I have to push more or I won’t Improve

Two of my runners in the past couple weeks decided, against my advice, that they had to push as fast as they could go; and run as far as possible in order to “get in better shape.” In both cases they could barely walk the next couple days and it affected other runs adversely. Some runners have difficulty just keeping up with a training program; others feel the need to go far beyond. Their efforts and our conversations were the impetus for this post.

Some runners have a thought pattern ingrained that sounds on the surface to be reasonable. It can even be seen as laudable, motivated, admirable or truly noble. The thought pattern goes something like this.

  • I want to improve so I need to run hard.
  • If I don’t run hard I am not doing my best.
  • If I push through all my workouts I’ll improve faster.
  • If I’m not sore the day after a workout, that workout was worthless. I wasted my time.
  • Some take it a step further figuring if they don’t puke or end up in traction it wasn’t a good workout.

Ok, voice of reason calling. Hard-easy training was designed based in the science of how our bodies improve. When we stress it (hard days) the body breaks down. When we rest (easy days), the body recovers. It is during this time that the tissues rebuild stronger than their pre-stressed capabilities. Hard workouts are also defined scientifically. For most runners, most of the time, including virtually all age group runners there are only a few paces you have to know and use in your training repertoire.

1. Your vVO2max pace (equates to 1600-2000 meter time trial pace).
2. Your “quality” run pace for track workouts (equates to 5K race pace).
3. Your Tempo run pace (equates to just slightly slower than 10k race pace) if you race 10k distances and longer.
4. Your goal pace (equates to your long distance race pace i.e. half marathon/marathon, plus or minus about 10 seconds per mile).
5. Your easy run pace (equates to about 45 seconds to 1:00 per mile slower than marathon race pace)
6. Your faster than vVO2max pace MAY be used to enhance top end speeds.

What does this all mean? You run at these various paces for different workouts. When you fall in between these prescribed paces at the best you are wasting energy; at the worst you’ll end up injured or burned out. This does not mean that you should never push yourself. It does mean that if your training program is properly set up, it will be pushing you appropriately.

Example: My tempo pace is 5:45/mile. My workout is to run 5 miles with the middle 3 miles at tempo pace. Instead, I run all 7 miles at 6:00/mile. This is a killer workout that does little to enhance my conditioning. The pace falls between prescribed paces. It is not fast enough to be “quality”. It is not slow enough to be “rest” and it is not slow enough to be “goal” marathon pace. It is a hard wasted workout that will leave me more wiped out than I should be. It will require additional recovery time. It adversely affects the next prescribed runs. And it did not contribute to me racing better.

When a pace is prescribed in a training program, it is done with the design of integrating the right paces and distances and efforts to optimize your conditioning and progress. To push more (e.g. faster; farther; more repetitions) than what is prescribed, you are not helping yourself. You are reducing training effectiveness. You are increasing your chances of injury. You should not be sore after every workout. You should not feel wiped out after every workout. When in doubt, ask you coach. Then listen and follow the advice.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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2 Responses to I have to push more or I won’t Improve

  1. AWESOME POST !! I just preached this EXACT topic today at practice !! JKal.

  2. Jeff,
    I’m glad there are more out there preaching getting away from the no-pain-no-gain approach to everything. Keep it going! Thanks for your support!

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