Everyone is different of course and I personally have no problem eating what is a (more or less) normal meal meal for myself and then going out for a run in ~20 min or so.

4. 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.”

I typically start out a bit slower and easy into my workout pace by feel. Thinking about it, I bet this is ~10 min process. I’m not so good about slowing down at the end though :-/

The Exception: It takes less than 10 minutes to rev up on warm days.

5. The 2-Day Rule

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

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.

Yes.

The Exception: If something hurts for two weeks, even if you’ve taken your rest days, see a doctor.

6. The Familiar-Food Rule

Don’t eat or drink anything new before or during a race or hard workout.

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.

Yeah. Also knowing what alternatives are the most similar to your fuel of choice can be helpful in a pinch.

7. 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.”

Deal.

The Exception: If your race effort wasn’t all-out, taking fewer recovery days is okay.

8. The Heads-Beats-Tails Rule

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

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 second half.”

Isn’t this the frustrating truth?!?! I despise wind!

The Exception: On point-to-point runs with the wind at your back, you’ll fly along faster than usual.

9. 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.

Singing along with your favorite trashy hip-hop/pop tunes will also do the trick if you’re running alone. This will also solidify your reputation as the crazy runner from down the street, but chances are there isn’t much of a debate left on the topic at this point. Maybe it’s just me…

The Exception: Talking should not be easy during hard runs, speedwork, or races.

10. 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.”

I’ve had my longest run be as low as 16 miles and as long as 22.

The 16 miler was through a snowstorm during a 1/8 ass attempt at training for the Kili marathon. Soooo….the horrific experience that that marathon was, can hardly be pegged on the short long run. The overall single digit weekly milage was more likely the culprit (just maybe). Never mind the +75 F temperature difference.

The difference between 20 and 22 miles probably is physically beneficial (assuming that you don’t injure yourself of course) but the mental advantage to having those extra 2 miles under your belt is probably the biggest bonus. Knowing that you have another 6.2 miles to run at the end of the marathon, after you’ve already run the distance of your longest training run seems a lot more daunting than just a little 4.2 mile / 30 min joke. It’s amazing what I can convince myself of after 3.5 hrs of running.

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.

11. The Carbs Rule

For a few days before a long race, emphasize carbohydrates in your diet.

“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.

Hmmmmm…I say be careful with this one. If you aren’t used to scarfing down loads of carbs, I don’t think that the precious few days before the big race is the time for a diet overhaul. Upping the carb intake a bit with an extra serving or two of your favorite fresh fruits and veggies and easy to digest grains and pasta would be my (kind-of qualified) recomendation. Carb-bombing or consuming massive amounts of a food that isn’t usually in your diet are two approaches that I’d steer clear of.

The Exception: There’s a word for carbo-loading during regular training or before a short race: gluttony.

12. 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.

Sad. 😦

The Exception: Low-mileage runners can stretch the seven years to well over a decade before plateauing.

13. The Left-Side-Of-The-Road Rule

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.

Be careful! This can be tricky, especially if you’re on a road that doesn’t typically get much foot traffic. Wearing bright colors, choosing routes with wide shoulders and keeping your attentiveness up (music volumes low and one eye on the approaching vehicles) are helpful for staying safe. The sidewalk is just a pain (literally…hahaha….maybe? just a bit? :-/) on all the joints and shins, I really much prefer the road and I’ll try to make just about anything work. There usually is a way, but sometimes it requires creativity (ditch vs. shoulder, musical-sides-of-the-street, speed work across narrow bridges and through stretches of no-shoulder) and patients. Just keep paying attention!

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 side.

14. The Up-Beats-Down Rule

Running uphill slows you down more than running downhill speeds you up.

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.”

And going like a bat-out-of-hell down a hill is a great way to roll an ankle or hurt a knee. So crank up the speed carfully on the decent and remember that you can make up time on the straights too. The down hill can be a very effective opportunity to get a little “rest” and regrouping before laying down some fast miles on level ground…a lot more effective than a sprained ankle.

The Exception: When you run point-to-point with a net elevation drop, your average pace should be faster than on a flat course.

15. The Sleep Rule

Sleep one extra minute per night for each mile per week that you train.

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.”

