“Type A personalities will increase their training until something backfires.”
So says running coach Julie Finagar in an article posted by the Wall Street Journal on September 7.
The article contends that many runners, especially first time marathoners, train too hard prior to getting to the start line of their race. Many people fear failure on race day (whether it be a DNF or not getting their PR) and literally run themselves into the ground.
Roughly 10% of athletes preparing for an endurance event are training too hard, estimates Jack Raglin, director of graduate studies at the Indiana University's department of kinesiology. In fact of the hundreds of thousands of people who register for marathons, as many as 25% never make it to the start due to injuries. The good news is, 95% of those who do make it there, FINISH!!
To offset injuries, coaches recommend rest days, cross training and trail running (because it offers a lower impact alternative to asphalt and concrete). According to the article, a true sign of over-training is an intensifying obsession with performance and a lack of improvement despite putting in high mileage weeks and increasing intensity.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a victim of overtraining. And I’m pretty Type A. Shocking! Right now I’m typing and cooking dinner and checking my stocks and worrying about my kids’ college funds. And running in place.
After my first marathon in January 2009 (during which I simply wanted to finish the race and had no care about time) I started to get competitive. I was craving the almighty BQ. I wanted to see constant improvement in my training runs (speed, endurance and frequency) and I sought a PR at every race. Being a newer runner, I had the mentality that more was better.
I was plodding along at a decent clip feeling on top of the world when – BAM. A year ago I was stopped dead in my tracks with a stress fracture - an overuse injury. It put me on my ass for several weeks and took me out of the running game for two months.
Let me tell you, there is nothing like being sidelined, having your feet stink from wearing that damn boot and driving the Target electric cart around the store to make you want to get smart about your training.
As I re-entered the world of running, I did so with caution and care. I religiously followed the ten percent rule and incorporated lots of cross training. I followed the Run Less, Run Faster plan, which had me running only three days per week (speed, tempo and long). Sure I wanted to stay healthy, but more than anything I wanted to keep running. It occurred to me that I wanted to continue to run for a very long time…I had visions of myself being one of five in my age group when I was 80 years old. Depends and all. You can’t get there if you’re beating up your body.
And guess what? Only eight months after my stress fracture, I qualified for Boston!!
I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know we runners can be pretty hard on ourselves. Did we run enough mileage this week? Are we meeting our pace goals? Why can’t we get that stench out of our running shorts? I definitely fall into this category. In all honesty, I sometimes push a bit hard. Running calculators and training plans tell me to do my long runs between a 9:00 and 10:00 min/mile pace. For some reason, I always try to beat it. In the back of my head is: you can’t run that slow or you’ll never meet your marathon pace goal. I also run when body parts are hurting because I figure if it doesn’t slow me down or mess with my gait, I’m good. Probably a gamble.
Every once in awhile I get really Zen and remember that I am enough even if I didn’t meet my running goals for the week. I am not completely and totally defined by those goals and I will probably do okay at my next race anyway.
No doubt that the recipe for training for and running a strong race includes determination, motivation, and putting an element of pressure on yourself. Without being a tad hard on yourself you probably wouldn’t crawl out of your warm bed and into your running clothes on your way to a 20 mile training run. But for God’s sake, find the balance. Don’t let it run and ruin your life. I believe there is a way to push yourself hard enough to test your limits and to be prepared without sacrificing your health.
Be honest. Are you training too hard? Not enough? Or just right? (Goldilocks reference).