During the past year that I’ve been involved in working with members of the running community, it’s been very gratifying watching people work hard and have their efforts rewarded with race results that they are proud of. There have been a few people, however, that had the best of intentions but unfortunately didn’t see the end result that they were originally hoping for. This article highlights some of the common traps that I observed people fall into and significantly contributed to their season ending prematurely due to injury.
Following two programs at once
There are numerous resources available from which to obtain a quality training program. Whether it’s a book, the internet, or a local coach, once a runner has placed their trust in the program that they have obtained, I recommend following it as close as is reasonably practical. Where I have seen people get into trouble is if they jump into the workouts that their friends are doing, as well as try and perform the quality efforts prescribed on their own schedule. I have observed this happen in situations where a group that a runner has long been affiliated with routinely meets on particular days for the same type of workout, say intervals on Tuesdays and a tempo run on Thursdays, for example. If the individual runner tries to fit these group workouts in on top of following their own schedule, the result is that they are not allowing themselves an opportunity to recover from these multiple tough runs in a week, and this often leads to excess fatigue and injury in a hurry. The social component of training groups is no doubt a lot of fun, but in situations where a runner’s individual training program does not complement what the group is doing, I recommend warming up with the group, then each party perform their respective workouts as planned, then join up again once the hard work is over for a cool down and socializing. Another option that I have found works quite well is to send a group e-mail out on Mondays to the circle of people that you regularly run with. Include the distance and pace you intend on running each day and with any luck there will be a few takers who are able to join you for at least some portion of your training.
Impulsively jumping into a challenging race while in the midst of heavy training
After having a couple months of really good training under your belt, yet looking at your calendar to see your goal race is still well out, it can be tempting to want to jump into a race on a whim to prove to yourself that you are getting fitter. A Project PB client of mine was “seduced” by a Half marathon this past summer while preparing for a goal fall marathon. He had gradually worked his way up to a higher mileage volume than he had ever run previously and was two weeks away from his next recovery week. Under the circumstances he ran a decent Half marathon, but the problem was that he resumed his training program as planned the very next week, without allowing himself a chance to recover properly. It’s no coincidence that he was sidelined with an injury shortly thereafter and failed to make it to the start line of his goal marathon that fall.
An even more ill-advised decision that I’ve seen is entering an organized marathon as “practice” for a goal marathon that is a few weeks away. It’s far too easy to get sucked into running much faster than one’s regular Sunday long run pace, leaving a runner with a time beside their name that isn’t an accurate reflection of their ability, yet they are too depleted to prove what they’re capable of at the race they’ve been training for all along. There are a select few ultra-endurance specialists who can safely handle this, but it is not recommended for the majority of runners.
For runners with a goal race that they are working towards over several months, I recommend methodically scheduling in tune-up races that allow for suitable rest and recovery before and after, but are within the overall macrocycle of training. If a marathon was my end goal for a season for instance, I would ideally schedule a Half marathon about 5 or 6 weeks out as this timeframe would allow me to enter being fit from a couple months’ training foundation underneath me, allow for a relatively lighter week of training before, and some recovery after. Then I could still have a handful of longer runs and quality workouts before I begin my marathon taper.
Returning to “Business as usual” after a prolonged break from running
There are any number of factors that can cause a runner to have to pass on their scheduled training, such as a busy time at work, family commitments, vacation, injury, etc. This is life and it’s often not possible to predict these unexpected circumstances that arise beyond our control. Having to miss a few days of running here and there is par for the course and it’s typically okay to continue along with your training as scheduled. Anything upwards of a week to ten days, however, and it would be ill-advised to try and pick up your training where you otherwise would be at, as a client of mine did last summer after taking a two-week vacation that did not include running. Unfortunately an injury crept up shortly after he returned that ended his training season prematurely. The safer option would be to gradually ease back into running with a mileage volume you have easily managed in the past, and workouts that aren’t so taxing that you will require significantly more recovery time than normal to bounce back from. I maintain that it’s better to get to the start line healthy but having missed a few miles, than to force an uncomfortable amount of training and hope a nagging ailment won’t prevent you from reaching the finish line.
There are many lessons in running that are learned the hard way. It’s important to maintain a positive outlook and approach any setbacks as learning opportunities. This story does have a happy ending in that each of the runners described above are back healthy and running stronger than ever. Long-distance running requires discipline – being regimented enough to train consistently while knowing what is “too much” and not giving in to temptation when things are feeling good. I hope this article serves to illustrate different forms of being overly ambitious so that you can identify these common traps before you fall into them!
About the Author: Greg Wieczorek is a Chartered Accountant and 2:25 marathoner residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has coached his wife Maura from a 4:17 marathon debut to a personal best of 2:58 and helps others maximize their road race potential through his online coaching service Project PB.