Run Forever

Your Complete Guide to Healthy Lifetime Running


By Amby Burfoot

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In Run Forever, Boston Marathon winner and former Runner’s World editor-in-chief Amby Burfoot shares practical advice and wisdom on how to run with greater joy and health for an entire lifetime.

Everyone learns how to run at an early age. It’s naturally wired into your body. Yet in recent years, running has become complicated by trendy gadgets and doctrine. With a Boston Marathon win and over 100,000 miles run on his resume, Amby Burfoot steers the sport back to its simple roots in Run Forever. From a warm and welcoming perspective, Burfoot provides clear, actionable guidance to runners of every age and ability level.

Whether you are a beginner runner or experienced marathoner, Run Forever will show you how to motivate yourself, avoid injuries, increase speed and endurance, and reach your goals. Best of all, you’ll enjoy optimal health throughout your life.



Running is the simplest of sports. It deserves a simple book. That's why I wrote Run Forever.

In the last twenty-five years, running has grown massively popular and increasingly complex. There are too many shoes, drinks, energy bars, training plans, stretching devices, massage tools, and books willing to dissect and discuss all of them.

I'm here to say the opposite: running is not complicated. Run Forever doesn't attempt to explain everything there is to know about running. It explains only what you need to know. It drills down to the essentials.

I've organized Run Forever in a clear and easy-to-follow manner. There are just six main sections: "Getting Started," "Nutrition for Runners," "Going Farther," "Dealing with Injuries," "Getting Faster," and "Running Forever." Even though it contains a training plan for half marathons and marathons, which some might consider the ultimate running challenges, "Going Farther" precedes "Getting Faster." Both require consistency and determination. But "Getting Faster" is the harder of the two, because it also demands specialized workouts and true grit.

Each section contains ten to twelve "chaplets," as I call them. These provide short, concise summaries of key information, and conclude with at least three direct actions to follow.

Everything you'll read on these pages has emerged from my half century of running experience, the testimony of the world's best runners and coaches, and the scientific conclusions of top running researchers.

At the personal level, I've road tested every piece of advice in Run Forever. Over the last fifty-five years, I've run 110,000 miles—more than enough to make lots of mistakes (bad for me) and figure out better ways (good for you).

Once I was fast. I was fortunate enough to win the Boston Marathon in 1968, and to run a 2:14 that year. Now I'm slow. I'm a happy member of the "back of the pack" gang. And I'm proud to be there.

I've finished the same Thanksgiving Day 5-miler fifty-five years in a row. A few days after this book is due to be published, I hope to complete the Boston Marathon on the fiftieth anniversary of my win in 1968. Along the way I've run marathons with Will Ferrell and Oprah Winfrey. If they can do it—and both did, finishing their races impressively—so can you.

Many friends helped me write this book. In four decades of work at Runner's World magazine, I had long discussions with hundreds of elite runners: Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Kathrine Switzer, Grete Waitz, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Deena Kastor, Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, Shalane Flanagan, and more. Their wisdom and insight is woven throughout Run Forever.

I also have a consuming interest in sports science, and have interviewed many of the leading lights of the last half century—Ken Cooper, David Costill, Ralph Paffenbarger, James Fries, Jack Daniels, Tim Noakes, Steven Blair, and more. Their evidence-based findings underlie the most important concepts in Run Forever.

My high school coach and mentor John J. Kelley, winner of the 1957 Boston Marathon, played a bigger role than all others combined. Not because he compiled a lengthy list of running rules, but because he lived true. He taught me that one's actions, philosophy, and guiding principles—the simple, big-picture stuff—are far more important than the day-to-day minutiae. I try to remember this lesson every day, and to live by it.

Certain themes return frequently in Run Forever. That's because they are so central to healthy running. One of these is a practice I call "adaptive excellence."

I believe we should always aim high, but appropriately. Today it takes me two hours longer to finish the Boston Marathon than it once did. But I'm still moving along. To every thing there is a season—a time to run fast, and a time to run slow and relaxed. But we must continue to pursue excellence, even as we adapt to new circumstances.

Other themes: Listen to your body. Less is sometimes more. Hills are good for you. Recovery is a necessary part of peak performance. Run-walk builds fitness many different ways. Patience and consistency are eternal virtues.

