Breaking the Cycle

I’ve always been interested in running and looked up to friends who’ve trained for marathons or go running all the time. Running is great because it’s really easy to fit into a busy schedule and it leads me to explore new parts of my city (or better yet, a city I’m visiting).

Throughout my life, however, I haven’t been able to run much due to an ongoing series of injuries. In Middle School I absconded from the swim team for a semester to join the track team, but I didn’t end up running much due to excessive heel pain (maybe I was growing too fast). In college I ran on and off – I even racked up 13.3 miles on a training run once – but throughout college I had knee pain that kept me from training in any serious fashion.

This all changed after I started going to physical therapy for my shoulder (I broke my scapula last December). One visit, I asked my physical therapist to take a look at my long-standing knee pain. He diagnosed it as being caused by a tight IT band and showed me how to use a foam roller. Over the course of a few weeks, the foam roller improved my knee pain immensely – to the point where it was no longer an issue when running.

That was this summer. Since then, I’ve started running a lot more (more frequently than I ever have in my life). Through physical therapy and my girlfriend who is part of a running group, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way. There was one lesson I learned that I can attribute to the majority of my improvement in running: stop running so much.

For most of my adult life, I followed this cycle:

  1. Think “I haven’t run much recently, I really need to run more.”
  2. Go out for a 6-8 mile run to compensate for my lack of running
  3. Feel terrible afterward
  4. If not injured, Repeat steps 2 to 3 every week or so until injured.
  5. Don’t run for 6 months, feel bad about self
  6. Start over

I learned how to break out of this cycle: Now I never over-exert myself on a run and make sure I never start a run unless I am fully recovered.

I learned that if one runs anything above a 5K without having trained properly, the risk of injury is high. I now only do 5K races and rarely run more than 4 miles on a training run. Lesson learned: Just because I can run 6.2 miles doesn’t mean I should do a 10K race.

Despite running less and exerting less effort on each individual run than before, I am now faster and feel more confident in my running.

It’s hard to get out of the cycle of overtraining, injury, and under-recovery. What I originally thought was a motivation issue was really a knowledge issue.

Lesson learned: Improvement doesn’t come from one-time efforts where I leave everything on the floor. Improvement comes from frequent workouts, focus, and ample recovery.