I’ve been running competitively since I was in high school. I went on to run in college and continued running competitively post-collegiately. Only now as a 31-year-old woman can I see clearly how often I’ve mislead myself throughout my running career.
There was a time when I was naïve teenager who joined the cross-country team without knowing anything about workouts, long runs, or weekly mileage. This was a brief period in my running career, but by far the most enjoyable. I knew I wanted to improve so I pushed myself in races and I did everything my coach asked of me. That early period in my running career was a learning experience. With each step I took I learned more about myself and more about the sport. Then, one day I knew too much. Running wasn’t thoughtless anymore. This lead me to another time in my running career when I became obsessed with wanting to run 60 miles a week. This obsession began when I learned that other runners were running 60 miles per week. I immediately thought doing this would make me faster. So, one magical winter day during my second year of college I realized my mileage was around 50 miles for the week and I enlisted a teammate to trek into the wilderness and do a long run with me so that I could FINALLY run that magical 60 mile week.
Before my senior year of college I decided 60 miles wouldn’t be enough anymore and I focused on trying to run several 60+ mile weeks and then a 70 mile week. The men on our team were running 70 miles per week and improving so I thought this would work for me too. I forgot to mention that this particular summer I was working 2 jobs, interning, taking a summer class, and studying for the GRE while running all of those miles. Unfortunately, I got mono and had my first documented issue with low iron.
Lesson learned: I should have listened to my body when I felt it breaking down.
Lesson learned: I should not have looked at other people’s training and assumed it would work for me too.
Lesson learned: When increasing volume and intensity in my training I should have considered all of the facts and my life circumstances.
They say that knowledge is power, but with running the more you know the more you think and the more you think the more dangerous those thoughts can become.
“Why can’t I run faster?” Why can’t I beat her?” “______ is running 5 one mile repeats and I’m only running 3, I need to run more.” “I should be doing XYZ like _______, that is why they are a better athlete than me.” “My long run is only 15 miles, but ______is running 17 miles.”
Does any of this sound familiar???????
This is what is dangerous about the sport of running. We compare too often and too harshly.
Often we think higher volume and intensity is necessary to see the desired improvement. Logically, this makes sense because we are building strength and endurance by running farther and faster. The thing we often do not realize is that we all have our own optimal way of training. What is ideal for someone else may not necessarily be ideal for you or your training partner or your biggest competitor. Runners are like snowflakes, all uniquely different. Though there is some validity to running faster and further we must consider what is fast enough and far enough for us at any given point in our running journey. If someone else is doing a 10 mile long run every weekend at 7:30 mile pace that doesn’t mean that you need to do that too. Maybe 8 miles at 8:30 pace is long enough and fast enough for you. The same goes for weekly mileage. You get to decide your definition of “high mileage”. For some people that may be 30 miles per week and for others it may be 100 miles per week. We must not compare ourselves to other runners, but rather try to improve upon our own previous performance and find our own definition of fast and far. Effort and intensity are import but they are personal and they will change as our lives change.
It wasn’t until the last few years that I began to realize that what everyone else was doing was irrelevant. My training is my own just like your training is your own. The amount of miles I run isn’t as important to me as it used to be. Now, the quality of my runs takes priority. I’d rather have 5 good runs in a week than 7 substandard, miserable runs just because I am trying to achieve an illusive mileage goal. Pounding out mile after mile, day after day is only beneficial if it can be done with proper rest and recovery. Running high mileage on limited sleep with limited recovery time isn’t going to do anyone any good.
I learned the hard way a few too many times that life circumstances impact the quality of our runs. I had someone send me an email recently inquiring about my weekly mileage. They seemed completely shocked when I responded that I’ve only been running around 30 miles a week. People wonder how I can run so little and still run “well”. I get asked about my mileage a lot and the best way to explain it is that I take life circumstances into consideration. The quality of my runs has to be more important than the mileage. I’ve had a lot going on in my life this last year. If I were running 50-60 miles a week right now that would most likely have an adverse affect on my overall performance and health. There is no reason to push my body to its limits and end up sick or injured. I’ve been there and done that and I do not want to do it again.
I’ve known plenty of runners who have run incredible times without ever running more than 40-45 miles per week during the height of their training. I’ve also known a plenty of runners who’ve run 60-100 miles per week and haven’t touched their PR in years. Find what works for you and go with it. Learn how to adjust training as life circumstances change and know how to listen to your body.