In my twenty years as executive editor of Runner's World magazine, we regularly asked readers how long they planned to continue running. The response was nearly always the same: 99 percent said they wanted to run for the rest of their lives.

That's my goal too. And I bet it's also yours. Ultimately, it's the main subject of Run Forever.

Running doesn't get easier with age, but the payoffs grow greater. While none of us can know for sure that running will add years to our life, there's no doubt it will add life to our years. Which is far more rewarding.

The most important aspect of Run Forever is its emphasis on the mind. The book begins with a "Brain Training" chaplet and ends with one. That's because I believe running is not so much a physical challenge as a cognitive one. Running doesn't depend on the size of your heart, the length of your legs, or the cholesterol content of your blood. They are entirely secondary. Your brain rules all.

You don't need to do twenty-five squats today to build your quad muscles. You need to think five positive thoughts about your motivations for running, fitness, and lifelong health. Because it's not the quads that will get your legs moving, it's the thoughts.

Life is not a part-time sport. It's a full-time challenge. President Teddy Roosevelt said, "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly." Few would disagree with this view.

No one wins every race, but we are the better for engaging. If we sit on the sidelines, we can only wither away.

I believe that every run is a new adventure, and every mile a gift. I hope Run Forever will make you feel the same.

Stay the course. Run long and healthy.

Section 1

Getting Started

Essay: My First (Horrid) Run

My first long-distance run was one of my worst. Maybe THE worst ever. It came as a form of punishment. Too many runners get their start this way. It's all wrong. Indeed, it's no doubt the main reason so many stop running: an initial, painful introduction to the sport.

I hope you'll find a different way. In fact, it's essential. If you don't organize your running as a positive part of your days and weeks, you won't continue it for long. I was lucky, as you'll learn in a moment. You might not be so fortunate. In that case you'll need to discover ways to create your own luck—to surround your running with many positive reinforcements.

I grew up the son of a YMCA director. He introduced me to all the popular sports—primarily football, basketball, and baseball—and I played them all with a wide-eyed energy and enthusiasm. I like to think I was pretty good too. I grew nearly a foot in junior high school, reaching the six-foot mark. That helped me choose my first high school sport. I decided to take a shot at basketball. It seemed a good fit. I had a burning desire to be a star athlete. I would do whatever it took.

I tried out for the basketball team as a tenth grader. More scrappy than talented, I somehow managed to make the cut and was placed on the JV squad. At the very bottom of the squad. I was the worst player on the team. Even I could see that. Before this, in my inexperienced youth, I hadn't realized how many basketball players were stronger than me, not to mention better jumpers, better dribblers, better shooters…the whole works.

The coach saw fit to put me in only one game. As I recall, we were behind by about thirty-seven points with 2 minutes remaining. Coach figured it was safe to let me play at that point—there was nothing to lose. Not for the team, not for his personal reputation. Both were already scraping the bottom of the barrel. His assessment proved accurate. In my 2 minutes of play, I performed no miracles.

That first season of JV basketball shocked me to my senses. I realized I hadn't reached the brink of athletic stardom, but didn't know where to turn next. At one practice Coach grew particularly exasperated by our efforts. He threw up his hands in despair and ordered us off the court. As punishment, he told us to run the school's 3-mile cross-country course. "You guys aren't tough enough," he said. "Maybe cross-country can teach you a lesson or two."

None of us were excited by the prospect, but what were we to do? I was the quiet, obedient type, so I set off at a dutiful pace behind my peers, the better basketball players. To my surprise, most of them were walking after a quarter mile. I kept going.

It turned out that, while I was the worst player on the basketball team, I was better than the others at running 3 miles. I'm not saying I enjoyed the run. Hardly. It was absolute torture, especially the two big hills on our high school's cross-country course. I struggled to keep running on the hills. My teammates walked.

If our basketball coach intended to punish us with this workout, he succeeded. By the end my face was caked with salt, and my thighs felt heavy as tree trunks. Worst of all, my feet were raw and blistered. To wear high-top basketball shoes on a cross-country run is a little like using a wooden matchstick to brush your teeth. You can get the job done, but you know that better equipment would make things much more pleasant.

