Happy to be a runner, to live the running lifestyle.
Lisa, loving the running life.

“Being a runner has little to do with how fast you are, but so much to do with how you live your life.”

This is just one of the many gems Lisa Taylor, a talented athlete and longtime coach in northern Michigan, shares with her fellow runners. Lisa believes in thinking of your running in terms of a lifestyle, of a way of life throughout the year rather than simply a season because you’re interested in signing on for a particular race, or want to reach a short-term goal such as lose weight. Of course these are good things, but Lisa emphasizes something we all really want, which is to maintain our fitness on an ongoing, lifelong basis. I’ve talked about Lisa plenty of times on the blog in the past—I hired her in late 2010 to help me train for my first marathon and qualify for Boston, and she’s become a great friend and running partner. Lisa is behind a popular December race in Traverse City, the Farmland 5K European Style XC Challenge. She’s also a treasured mentor, and she helped me find my latest marathon training plan (which gets under way this Monday!). She generously agreed to share her wisdom on how to achieve a healthy and strong running life.

Gotta smile when you're running in the woods!
Gotta smile when you’re running in the woods! (Lisa, wearing the grey top)

Why should we think about making a year-round running plan?

A year-round running plan is the key to keeping running in your life for many years to come. While a small number of folks may start running as a means to an end, like a bucket list item, most people want to become runners and make it a part of their life. By having a year-round plan, you can become more at one with the seasons, which is especially important for those of us who live in Michigan, where our seasons can impact both the way we train, and where we are able to train. A year-round plan allows for a natural ebb and flow in training, and results in you being able to experience times of rebuilding, recovery and maintenance in your training. Most importantly, a year-round plan allows for the most important aspect of training, which is “maintenance.” The best way to explain the importance of the maintenance phase of a year-round running plan is the simple concept of “use it or lose it.”

One of Lisa's favorite coaching photos.
One of Lisa’s favorite coaching photos.

As we all look at the year ahead to plan races and training, what should we keep in mind? Do you recommend a certain amount of time between races, or taking certain things into consideration such as work and family obligations when mapping out a racing and running schedule/plan?

An underlying belief and value I emphasize when I give coaching guidance is that running should enrich your life, not add more stress. So when it comes to mapping out a year’s plan, you do have to look at realistic goals and whether your current lifestyle allows you to meet these goals. For example, if you are a beginning runner with a goal like running your first marathon, you have to ask yourself if you are willing to commit almost two-thirds of your year toward this goal.

I am a strong proponent that runners “respect” the sport, and the amount of time needed to make progress in your training, while respecting your body and using a smart approach to training. I have seen many people “write off” running, saying, “it’s not good for you” when in fact they abused the sport by not following some of the most basic principles. For example: the 10 percent rule, the hard-easy approach, and the “FIT” principle of Frequency, Intensity, and Time in your training plan.

Lisa and Olympic runner Desiree (Desi) Davila Linden, who trains with Michigan-based Hansons-Brooks Distance Project.
Lisa and Olympic runner Desiree (Desi) Davila Linden, who trains with Michigan-based Hansons-Brooks Distance Project.

And of course, there is the big picture of where running fits into your life. The running part is just one segment of your day. To be a runner, you also need to be willing to commit to the whole lifestyle of an athlete. For example, to feel good on your run and stick to your training plan, you also have to be eating right, sleeping, hydrating, planning your time, and respecting your relationships. A commitment to all of these things is a key to success, and the key to truly being a “runner.” Being a runner has little to do with how fast you are, but so much to do with how you live your life.  

Interestingly, we forget that most runners merely enjoy the lifestyle of being a runner, and they may never even enter a race. According to the Runners in 2013 National Runner Survey by Running USA, the motivation for most runners comes from a desire to get regular exercise and to stay in shape, and that’s it. After that, if a race is the right location, date, distance, and sounds like fun and is reasonably priced, the runner may enter.

So, I guess my best advice is to encourage everyone to think of themselves as year-round “runners for life” and what that represents, and learn as much as you can about training in a way that respects the sport and what science and experience has taught us about our body’s response to training. There’s a lot to learn, and experience is the best teacher.

Lisa, during her running days at Michigan State University.
Lisa, during her running days at Michigan State University.

Could you share your own personal year-round running plan?

