5 Training Rules You Can Bend, Not Break

Race Hard Once, Maybe Twice Per Year

While you can't change your genetic destiny, you can choose to race more often—as long as your main aim is fun.

Rules of Success

Bend (Don't Break) The Rule

Slow down. You probably can run more than one or two marathons (or halfs) a year, but not if you want to run each of them faster than the previous one. If you run six or more distance events per year, expect a performance that's about 10 percent slower than what you'd run if you were doing fewer events. Plan ahead for races you want to run fast and the ones where you want to enjoy the scenery.

Take the long view. Moreover, you should view the endeavor as a multi-year project. "You need to build up to this, like anything else in running," says Otto. Ramp up one extra race per year. "You'll know when you've hit your limit," Otto says with a chuckle.

Double up. Sign up for a multi-race event like Disney's popular Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge (half marathon one day, marathon the next) or Runner's World's own Hat Trick (5K and 10K on one day, half marathon the next). Stick to distances you've raced before and practice back-to-back runs on weekends at least eight weeks before your event.

Baby yourself. Recover well: Engle wears compression sleeves for his calf, runs with a heart rate monitor to keep his pace in check, stretches, and uses the Stick for a daily massage session.

More: Are You Racing Too Much?

Be Slim—You Can't Run if You're Overweight

"Obviously, being a 'heavyweight' does not make distance running any easier," says Dr. Lavie. "Nevertheless, people who are heavier can still be successful runners."

Bend (Don't Break) The Rule

Get checked. Heavier runners should make sure that their lipid levels and blood pressure are checked. "Especially in runners older than 40, these factors need to be assessed and treated," Dr. Lavie says.

Get going. The standard advice of starting slow and increasing gradually is, Dr. Lavie says, "even more important if you're heavy. Don't increase your mileage by more than 5 to 10 percent a week."

Get fit. Dr. Lavie has coauthored several studies showing that cardiovascular fitness largely abolishes the adverse effects of being overweight. "Fitness trumps weight, big time," he says. "From a health and cardiovascular perspective, it is healthier to be overweight and fit than thin and unfit."

How Fit Are You?

Get real. But that is not a license to eat whatever you want or think that extra pounds don't have an adverse effect. They do. Just because some people can be larger and fit, Dr. Lavie says, "obviously it is still best to be lean and fit."

Get inspired. "Some of Roberts's success is likely due to his own desire to accomplish," says Dr. Lavie. "He probably really enjoys the whole process. He caught the bug, the way many do."

More: Will I Run Faster if I Lose Weight?

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