Training on less rest can train your body to be able to do more with less. This can end up being useful on race day (provided that you haven’t run yourself into the ground before then). Striking a balance of getting enough sleep to keep functioning but sufficiently little to put a little extra stress on the body can be tricky but effective. Cutting back on sleep early in the training schedule and seeing how things go on that little bit less is a good way to start (IMHO). Adding 15-30 min on the front and/or back side of your night in the few weeks before race day will help ensure you are well trained and rested. This might come naturally as you hit your highest milage weeks ~3 weeks out from your race.

The Exception: The extra sleep may not be necessary for some high-energy folks.

16. The Refueling Rule

Consume a combination carbohydrate-protein food or beverage within 30 to 60 minutes after any race, speed workout, or long run.

“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 butter.”

The Exception: Immediate refueling is less important if you aren’t running hard again within 24 hours.

17. 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.”

I think there is a lot of value in cross training. It works different muscles than running and keeps things fresh. Unfortunately, I’m very bad about cross training. I rarely have the time, patients or facilities. There is no excuse for not doing at least some cross training though. Hiking, biking, football, swimming, etc… one or two days a week, while running your tail off on the other days is not too much to ask.

The Exception: The surest way to run better is to run. So if your time is limited, devote most of it to running.

18. 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).

I like warming up at a slightly slower pace and finishing hard. This keeps it a bit more interesting and eases me into those tougher, quicker miles at the end. It also greatly reduces the chance of blowing my legs out in the first half of the race. I haven’t exactly sent any land-speed records recently though, so…

The Exception: This doesn’t apply on hilly courses or on windy days, when the objective is to run an even effort.

19. 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.

I have two pairs of shoes going at all times more or less. Mizuno Wave Creations for most runs and then my lighter Mizuno Wave Elixers for my long runs and race day. This combo has worked well for me for quite a while. Running with a bit more junk in the trunk for the short runs helps make for a speedier long run. Rotating shoes also does definitely help get higher milage out of each pair.

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.

20. 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.

Deal!

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.

21. The 10-Degree Rule

Dress for runs as if it’s 10 degrees warmer than the thermometer actually reads.

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.”

Definitely. Overdressing sucks!

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.
TEMP
(in degrees)
BASIC APPAREL
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

22. 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.”

Yuck, but effective :-/

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.

23. 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.

I have come to quite like my temp runs. Is this insane? Probably.

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 runners.

24. 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.”

My long runs are usually quite a bit faster than this. Sooooo….either I’m slacking on race day or I’ve gotten damn lucky having not injured myself yet. Frankly, I do not want to stretch my 20 milers out to consume even more of my precious weekend days so I’m going to go with my issue being that I’m not maxing out on race day. Until things start to feel not so good (or I find myself with way too much time on my hands) I’m going to keep running my long runs by feel and at this ~9:15 min/mile pace. Good luck to me :-/

The Exception: Galloway says you should run even slower on hot days.

25. 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 the race.

The Exception: Terrain, weather, or how you feel on race day could all throw off the table’s accuracy.

Predict Your Performance
Want to know how fast you should be able to run a marathon without actually running one? Look for your most recent race time in one of the columns on the left, then follow it across to your predicted marathon finish time. The chart is based on the best times from runners of various ability levels.
1-MILE 5-K 10-K HALF-MARATHON MARATHON
4:20 15:00 31:08 1:08:40 2:23:47
4:38 16:00 33:12 1:13:19 2:33:25
4:56 17:00 35:17 1:17:58 2:43:01
5:14 18:00 37:21 1:22:38 2:52:34
5:33 19:00 39:26 1:27:19 3:02:06
5:51 20:00 41:31 1:31:59 3:11:35
6:09 21:00 43:36 1:36:36 3:21:00
6:28 22:00 45:41 1:41:18 3:30:23
6:46 23:00 47:46 1:45:57 3:39:42
7:05 24:00 49:51 1:50:34 3:48:57
7:24 25:00 51:56 1:55:11 3:58:08
7:42 26:00 54:00 1:59:46 4:07:16
8:01 27:00 56:04 2:04:20 4:16:19
8:19 28:00 58:08 2:08:53 4:25:19
8:37 29:00 1:00:12 2:13:24 4:34:14
8:56 30:00 1:02:15 2:17:53 4:43:06
Source: “Oxygen Power: Performance Tables for Distance Runners,” by Jack Daniels and J.R. Gilbert.
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