Runners of all levels make this simple mistake everyday. In our desire to go faster, farther, and stronger we push ourselves on daily runs and workouts. We stubbornly subscribe to the old adage, “No pain; No gain!” But is that really the best way to go into training and working out?
Kentucky coach John Calipari recently emphasized player development and growth in an interview. This ideology translates well to distance running. As runners, we should keep our current level of fitness in mind and train to maximize our growth as a runner without over-reaching and exhausting ourselves.
Most elite coaches and exercise physiologists agree that there is a fine line between training and straining your body. Once that line is crossed, your body begins to lose the potential gains from a run or exercise effort. This is true for daily runs and for workouts, although each type of run should be considered differently. To make things more complicated these lines are not static. Your optimal training zone may change from day to day depending on a variety of factors, such as sleep, stress, workload, weather, previous days’ training, nutrition, or a variety of other things.
To illustrate this idea, think of your body like an automatic car. If you consistently press your accelerator to 5000 or 6000 RMPs on a given gear, pretty soon your engine will give out. This is what you are doing when you run above your optimal training zone. You place extra wear on your muscles and cardiovascular system but lose potential benefits from the exertion.
A normal or easy run is like being in second gear, cruising along at a steady hum. The pace is typically referred to as “Conversation pace.” Meaning that you should be able to maintain a short conversation while running at this rhythm. During an easy run, you will probably be breathing heavily and your heart rate (HR) will increase to somewhere between 120 and 150 beats per minute (BPM) depending on your age, fitness level, and maximum HR. Another good rule on easy runs is that if you are wondering whether you are running too fast, you should slow down. The benefit of an easy or daily run comes from the time spend running, NOT the intensity of that run.
Workout paces are also specific to the workout you’re doing. For example, a tempo run should be “comfortably hard.” This is an effort that you could maintain for about one hour. Remembering this is helpful even on easy days. If you are a 45-minute 10K racer, you should not be running an ‘easy’ 5K in 23 minutes. Similarly, during interval training you will be pressing hard, but never to the point where you are falling to the ground or need to have your hands around your ankles. For workouts, a good rule of thumb is not to leave a race on the practice field.
The more you run, the better you will be able to feel when you are pressing a little too much. The more miles we put in, the more in tune with our bodies we become. So get out there and teach your engines to purr! I would like to leave you with a new adage from legendary distance coach and exercise physiologist Jack Daniels, “Train smarter, not harder.”
Current John’s Run/Walk Shop employee and Lexington Catholic Track & Field Coach, David was the USATF Club XC Champion in 2009, was a 2 time Olympic Trials Qualifier and has a PB of 2:16 in the marathon and 28:14 in the 10K