Last week Christy shared her own struggles with backing off from training when her recent race didn’t go as planned. Today’s post centers around my thoughts and experiences from my own running history with the hope of helping others to make different choices when it comes to figuring out how to run and rest smartly while pursuing their goals.
When I was younger and faster, I used to push my limits with my training. Looking back, I now believe I became addicted to the “Hurt.” I got it into my head that more was always better, and because I have a very robust body and injury was never an issue, I never really took any breaks. Most of the time, I loved it. I would push my workouts so hard that it wasn’t uncommon for me to finish a long workout and then throw up next to the car while changing my shoes. At the time, I focused on doing all I could to improve and wouldn’t let anyone outwork me.
Aging brings perspective. Looking back, I now realize that I had gotten sidetracked in my quest to be the best I could be. I got so wrapped up in training that I forgot the real goal: Performing the best I could on race day, not in my training. Cycles of overworking can be a trap that is hard to avoid. We start by logging some consistent miles, which leads to a few kudos on Strava, which feeds our drive to do more and more. And on it goes. The deeper problem is that you can get stuck in a handful of destructive cycles without knowing it.
I will offer three categories of runners that I notice all the time. The first is what I like to call the “Medium runner .” The Medium runner is the runner that gets fit enough to achieve that “Runners High” and soon falls in love with that feeling. They look great on Strava; they complete all of their runs at a strong pace, but they never really race that well. These runners hold themselves in an “effort” sweet spot, where they never really push themselves hard but never really take any deliberately slow recovery days. The body gets used to one speed, and because of that, it has no idea what to do when it’s race day. One speed, one gear. If you train your body that way, that is all that you will have available when the gun goes off.
The second type of runner I see frequently is The “Limited runner.” This style of runner is dedicated, and while they may have a good training plan, they overlook that the body is constantly evolving and still live within the training limits that they had success with in High school. These runners believe that if they run one step over “X” miles per week, they will get injured and never find the improvement they seek. As their body adjusts to the training workload, it gets less and less benefit, and these runners stop improving and are not making training gains but are solely maintaining fitness. Nothing changes, and it never will.
The third kind of runner was me, the “Workaholic.” Constantly pushing the breaking point, always tired while still looking for more time to fit in another run, and continuously planning a rest day or an easy run to recover but never following through with getting it done. This training pace can work for a while, but it also has its breaking point. These runners may never get the best out of themselves and hang on to the one-liner, “Well, I’ll know at the end of the day that I gave it my best, and that’s all I had.” Speaking from experience, the “workaholic” style of runner is working from a shortsighted plan that does not work out that well in the long run.
With all my ups and downs in the sport, it’s easy to say that I could have been better if I’d rested more. I remember talking with Frank Shorter, the 1972 American Olympic Gold medalist in the marathon, and was surprised when he said that, upon looking back, he regretted not taking a few more rest days. It was only a handful of years later, when I bombed out of my second Olympic games in Athens, that I truly understood what he meant. I had pushed so hard in my training, trying to prove everybody wrong, that by the time I got to the Olympics, I was completely cooked with a mind and body that were exhausted and depleted, and I had trouble just walking around the athlete’s village.
To experience positive results in this sport while staying healthy, we must train smart while taking recovery seriously. Work with a coach who understands and respects what we ask of our bodies while customizing your training plan. Cut the plan into bite-size pieces and follow it as best you can, adjusting as you go if needed. If you put in a lot of time and effort, you want to ensure it’s worth it. It is crucial to refrain from blasting into things blindly without thought or intention to the why’s behind the work you are putting in.
Be smart while setting boundaries and not limits. Boundaries will expand as your fitness increases, but limits will only hold you back. Lastly, match up your hard days with easy/recovery days. Too many runners roll along without a plan and become disappointed when results do not align with expectations. I believe in making your hard days (workouts) really hard and your recovery days just that, recovery: super slow and easy with the only goal to let the body catch up and absorb the hard work you just put in. When the body knows it’s going to get a recovery day after a hard workout, it will allow you to have more effort on those hard days. You will find that when all of that specific training is absorbed, the results will speak for themselves on race day.