A Letter to Mrs. McCarthy*-Part One

Posted by Filed Under: Health & Fitness, Learn to Run, Our Best Running Articles

This is a three-part essay I composed for an acquaintance who had met me for lunch recently to discuss “how to run.” Over the next few days after the lunch, I sent her the attached. Read part two here and part three here.

Dear Mrs. McCarthy,

It was great meeting you for lunch to discuss something “important”—namely: running.

Your goal to run three miles is admirable and shows you have determination. I may have “pressured” you to consider the seven mile race during the 4th of July festivities but only because I know what happens to runners that are successful at meeting their original goals—they want more. So while it may appear that I jumped the gun, I know from experience the ability and adaptability of the human body to run farther and faster than you can ever imagine. It seems like this is the only sport that is completely “natural” and requires no particular talent. The physical systems you will be improving exist in every individual and respond to proper training similarly from person to person.

I teach no skill. I express a very basic method of training that will result in an improved ability to run. Individual commitment and an understanding of basic physiology will provide all you need to meet your goal. Are you ready?

It’s too easy to just list a proper training schedule (which I will). I would also like to feel I’ve convinced you with some reasoning. In any event, the basic message is: run.

As I told you, there are three major systems in your body that concern running:

  • Cardiovascular
  • Muscular
  • Skeletal

Each of these systems has a direct effect on your ability to run any distance and how fast you run that distance. Let’s define each:


This comprises your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and enzyme action (combustion of “fuel”). This is the system that runners improve. This is the only system runners need to improve! You were born with sufficient muscle mass and enough bone structure to run beyond your imagination. Your heart, your lungs, your blood vessels, and your ability to use fuel—all of these will improve and become more efficient with proper training. And it will happen quickly. The most amazing thing is this: you will run further; you will run faster, at the same effort that you run now. Think about that… this is not about running harder. This is about creating a physical change within your body that will allow you to cover miles and miles with no additional effort than it takes you to run two miles now. When I run 6 minutes per mile for 7 miles, I am under no more distress than you running for 2 miles. It is cardiovascular.

Plus you live longer.


Muscles are a limiting factor. As you train you will get stronger and more toned. However, what limits us is the muscles’ limited ability to withstand stress. At first, we are very weak in this regard. So when we run a good volume (many miles and many days in a row) we can become sore and have micro-tears within our muscle fibers. These need to heal and that takes a little time. So when we start a training program, it is important to “listen” to your body and understand when it’s time to back off a little to let the body heal. It is important to understand what you are doing when you are “resting.” The heart and lungs do not need as much rest—it is the muscles needing the rest. So know that you are repairing muscle damage. Once the soreness is gone, resume at an increased level (yes you can handle it). Cycle after cycle you will be able to withstand increased “stress” in terms of sequential days of running.

However, in the beginning, soreness is a real issue. Don’t be discouraged, just be smart. *Not* listening to your body results in injury and a prolonged period of no running.

This is very similar to your muscular system in terms of a limiting factor. You were born with sufficient bone structure and connective tissue. However, it is sensitive to new stresses. Good shoes and easing into hard surfaces is a smart approach to running. Eventually, you will be able to run continually on hard surfaces of varying terrain. But in the beginning, appreciate the body’s aversion to such stress—and take appropriate precautions.
None of this is to warn you away from running; it is to encourage you by preparing you for some discomfort and prescribing periodic rest.

In essence:

Training is the development of the cardiovascular system within the limited pace of adaptation of the muscular and skeletal systems.

To be continued…

* Names have been changed to protect … somebody!

  1. Anne on May 29th at 8:26 am

    Did you mean to use two different names –McCarthy vs. Emery?

    You give good advice for anyone interested in taking up running. And her goal of three miles sounds about right for someone just coming off the couch. I always advise anyone, especially if they have been sedentary for awhile, to get a complete check-up early on. Not only may it flag some hidden ailments that could impede running, but it’ll serve as a good baseline to show improvements later on.

  2. thodarumm on May 29th at 3:51 pm

    Nice! Looking forward to the rest!

  3. Jeanne on May 29th at 4:33 pm

    anne: Ah, no, you should know by now the sign of the illustrious editor at hand! two names is my fault, and mine alone.

  4. Mark Iocchelli on May 29th at 5:29 pm

    This is sounding very familiar but I’m still looking forward to the rest!

  5. Vee on May 31st at 10:24 am

    Good Read.
    Now I really do not feel guilty about resting for an extra day or two.

  6. Dawn - Pink Chick on May 31st at 3:31 pm

    I’ve read all three parts…I got a sneak preview. Definitely worth the wait. Great stuff Andrew and I look forward to putting your advice to good use.

    Taper madness almost over – yikes that means race day is way too close….

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  11. nick on December 17th at 8:39 pm

    hi thank u ever so much for this im joining the R.A.F and i need to run 3 miles under 20mins then in my 22week course i have to run 10miles its gonna be tough but i do believe i can pass it but thanks to this website i know what to wear and to look after myself while running thank you have a good christmas and new year

  12. Annie on January 1st at 3:17 pm

    When your muscles do hurt… what should you do? Take a one day break? And if they don’t stop hurting after that… then what?

  13. shakra on August 29th at 4:29 pm

    i have to run 1 mile for school and am so nervis!