At any rate, I finished minutes before anyone else. And soon found myself calculating my sports skills. Did I want to be last in basketball, or take a chance at a new sport where I seemed to have some natural talent?

I chose the latter. It made all the difference.

I didn't meet my cross-country coach, John J. Kelley, until the first day of practice the following September. Still, everyone in my high school knew about Kelley. He was a Boston Marathon winner (1957), 1959 Pan American Games marathon champ, two-time US Olympic marathoner, and still among the half-dozen best marathoners in the country.

I soon learned that these were the least of Kelley's accomplishments. More important, he was a brilliant, iconoclastic, unique individual—way ahead of his time. Kelley was a vegetarian, organic gardener, Bob Dylan fan, peacenik, ardent environmentalist, raconteur, student of great literature and philosophy, and believer in the essential goodness of all people, especially artists, freethinkers, and the downtrodden.

I understood little about running at the time, but of course it had a terrible reputation. Cross-country was for skinny, weak, uncoordinated kids who couldn't catch or throw. Worse, it was tough, sweaty, boring, bone wearying, soul sapping, and completely unrecognized by newspapers and the sports-loving public. My school's cheerleading squad got more respect than we runners.

I didn't care. I only wanted to be good at something. I was even willing to endure the endless tedium of interval training on a track, if that's what it took. In the early 1960s, when I joined Kelley's cross-country team, everyone did interval training. Almost every day.

Kelley wasn't "everyone," however. He followed a different drummer. We never ran endless loops around the cinder track that circled the football field. Instead he led us on romps through apple orchards, nearby parklands, and marshy trails at the edge of Long Island Sound.

Kelley never spoke a word about how to run. I have no list of commandments that he proffered us. There were no quizzes. He just showed us how he ran, and we followed along as if he were the Pied Piper, amazed by the wonders of almost every workout. For more on Kelley running, see the essay introducing section five, "Getting Faster."

For Kelley there was just running and being—living for the moment. We youngsters didn't realize that we would win state championships based on this training. We just had fun scrambling over walls, sweating up long hills, scampering along narrow, rocky paths, and exploring the world around us.

It is the way I have run ever since, and I highly recommend it to you. Gadgets and gizmos can be nice, but you don't need them. Running partners are fantastic, some of the time. Training plans can establish good guidelines, but be careful that you don't fall into the perfectionism trap. Don't let running rule your life; it doesn't have to.

Instead, use running to enhance your life. Think big. Run free.


Brain Training: Your Most
Important Muscle

Every beginning runner I've known has had many mistaken notions about running. Some believe you must have long legs to be a good runner. Some believe a large heart is necessary. Others figure you need cavernous lungs to process vast quantities of oxygen. Many are convinced you must be rail thin. Or possess muscles that have been well developed by other sports like soccer or basketball. None of these are true.

Running is a nonskill activity. Think for a moment about tennis. If you don't learn the serve and backhand, you won't go far in the game. Think about golf and all the clubs toted around by pro golfers. Each club requires a different skill set. It takes years to master just a few of them.

Not so with running. There's nothing to learn. Unless you had a childhood disability, you mastered running when you were three years old. It was as easy as talking and walking. Today you can put one foot in front of the other as skillfully as an Olympic marathoner. You aren't as fit or as fast, but you don't lack any key techniques.

To improve your body's ability to run, only one organ is required—the one between your ears. You got it, the brain. If you can tap into the power of your brain, you will succeed. You will become a healthy, accomplished runner, capable of achieving any goals you aspire to.

Want to complete a marathon some day? No problem. Tens of millions of others have done this. They didn't have more talent than you. They simply set their minds to the task.

It's not about shoes, it's not about nutrition, and it's not about conquering the hills. Those will come. They are important. But they fade away to almost nothing when compared to the brain.

I'm not saying you'll have a tailwind every step of the way. I don't believe in gauzy promises tied up in pretty pink bows. That's not my style.

Quite the contrary. I can guarantee you'll face plenty of setbacks and disappointments in your running. Everyone does. But these obstacles won't stop you, not when you run with your brain.


