Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, September 02, 2005

Lessons of Marathon Training

by AJ

From the age of 16-27 (supposedly my "peak" physical years) I hated to run. Every now and then Id go out for a 2 mile run. Every time, I was miserable. Running, to me, was an exercise in pain and frustration.

At the age of 28, I bought a book on long distance running by Jeff Galloway.. a marathon runner. I was thinking of giving running one more try because I wanted to maintain a decent fitness level.

Halfway into the book, I realized what I had been doing wrong all those years. One of Galloway's statements turned the lights on: "Most runners run too fast when they run long distances". He, by contrast, recommend the Slow Run as the cornerstone of a training plan.

I gave it a try and WOW! The entire experience of running was transformed. No more panting. No more red face... on the brink of heat stroke. I slowed down and relaxed and suddenly running became pleasant. After a few months, it became fun. And after a few more months, it became addictive. So addictive that I decided to train for a marathon. And here's the really interesting part: I got faster. Without trying to, I got faster.

I didnt even realize it. I felt like I was expending the same amount of energy (I probably was)... but my body was gradually getting stronger and so I could go faster with the same amount of effort.

How did I increase both my speed and distance? How did I complete my first marathon? Here's what I didnt do: I didnt run long distances everyday. I didnt suddenly increase my mileage. I didnt do windsprints. I made no effort to "run fast"... in fact, I consciously ran slower than I thought I should.

I ran slow. In the beginning, I ran very very slow. But each week I ran just a little bit farther. Most days I ran only 3 miles. But once a week I did a long run... I added one mile to this run every week until I hit 26.

And so I successfully completed my first marathon in Atlanta.

There are language lessons here.

In language education, we are often guilty of training for the wrong race. Learning a foreign language takes time. Its a marathon.

Yet we often get trapped in a sprinters mentality. Like my first attempts at running, we go for "intensity" and speed. We think studying must be intense. We think we must learn as quickly as possible. We think we need to expend great effort.

And most of us burn out... we never finish the marathon because we are pushing too hard, trying to go too fast, and wearing ourselves out.

I recommend a different approach... which I call "effortless acquisition". It mirrors the way I trained for my first marathon. I recommend deliberately going SLOWER. Thats right... relax! Slow down.

Focus on consistency, not intensity. Do only what feels effortless. Most of us, for example, can effortlessly manage 5 minutes of reading a day. So read in English for only 5 minutes a day. When that feels super-easy, give 10 minutes a day a try.

Do that 5-6 days a week until it too feels effortless. Then go for 15 minutes.. perhaps doing 10 minutes of reading and 5 minutes of listening to an audiobook. Every few weeks, increase the amount of time until it starts to feel like "work"... then cut back stay on that schedule. Never allow it to feel like drudgery.

Likewise, I recommend deliberately choosing EASIER materials than harder. Read books in English that are easy for you. Listen to audiobooks that are easy to understand. After a month or so... try something JUST A LITTLE BIT more difficult (but still quite easy).

Continue on like this... increasing the difficulty level just a little... never (or rarely) choosing anything that feels difficult or unpleasant.

In this way, you will enjoy learning the language. You may find it becomes fun. You might even find it becomes addictive!

As a professional English teacher with a Masters degree, this is my best advice: Relax. Take it easy. Go slower. Enjoy yourself.