Pop quiz hot shot: It’s Friday night in February/March and you’re right in the middle of marathon training. The running plan you’ve been following has you running 15 tomorrow. Your foot is hurting. Not enough pain to stop you, but you’re aware of it.
You feel sluggish. Dead legs.
What do you do?
I’ve been running ‘seriously’ for 25 years.
I’ve read my fair share of books on training. I’ve run more than my fair share of miles. I’ve blown up, crashed and burned more times than I can recall. I’ve performed flawlessly from starter’s pistol to finish line. I’ve tasted both victory and defeat.
After all those years/miles/races/seasons/wins/losses I’ve looked back and assessed my preparation. What could I have done better? How can I improve? Without fail I’ve always assumed I’d underprepared. Even when I’ve run exceedingly well I’ve asked myself ‘what else can I add?’.
I was asking the wrong question?
Why do we always assume the answer is more?
There’s a tendency amongst runners to assume more training always equates with better performance. So I have ignored aching legs, micro injuries, and fatigue because I needed to do more. After all…
Running rewards pain.
The more I suffer the greater my reward will be, right?
Logically it should follow that the more miles you run the more prepared you’ll be, the better you’ll perform. The more intervals you do the sharper your speed will get. In the words of Sun Tzu ‘every battle is won or lost before it is even fought.’ By maximizing your preparation you are giving yourself the best chance to win this battle.
This is true.
To a point.
You’ll get much faster moving from running 15 miles a week to running 30 (as long as you progress smartly). But you’ll only get incrementally faster moving from 60 miles a week to 70. It’s called the law of diminishing returns. And although increasing training volume is the single best way to increase your speed and boost your performance the sheer volume of the workouts can tear your muscles down, drastically increase your chance of injury, and even make you slower.
You run faster/further in training so that your body will adapt and allow you to run this way more easily. The oft overlooked key to this adaptation is recovery. Destroy… and rebuild.
That’s what some don’t understand about steroids.
They boost your repair and recovery, not your strength. When you’re juicing your recovery is boosted: you can work harder because you need less time to recover.
Without sufficient recovery you will not improve.
When you are pushing high training volume and intensity onto an overly fatigued body you’ll get injured. You’ll get sick. You’ll get slower. You’ll literally run yourself into the ground. If this is how you arrive at the start then every single mile can be agony.
You have to find the knife’s edge. Just enough training to get fast, not so much that you arrive to the starting line feeling like Daffy Duck with his beak shot off.
It’s not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away at the inessential.- Bruce Lee
I’ve run fast races where I have just ‘winged it’ without running much in preparation. My fitness was solid from yoga, weights, and cycling, but my running wasn’t where I thought it should be. I’ve genuinely surprised myself in those races. I was undertrained (running wise) and managed a solid finish.
When under trained the final miles are a special kind of hell, but at least I can look back on the early race photos fondly.
Contrast that with racing while overtrained. I’ve run terribly in races that I incessantly prepped for. I left my best race in practice, never allowing myself to fully recover and rebuild (always had to do a little more), stumbling to the start nursing injuries and feeling generally flat because I overdid it.
When you arrive at the start over trained every mile can be a special kind of hell, not just the final ones.
None of your race photos will look good.
So to answer that pop quiz: I’m probably skipping/shortening that Saturday morning training run.
My body knows better than the program.
I’d love to always find the right mileage/rest ratio balance (knife’s edge), but realistically I have to consider work/stress, hours on my feet, diet, sleep… the list of variables goes on and on.
Stop asking yourself what more you can do and constantly ask yourself the following questions as you train.
- Are you feeling better?
- Are you performing better (not just in running but in life)?
- Are you injury resistant or dealing with constant aches/fatigue?
- Are you getting enough sleep/rest?
- Can you perform just as well with less training volume?
If I don’t like the answers to these questions then focus on getting MORE… Recovery.
Once you tip into that over-trained/injured column your path back to healthy running/finishing is uncertain.
Finishing the race is uncertain.
Safer to err on the side of caution. Maybe you find yourself on the starting line a little uncertain about how fast you can get to the finish.
But you’ll get to the finish.
And at least you’ll look good in those early race photos.