Don't be perfect. Be persistent: Runners tend to succeed in all areas of life, not just in running, because they are organized, committed, consistent, disciplined, and goal oriented. These are all brain functions. You need a plan, and you need to follow that plan. But you don't have to be perfect. You just have to be persistent.

If you can check off 80 percent of the workouts on your plan, that's roughly as good as 98 percent. So don't get discouraged when illness, bad weather, family emergencies, or a thousand other responsibilities blow up your best-laid plans.

Just get reorganized, rededicated, and back on track. Use your brain to chart a new course. It's your most potent weapon.


Practice resilience: Bend but don't break. When the going gets tough, you need to get tougher. Whenever you miss a short-term goal, visualize yourself hitting that goal just a little further down the road. Nothing is impossible, but everything takes time—often more time than we would like.

Running is a tortoise-and-hare activity. The tortoise always gets to the finish line first. She doesn't set records. She just gets the job done. Winners never quit, and quitters never win.


Dream big: In his insightful book Why We Run: A Natural History, zoologist and ultramarathon runner Bernd Heinrich, PhD, explains why humans run long distances, but other animals don't. It's because we have the largest brain.

Paleolithic man dreamed of catching an antelope, the yummiest and most nutritious meal imaginable. He knew it might not happen in the first hour, but he didn't quit. He stayed on the trail. He kept on trekking. No other animal would do this, because none could look into the future and see ultimate success. Humans could. It is how we humans have accomplished everything. We hunt our dreams.

Today a beginning runner can imagine completing a 5K race in three months, even if she can't finish a mile today. A runner can dream of weighing 180 pounds in a year, even if he weighs 250 today. A runner can dream of seeing her daughter graduate from college in fifteen years even if her oncologist has just delivered a grim report.

Dream on. When you harness the awesome power of your brain, your legs will follow.


Minutes, Not Miles

Too many runners are obsessed by miles. They measure everything in miles. How far they run in a day. In a week and a month. In a year and a lifetime.

Miles are OK. After all, our races are measured in miles (or kilometers). Our cars keep track of miles covered, our now-ubiquitous GPS systems know exactly how many miles from here to there.

But beginning runners should avoid running by the mile. It's much smarter to run by the minute. That's why the run-walk program coming up on page 15 doesn't tell you how many miles to run. It tells you only minutes.

Here's the problem with miles. If you measure a mile, you're also going to measure your speed. It's inevitable. We've all got clocks on our wrists or our smartphones, and we all live our lives according to what these clocks say.

As a result, any time you run a certain number of miles, you're going to divide the distance by the time it took you. That will give your pace or speed. The two represent different ways of expressing the same thing. Runners talk about their pace per mile. For example, someone might run a 10-minute mile (10:00 pace). That's the same as a speed of 6 miles per hour.

But speed is the wrong thing for beginning runners to measure. Speed leads to a dark and perilous place. It tempts you to run a little faster each day. You'll try to improve from 15 minutes per mile to 14 minutes per mile, then to 13, and so on. This is a trap any runner can fall into, but it's particularly alluring and dangerous for beginning runners.

Dangerous? Yes. Here's why. Speed kills. Not literally, but it stops your fitness progression. There comes a time in a runner's life when it's completely normal, healthy, and motivating to pursue faster running. But that's not when you're a beginner. Speed kills beginners by increasing the risk of injury, burnout, failure, and discouragement.

So don't go there now. Don't run by the mile. Instead, run by the minute.

There's no pace in a minute. It's an empty canvas. No matter how you paint it, you can't go wrong. If you aim for 30 minutes and complete 30 minutes, you have met your target. There's nothing else to measure yourself against. You can't fall short.

You get to 30 minutes, you have won. You are on your way.


Remember Kipling: We have no reason to believe that Rudyard Kipling was a runner, but he certainly thought like one. Especially when he wrote, "If you can fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, / Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it."

Smart, that Kipling. He knew the minute was the true measure of human endeavor, not any particular distance, be it a kilometer or mile. Follow his advice. Don't fret over miles. Content yourself to fill the minutes of every run, and to reap the rewards.


