There is a fine line between training hard and overdoing it.
Last week I skipped a race with a cold. It might have just been coming anyway, it might have been brought on my heavy training and a weakened immune system; it’s hard to tell. What I do know, though, is that you don’t always feel how you are expecting to feel. Sometimes I can handle large amounts of intense training and at others my body refuses to cooperate.
Recently, I have been following the blog of my friend John, a runner I knew at university and have recently been reacquainted with. He is one of the best triathletes in Scotland and posts the kind of training that makes me look like a part timer. As well as describing his races he describes perfectly what I often feel when in heavy training and supposedly at my fittest: fatigue, permanent hunger, aching muscles and joints and all the other ailments associated with being an athlete.
The challenge is to distinguish ‘good pain’ from ‘bad pain.’ The former is normal fatigue resulting from hard training and must be ignored at all times; the latter is illness and injury and needs to be taken seriously. I’m glad I didn’t race through illness last week as I came back fresh and had a good race on Saturday, and am now half way through a big training week.
Monday: AM 10km easy / PM 10km easy (20)
Tuesday: 9km easy (9)
Wednesday: 17km easy (17)
Thursday: AM 10km easy / PM track session 10*200 off 150 jog (22)
Friday: rest (0)
Saturday: Birmingham Relays Mile B race, 2nd in 4:27.21 – PB, approx splits 70,67,66,64 (10)
Sunday: 22km moderate / PM 8km easy (22)
Two good sessions but I had to take an extra day off due to illness today. Hopefully I’ll feel better by next weekend when I plan to do the BMC Grand Prix at Oxford.
Monday: AM 10km easy / PM 11km easy (21)
Tuesday: AM 9km easy / PM Metchley session: 4 x 2 laps off 90s, 4 x 1 min off 60s (27)
Wednesday: rest (0)
Thursday: AM 11km easy / PM 5x~60m hill reps, 5 mile tempo in 26:59 – 5:34 down to 5:16, 5x~60m hill reps (28)
Friday: 16km easy (16)
Saturday: 16km easy (16)
Sunday: ill, rest (0)
Week total: 108km
Taken from my training log.
Positive: first track session in over 4 months.
Negative: hurt my calf and got a cold. Just a minor setback.
Monday: 15km easy (15)
Tuesday: 3 sets of 1000/400 on track. Not timed. First track session since August (15)
Wednesday: ran home – very slowly (14)
Thursday: sore calf – rest (0)
Friday: sore calf and a cold – rest (0)
Saturday: rest (0)
Sunday: rest (0)
Week total: 44km
This week I got ill. Nothing terrible, nothing life threatening, just the kind of cold that tends to befall most British people at this time of year. With my long term running goals in mind I decided to take 3 whole days off running, as well as missing my Thursday track session. It could have been so different however. I know that 2 or 3 years ago I would almost certainly have tried to train through it. You see, most runners like to think that the rules don’t apply to them; they believe that unlike the other runners who are mere mortals, running when you can barely drag yourself out of bed, let alone to work, will not affect you. Who cares if you’re running at half your normal speed? Who cares if you’re coughing up colours you didn’t even know existed? You got your run in and that is the most important thing.
I confess that I am often guilty of taking this approach to illness. Distinguishing between discomfort and injury is an important part of being a successful athlete, and I have been considering why we find it so difficult to make this distinction.
One explanation that I can think of is that most amateur athletes, of which I am one, have 2 main reasons for doing it. The first is the ‘runner’s high,’ the thrill of a great run, the adrenaline and the endorphins. Put simply, running is addictive. That’s not to say that it is fun all the time, but every time we run we go out in search of the same thrill. The second reason is competition. We run to better ourselves and to be successful, and to improve our times and placings. Now, most of the time these two elements work together to great effect. We run for the thrill and as a by-product we improve. Job done. However, when illness or injury or severe fatigue rear their heads, a problem arises. One part of the brain says run. The idea of having to face the withdrawal symptoms associated with taking time off can be a daunting one for the dedicated runner, even if training means making yourself feel worse. The competitive part of the brain urges caution, focusing on long term goals and the need for the body to recover. A logical, rational thinking outsider would not understand what the problem is, or why we even consider running as an option when ill or injured.
I was pleased I did the right thing. A few days later and I feel fine and raring to go again, indeed stronger for having allowed a full recovery. But still a little voice nags, telling me I shouldn’t have missed those runs. I can see why people find runners hard to understand.