Coach Mike Mead

Avoid Becoming a "Zombie Jogger" - April 2007

Are you the type of runner who runs significant weekly mileage (over 50 miles per week), but cannot beat the tortoise in a footrace? Perhaps you are not challenging yourself on your runs. The intent of this writing is to transform those of you who are “Zombie Joggers” into runners!

I’ve witnessed over the years too many folks who run a good bit, but do not get any faster when it comes to racing. The main reason is they are not training to get faster. I know because these days I’m a “Zombie Jogger!” I get up every morning at about the same time and run the same loop at about the same pace. Part of my circumstances as a coach is that I have no personal running goals since I’m focused on the runners I coach.

I have previously written a column or two about adding variety and intensity to one’s running regiment. I think some runners get too hung up on the weekly mileage. They sacrifice variety for quantity. There are various types of training methods out there that many runners do not follow, for whatever reason. But the main reason most runners do not follow a plan is because they are self-taught and are comfortable with what they know. I’m writing this to try to get you out of your comfort zone!

Running is one of the simplest activities, but too many folks have a miserable time when they run and eventually quit and take up more pedestrian activities like checkers or video games. Running is a growing sport, but those coming into it are not getting faster because they stay within their “comfort zones” and become Zombie Joggers!

Some Zombie Joggers believe they experience pain and discomfort on most of their runs. That’s because they never get beyond the first phase of conditioning. Most beginning runners, indeed, experience aches and pains. However, after several weeks of consistent running, with key rest days and plenty of stretching and cross-training, these beginners get stronger and experience less pain and more “runner’s high.” To beat pain, you have to push past it in your training. Zombie Joggers feel the pain and immediately back off (“No pain, no pain!”). To beat the curse, you have to face the pain and push through. I know, easier said than done!

How do you avoid being a Zombie Jogger? Put variety in your training. Do not run the same pace or same course day-in-day-out. Vary your running surface. Cross-train. Do fartlek (speed play) and/or tempo runs once or twice a week. On some of your runs, do the second half faster than the first half. Avoid shuffling – it isn’t running (You may get around faster power walking!). Do occasional interval training on the track. Do 4-6 strides (100-150m long) after several of your runs each week to work on your speed. Run hills. Run hills downhill (carefully!). You can break the curse!

Get in a variety of training to challenge yourself. Remember not to do hard training on consecutive days. When you feel some pain come on, try speeding up and pushing through it. Avoid backing off from your pace when you feel pain coming on. You’re just giving in too soon! I must point out the pain I’m writing about is the kind you will experience on a run that disappears once you have finished your workout. However, if you experience pain after your workout that lasts a couple of days, have it checked out by a medical professional. Tight or sore muscles are just part of the experience that you will need to work through with adequate stretching after each workout.

If you truly want to be a faster runner, rid the Zombie Jogger in you. You will not only be a better runner, you’ll also be a more confident person!