Keep a log: It's important to keep track of your running days and minutes. Runners do this by establishing a training log of some kind. I've heard arguments that the best, most motivating log is a simple sheet of paper on the refrigerator. Makes sense. You can hardly ignore a refrigerator log, and it might serve a nutritional purpose in addition to its primary role.

Of course, there are many other means of recording your running these days, including your computer's hard drive, fitness trackers, smartphone apps, watches, and dozens of websites. It doesn't matter which you choose. But keeping a log keeps you honest and provides a record of your journey. So do it.


Aim for pleasure, not for pain: When you run for time rather than speed, you can fill your mind with more than just, "Push, push, push." That's the beauty of running by the minute. Think about pleasure, not pain.

Admire the sounds and sights of nature, feel the warm glow filling your body, or check out the small changes in your neighborhood. Let your mind wander. I've always been amazed by the random and intriguing thoughts that pop up out of nowhere when I'm running. I won't claim they're genius. But they keep me amused. I've never been bored.

Running gives you a special time to get better acquainted with yourself. I find that a wonderful bonus.


The Wisdom of Slow

Olympic marathon champions do 80 percent of their training at a slow, comfortable pace. As a beginner you should do 100 percent slow.

This point is so important that you'll find me repeating it often. Sorry if I bore you. I'm simply hoping to make an impression. Here's an anecdote that explains more.

Several years ago I was teaching a beginning running class on a lovely college campus. I felt that I was doing an excellent job. I emphasized to my mostly middle-aged students that it didn't matter how slow their pace might be. Then I said it again: "Run as slow as you can."

Everyone nodded their comprehension, so I sent them off on several loops of a large, grassy field. Each runner was doing a personalized run-walk routine, exactly as described in these pages. I watched approvingly from the center of the field.

For some reason I decided to move to the edge of the loop. Now I could observe everyone up close as they chugged past. I could hear them breathe. And they were huffing and puffing much louder than I'd expected.

Slightly alarmed, I stopped the runners one by one on their next lap and reached for a wrist to count their pulse. Heart rates don't lie. It turned out all my beginners were running too hard, with heart rates twenty to thirty beats per minute higher than they should have been. As beginners, they didn't understand what slow, relaxed running should feel like.

I knew I needed a new, more drastic strategy. For a moment I was flummoxed. Then a crazy idea popped into my head. What if I were to run in front of each of my students?

One at a time, I gave it a try. As each runner approached me, I jumped in front of him or her and ran there for several minutes as we chugged around the loop. I ran really, really slowly—the way I wanted them to run.

At first they tripped on my heels several times. Then they adjusted. They couldn't believe how slow we were going. In fact, several protested. "You sure it's OK to run this slow?" they asked. "It seems a little ridiculous."

But it wasn't. It was just right. Soon they stopped protesting, stopped huffing and puffing, and began to actually enjoy their run.


Do the runner's shuffle: Some runners have long, flowing strides. Others shuffle along, barely lifting their knees as they advance one foot in front of the other. Flowing may sound more aesthetically pleasing, but a shuffle is more efficient.

Here's how to do the shuffle. Don't think about lifting your knees high and extending your front foot far ahead of your body. Instead, let the foot fall back to the ground again as soon as it's ready. This will give you an economical stride that's well suited to slow running.


Run backward: Honest. I'm not kidding. Turn around and run backward for just a few yards. You'll naturally run with a short stride (to protect yourself from losing balance and falling over), and you'll also land on the front part of your foot. Pay attention to the "feel" of this stride. Then turn around again and run forward the same way.


On Sale
Mar 27, 2018
Page Count
256 pages
Center Street

Amby Burfoot

About the Author

Amby Burfoot won the Boston Marathon in 1968, and joined Runner’s World ten years later. He became editor-in-chief in 1985, and held the position for twenty years before retiring in 2013. Amby has run 105,000 miles in his lifetime, and owns the U.S.’s longest active “race road streak,” having completed the Thanksgiving Day 5-Mile Run in Manchester, Connecticut fifty-four years in a row. He is now a writer-at-large for Runner’s World and has been honored by numerous running organizations both as an athlete and a writer. He continues running up to thirty miles a week in Mystic, CT, where he currently resides.

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