In the next year, I will be going into my 40th year as a runner. I remember like it was yesterday—my first run as a 13-year-old. A conservative estimate of the number of miles I have run in my life is easily over 30,000 miles and in this time period, I’ve had a great chance to gather some empirical data of both my own running, and the running of others. I started running in 1976, which coincides with the first running boom. I think of this time as the pre-Nike era, the pre-Kenyan era, the pre-energy aid era. Even though the running boom was big, the next big boom in the late 90s makes it pale in comparison. The Boston marathon that year had only 1,898 runners! Long story short, I’ve been running a long time and have a running program that has evolved from very competitive in the early years (state champion, Division 1 scholarship distance at runner at MSU) into a fitness routine that makes me feel really good and stay strong and fit in my fifties. I run year-round approximately 4-5 days per week, and usually anywhere from about 3-8 miles. While I have had times of running 80-90 miles per week at very high intensity in my competitive days, today my program is much more “normal”. I occasionally enter a race, and recently entered my first half in over 20 years, and ran a 1:40. I have run 7 marathons, but have no plans to run one again at this point. Mostly I enjoy my daily runs and hikes because they make me feel so good both mentally and physically. I also enjoy running with my friends, and really enjoy the social aspect of running.

So how do we stay motivated all year long? 

I say this in a positive way, but I think like many, part of my motivation comes from a “fear” of losing my fitness, knowing that it is far easier to maintain running fitness versus gain running fitness. I have an effective rule that I have used all of my running life, and it is one that I share with anyone I coach, and I call it the “two-day rule.” It’s simple: I rarely let more than two days pass without a 30-minute run. I learned this after reading a convincing study by an exercise physiologist David Costill, who wrote a book I keep on my shelf called “Inside Running” which looks at training from a physiological perspective.

Lisa and husband Dave at the 2013 Turkey Trot in Traverse City.
Lisa and husband Dave at the 2013 Turkey Trot in Traverse City. /Photo by Wendy Nienhouse

I also use 30 minutes as a minimum run length. This rule comes from a clinic presentation years ago by Jack Daniels, who joked that no run should be shorter than the time it takes to shower and get ready for the day. Of course his joke was backed up by a scientific study looking at running fitness maintenance. Jack Daniels is also an exercise physiologist who studies running and writes great training theory which many coaches follow.

These days, being motivated is not an issue at all, but I appreciate times when people do have challenges with motivation. In northern Michigan, the weather can really affect motivation. I suggest that the best way for year-round runners to overcome this is to put their watches and Garmins and the like away, and focus on running at the pace the weather allows by running just for time.

Lisa with her husband Dave and  their daughter Ellie, who runs on the high school level.
A favorite family photo: Lisa with her husband Dave and their daughter Ellie, who today runs on the high school level.

Also, having a young runner in our family (my daughter Ellie runs on the cross country team I coach) makes me realize how important it is to emphasize the way running makes you feel. I want my daughter to value the benefits of running in her adult life, so we emphasize that your run can completely change your state of mind and help you be better prepared for life’s challenges. So I find that wanting to help my daughter appreciate running for these reasons helps remind me of why I like it and need it so much.

I also think having a goal is important, but I find that more and more I realize the journey of running has more value to me than the destination or a specific goal. It used to be that my training goals were to be able to run at certain paces in my training, but now it’s more to just be able to run as often as I want and need to.

Lisa, who also works with the EXCELerate Run program at ATI Physical Therapy Services in Traverse, recently was a featured guest on the Endurance Evolution podcast. You can check it out here »

Have a question for Lisa? She’ll answer running-related questions on Friday, Jan. 17 on the Michigan Runner Girl Facebook page

And if you’re looking for more in-depth and personal assistance with your running, Lisa can help. In addition to coaching high school cross-country and track teams, Lisa works with runners of all ages and abilities who have a variety of goals, whether training for a first or a best marathon. To learn more about her custom coaching approaches and how she could assist you, contact her at lisamarytaylor@gmail.com.

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2 Responses to “Traverse City running coach Lisa Taylor on the importance of creating year-round running plans”

  1. Great article, very inspirational. I have gone through spells where I have scaled back to 1-2 days a week and found myself trying to increase to 4-5 again and it can be difficult. I think Lisa’s advice is helpful. I hope one of my daughters finds running as healthy as I have in my life. I don’t try to push it, I let them find out for themselves.

  2. Staci Taylor

    Loved this post so much. I just recently came to running. It started out as a way to get fit for my first and what I thought would be my only 5K. Funny thing I learned about myself was that I loved running. Played basketball all through my high school years but never dreamed of running!! Now, I am addicted to running and am always looking at ways to run smart and stay healthy.

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