Training for the big run

These tips will have you lacing up your sneakers.
Jim Patch has ran in the Amway River Bank Run 13 times. Photo by Teri Genovese

Jim Patch, running coach at downtown’s David D. Hunting YMCA since 2007, said this about running: “Running is a sport you can do practically until you fall over. If you’re a high school student choosing between football and cross country, choose cross country because
you can do it for life.”

He should know. Patch has run full marathons, countless half-marathons and everything in between. He has run in the Amway River Bank Run 13 times over the years. He’s postretirement age but has no plans to stop tying on his shoes and heading out to run a few miles.

Patch has trained runners just starting out and those who have some experience, and he has a wealth of advice to share.

Training for the first long race: Start slowly, said Patch, and don’t try to do too much too quickly. “Two-thirds of people I coach who fail to meet their expectations, it’s because they over train; one-third under train. Ease into your training and gradually try to improve,” he said.

Rest: The largest gains in fitness come largely from recovery, so don’t shortchange yourself on recovery. “You are asking your body to do something you’re not used to. When you stress muscles and then repair them with rest, the muscles are stronger,” Patch said. “Repair is essential. And walking as recovery isn’t cheating.” He recommends chocolate milk and pickle juice as good recovery drinks. Sports drinks? Not necessary but okay. Water? The best. Another piece of advice: get a good night’s sleep.

Workouts: “A couple of hard workouts a week is enough,” Patch said. He encourages runners to push themselves a bit, to be “comfortably uncomfortable.” He also recommends cross-training, such as weightlifting, yoga, tennis, etc. “Find something you enjoy that’s different than running but that gets your body moving,” he said.

He suggests one long run a week, three or four shorter runs, and a couple of days doing nothing or doing another form of exercise.

Training time: Three months to train for a shorter race, four months for a longer race. “It also depends on athletic ability, age, experience and competitiveness,” Patch said. “Running isn’t for everyone, so if you hate it, don’t do it. But it’s also an acquired taste, so don’t give up after the first time if you don’t like it.”

“Two-thirds of people I coach who fail to meet their expectations, it’s because they over train; one-third under train. Ease into your training and gradually try to improve.”
jim patch

Food: Patch is a proponent of science writer Michael Pollan’s eating plan: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Patch recommends consulting a dietician to get started on an eating plan.

Advice for new runners: Go to Gazelle Sports or Striders and let a professional get you into a good pair of shoes. Patch suggests getting two pairs of the same shoes and alternating them. “Running shoes need to breathe,” he said.

Motivation: The hardest thing about preparing for a race is staying motivated, Patch said. Running is an individual sport, so people can more easily get burned out or discouraged. “Fight that by running with a group,” he said. “You motivate each other and fight the loneliness. The best way to get better is to run with people who are a little faster than you.”

Patch is a big proponent of races rather than just running long distances alone. There’s the free T-shirt, but also the electricity and excitement in the air thanks to the crowds lining the streets to cheer you on.

“You can engage with family and friends in a way you can’t when just running for health,” Patch said. “And it’s a lot of fun afterward to sit around and talk about the run with your friends.”

Q&A with Shelley Irwin

Shelley Irwin Courtesy Shelley Irwin

Shelley Irwin is host and producer of the WGVU Morning Show and Community Connection, as well as an avid long-distance runner. She shares her thoughts on running and racing.

What do you love most about running? It’s my downtime — my time to listen to music, think, plan, release some endorphins and count each stride as a step toward my goal.

How many races have you run? On average, I run 40 races a year — from indoor triathlons to marathons to Ironman 70.3s, which includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile cycle and 13.1-mile run.

How many different countries have you run in? I’ve run half-marathons in Iceland, Jamaica, Spain and Canada, and World Championship Triathlons and Duathlons in Sweden, Switzerland and Spain. My favorite race city is Chicago — I enjoy the Chicago Marathon.

What is the worst thing to have happened running? Having my music die and running while suffering from plantar fasciitis.

What made you start running in the first place? I have always been active, but my running addiction began in 2001 when I moved to Grand Rapids and set my eye on my first 25K!

What are your best pre-race foods? Pizza!

What is your best advice for those who want to start running? Just start. Sign up for a 5K, make a plan and tell a friend.

What is the worst piece of advice you received about running/racing? Being told to slow down.

How do you keep running when you feel like stopping? I turn up my music and think about the celebration that will come once I cross the finish line.

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