My running workout principles

Here’s how I approach a run in general, my tactics and mindset before I head out on any run, how I plan a run and subsequently carry it out, etc.

Since this encompasses just about every facet of a variety of running workouts, this is going to go a bit across the board.

When possible, multi-task a run

Most of my runs are destination runs rather than round trips, meaning it starts in one location and ends at a different location I wanted to go to for unassociated reasons. For example, most days I run home from work. This is a destination run intended to commute me home from work, and the commute isn’t necessarily the primary purpose for the run.

I’ll warm up for speed workouts by taking an easy run to the workout site from home, and then I’ll cool down by running back home from the workout.

At one point I had season tickets to Loyola Chicago basketball, plus I worked in nearby Evanston. I’d often run from work to the campus for games, then at times run home after the games. This was an easy 6-10 miles.

None of this is breakthrough science. A lot of people do this sort of thing, I’m sure. But I make a practice of it, rather than do it incidentally.

I’ll run after work in my work clothes. Thus I’ll wear work-appropriate running shoes.

I talked about this earlier, so rather than rehash I’ll add some info.

One of my key points to whether or not I take a job is the type of attire required. If they expect me to dress to the nines, I likely won’t take the job. I prefer a business casual environment where many of my pairs of running shoes are workplace-appropriate… because I like to run directly home after work.

(Also, tying a suit coat around your waist is impractical)

I avoid drinking too much water right before the run, but stay hydrated during hours beforehand

I have found that if I prep for a run by drinking more water, I just have to use the bathroom more before, maybe during the run. It doesn’t hydrate me any more than if I hadn’t drank at all.

But of course I don’t want to start a run dehydrated. The best thing to do then is to drink water regularly, perhaps more so than you typically would, in the hours beforehand. You’ll be hydrated once it’s time to go.

For morning runs, a good tip is to eat something salty or processed during dinner, then drink a decent quantity of water that night. No matter how much you need to use the bathroom in the morning, you’ll retain a lot of that water for the run.

I always start at a trot

I talked before about emulating a home run trot for easy runs, and I finally learned to start runs that way, rather than lunge into the gallop that most runners do when they take off. The latter approach tires and hyperventilates you a lot more quickly.

By starting slowly, even too slowly, you feel relaxed and can gradually ease into the pace you want, with more energy and momentum to maintain it.

Plus, if you’re navigating streets at the start of your run, it’s safer for approaching busy intersections than to do so running at closer to full speed. You’ll probably have to stop more in the early going of a run anyway. You can always pick it up once you get to an uninterrupted stretch like a trail.

Speaking of which….

My route always avoids crossing busy streets when possible

I can’t understand experienced runners in Chicago who live two blocks from the Lakefront Trail, yet make a point to do their runs inland along a busy street like Addison Street and need to stop at traffic signal after traffic signal. Why put yourself in a position where you’ve got to repeatedly stop for traffic and safety reasons?

Never mind the stop and go. It’s more dangerous as a runner to try and cross heavy cross traffic during a run.

  • You appear more suddenly to a driver
  • You’re not watching as closely because you’re on a run and you’re kind of hurrying.

There’s too many opportunities for something bad to happen, or to a lesser extent for something to derail your run and undermine its quality. I’m honestly not interested in playing Frogger when I’m out on a run.

I first started running regularly in Seattle, whose neighborhoods weren’t particularly close to its most useful trails. So, for me to get in 2+ mile runs, I had to carefully map neighborhood routes that would avoid key arterials while allowing me to safely run the distance uninterrupted.

By the time I moved to Chicago I had gotten quite good at this, but the healthy presence of trails and Lincoln Park helped make planning such routes a lot easier.

I’ll get a bit off topic and highly recommend that any runner plan a route to avoid crossing arterials. Even in a big busy city, there’s got to be some neighborhood streets where you can run against minimal traffic, if not a trail where there’s no traffic. Your run benefits you most and is the safest when it’s uninterrupted by cross traffic. Even if you live in NYC and you’ve got to go in a 1/4 mile circle around your block, that’s probably better than repeatedly crossing active city streets.

I only run hard when necessary to avoid trouble, or if that’s the specific goal of the workout

As any running guru in history from Arthur Lydiard to Hal Higdon to Matt Fitzgerald will tell you, most of your running should be done at an easy, conversational pace. The aerobic benefit is gained more from your overall mileage than your relative speed/effort. And of course running easier minimizes the chances of injury.

To this day nearly all of my running is done at a rather slow pace compared to my top speed, and usually for additional practical reasons:

  • If I’m commuting home on a run I’m not in a position to cut the run short, so I need to make sure I can finish.
  • If I’m commuting home I’m carrying extra weight since I’m in my work clothes plus carrying my wallet/keys/etc. Slowing down helps handle the extra weight.
  • I’m usually running towards the end of the day, and I’m somewhat tired by this point because of a long work day. Running slow accounts for this.
  • If I’m training heavy and/or coming off a hard workout the day(s) before, I’m probably tired and sore in general. Running slow allows me to get in needed workouts and mileage without risking injury and other burnout.

The only time I will pick up the pace is in a workout where it’s required, like a speed/tempo workout, or incidentally: If I need to get across a busy street, or get away from or around a group obstructing the path, etc.

No music

When I first got serious about running, I listened to music during every run. As I got more serious I ended up ditching the music almost completely. Some mixes are useful for timing purposes (like LCD Soundsystem’s “45:33”, which was initially commissioned by Nike, and is an ideal length for many runs). But overall I don’t listen to music.

You need all of your senses to navigate busy Chicago streets and trails. Sounds can alert you to potential trouble, or more typically approaching runners from behind and elsewhere out of view. It’s more important that I anticipate obstacles than it is that I listen to music.

I make a point to consume 15-20+g protein within half an hour of ending many runs.

Your body has two post-workout stages during which it can absorb protein and carbohydrates at a higher rate than usual. The best stage is within 30 minutes of ending a workout. A secondary but still effective stage is within two hours of that workout.

I don’t worry as much about consuming carbs unless it’s a long run or I have more hard workouts coming soon. But I do try and re-load on protein since it’s key to rebuilding damaged muscles.

Whether or not I can get a meal in within two hours of a workout (I like to whenever possible), I do try when possible to consume something with 15-20g of protein within half an hour. There’s all sorts of suitable food for this (though I avoid anything that contains soy for a variety of reasons I won’t get into). But an easy go-to is Fairlife lactose-free reduced fat chocolate milk. An 11.5 oz bottle contains 19g of protein.

Two good blends of soy-free vegan protein shakes are Evolve and Orgain. Whole Foods tends to have both in ready supply. They’re pricey at about $3 per serving, but they hit the spot with 16-20g protein (plus other vitamins) in one sitting.

I layer in winter prepared to run

I own a full length winter coat, but often instead I will wear a sweatshirt over my work clothes, with a thinner jacket on top. If suitably cold I’ll wear a 2nd layer of socks and some thermal pants beneath my slacks. Whenever possible I will wear running shoes in lieu of my boots, though if I wear my New Balance running boots and the opportunity arises, I will go ahead and run with them.

I basically dress intending to run back from run after the workday. The only time I will wear a full length coat is if I don’t plan to run from work that day. The coat is just too cumbersome and bulky to comfortably run in.


All of these are little more than personal principles at their core. Adopt or ignore them as you wish. But they work well for me and they can for you as well.

Tagged , , ,

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: