Vicki Mitchell hears a common misconception in running circles.
“You say you’re a runner and someone asks, ‘How many marathons have you run?’ That’s as if to say, ‘You’re not really a runner unless you’ve run at least one marathon,” said Mitchell, coach of the University at Buffalo track and cross-country teams.
Having been an elite level runner, I didn’t run a marathon until I was 29,” she said, “yet I was ranked in the top 10 in the U.S. in the 10,000 meters and the 5,000 meters. A real runner defines what running is to them.”
Take Caleb Covell, a junior UB track star who competes at the 3,000-, 5,000- and 10,000-meter levels. He also loves to run 5Ks across upstate New York.
“I like to do races that have a cause, cancer or something like that,” he said. “Those are a lot more fun. It brings the community together and it’s something everyone can feel good about.”
Covell, 20, grew up outside Rochester. He splits most of his time between running and his mechanical engineering studies. He talked this week about how he approaches shorter distance races at UB and in the community.
“The strategy is pretty much the same,” he said. “It’s all about going in knowing that you trained really hard for it, and that you have a good mindset. When you’re running a race, you’re your own worst enemy. Your body is constantly trying to tell you to slow down but your mind is telling you to keep going and press forward. It’s focusing your mental strength before the race – envisioning how you’ll do – so once you’re racing there won’t be a lot of surprises, hopefully.”
His weekly training regimen starts on Sunday with his longest run of the week. He starts slowly and ramps up speed toward the end. Monday is a recovery day, with an easy run. Tuesday includes shorter, faster runs; Wednesday, a medium-to-long run; Thursday, an easier prep run; Friday, a short, upbeat run. It all sets up for Saturday competition.
“The key to running well, and training well – we’ve found – is differentiating the paces a lot,” Covell said, “so you have a really fast day and then the day after that, you have a slower day. If you train at a mediocre pace the entire time, you’re not going to get the great results you expect.”
Covell and teammates also do one upper body and one lower body strength training workout each week. He also does core exercises every other night, as well uses resistance bands for ankle work that helps his body better shoulder his pace and show off his aerobic capabilities.
He eats “a very balanced diet with a good amount of protein, carbs, starches, vegetables,” though once a week, after a race, will treat himself to a bacon double-cheeseburger. “I do what’s best for my body,” he said, including sleeping at least eight hours a night.
“Once you’re about eight to 10 weeks into your training, you should be able to see where your strengths and weaknesses are and play off of that,” Covell said. In his case, he has discovered he does better when he sets out quickly during a race, settles into a slightly slower pace and starts to surge in the last mile instead of using a late kick.
The strategy and training have paid off: Covell is first team all Mid-American Conference and first team All-Northeast Region runner.