It happens to any good runner:
You’ve been working up to a certain distance - maybe 5 miles, maybe 10, maybe even more - and you hit a plateau. You start pushing yourself harder and harder, trying to reach your goal as quickly as possible. While you might succeed in improving your time in the short term, don’t lose yourself in the training. It could come at a high price.
Take a friend of mine who was training for a triathlon. He was in great shape and ramped up his abilities by running 3 miles every day. Then, one day, he pushed himself to 8 miles. His body was caught off guard, and he ended up injuring his Achilles tendon. For the next three weeks, he couldn’t run - all because he pushed himself too far too fast.
Sometimes, our bodies simply don’t know how to handle the added intensity when we rush through our training. It’s fine to push the limits, but our bodies put those limits in place for a reason. They have to be slowly worked past, not blown through. If you rush yourself through training, you risk strains, sprains, and stresses, any one of which can set you back and keep you further from your goals.
Practice Is Perfect
Any time I start training for something new, I think of one of my favorite sayings: “Don’t rush things that need time to grow.”
If you ask me, these are words to live by. It’s always better to increase your training at a gradual pace than to go as hard as you can every time.
When I started training for the 5,000-meter run - an event I’d never competed in before - I was more than excited, and it was tempting to go out and try sprinting the whole distance immediately. But you have to give your body time to prepare for something it's never done before.
Right now, I’m training for the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. While it will be my fourth half marathon, I’m hoping to shave seven minutes off my personal record and complete the race in under an hour and a half.
Because I’ve run half marathons before, I often want to complete the whole distance as fast as I can right away. But my running coach has me running no more than 40 miles a week, which is high enough to push me but low enough to keep my body healthy. Even when I really, really want to push past this limit (full disclosure: I've gone over 40 miles a couple of times), I think back to my favorite saying mentioned above.
3 Ways to Effectively Slow Down Your Training
For the most part, whenever I feel the need to push too hard or too fast, I remember the following:
1. Know the physical risks.
As simple as it sounds, just being aware of the problems with overtraining can help keep your workouts in check. We're not adults, so we shouldn’t be training like them. Our bodies are still growing and need plenty of rest.
I have someone on my triathlon team who’s in her 20s. Even though she’s now an adult, her grueling training schedule and the ultra-marathons she ran at a young age have led to multiple knee surgeries. Seeing what overtraining can do to a growing body can serve as a reminder for how important it is to move slowly.
2. Set your weekly max, and stick to it.
A weekly max is an important benchmark in your training. Set a limit that allows you to train at the distances you need to while still building in some rest time. This will not only keep your body healthier, but it will also force you to think more strategically about how you can best reach your goals.
If you don’t have a coach to help set a good limit for you, go to the Ask a Coach section at Youthrunner.com and ask your own questions to one of the experts.
3. Take your time.
If you're currently training with 2 or 3-mile runs, don’t do what my friend did and run 8 miles out of the blue. You want to take your time and work up to that number; otherwise, you could end up losing three weeks of training for it. Slowly work up to running at least 5 or 6 miles consistently before trying for longer distances.
Sure, going slower means it'll take a few weeks to reach your goal. But any goal worth reaching takes time, and we can all save ourselves a lot of pain by not rushing those things that need to grow.
Training for anything is exciting - that's why we run. You’re pushing the limits of what your body can do, and there’s a real thrill that comes with that. But going too hard or too fast can lead to fatigue, and fatigue can lead to injury, and you can't experience the excitement when you're injured. No matter how tempting it is to push yourself to the limit every day, slowing down is the key for going the distance.
Kenan Pala is the 14-year-old founder of Kids4Community, a nonprofit that helps kids and their families give back to their communities in meaningful ways. Kenan also founded Kids Tri Hard, a clothing line that provides more affordable clothing options for youth triathletes. As a result of his passion for entrepreneurship and philanthropy, Kenan was recognized as one of the top 10 youth volunteers in the U.S. by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.