Believe me, I’m psyched that you have picked up running in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s because I think it’s an awesome sport with so many social, physical and emotional benefits. But I have to tell you people, there’s a segment of you out there who need to be more pragmatic in your approach to running.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about the people who pick up running in adulthood, fall in love with it, and then push themselves to the point of injury time and time again. And if you’re above the age of 35 you know injuries tend to linger now not for a short couple of weeks, but for a few agonizing months.
Look, you should be truly proud of your achievement of finishing your first 5K, completing a marathon or going on 75-minute runs with your friends; but you don’t need to keep upping the ante week-after-week, month-after-month. You’re not 18, or even 28 anymore, so you need to have realistic expectations on what your body can truly handle. More is not always better in the sport of running. More miles, more speed, more hills, more runs, more races… more, more, more is not usually the magic elixir to your running woes. You need a well thought out plan if you want to both improve your running performances while staying healthy in the process.
Here’s a few non-pragmatic approaches I come across with clients and people I meet while running:
• The race-junkie runner. This is the person who signs up for every race he/she can find and sometimes even registers for multiple races in a single weekend to compete in. Now, if this person is simply doing this as a social action, a way to just be part of the running community and not to push his/her body to the nth degree, then one could argue that there may be no harm, no foul. But more often than not these race junkies are constantly complaining about some injury or ailment they are dealing with before, during and after the event, but yet seem to wear this injury as a badge of honor.
Unless I’m trying to qualify for Boston, competing to raise money to save cancer, or think my running injured in this local 10K with a robust 56 runners strong will translate to a new reality series on the Bravo Channel, I’m not quite sure on why I would risk injuring myself more, which would ultimately put me out of commission for future races, not to mention training.
• The-race-but-I-don’t-run runner. This is the person who is never really ready for the race he/she has signed up for. They may even workout, but yet don’t do very much on the cardio fitness front; or decide that running a road race will motivate them to start to get in shape. And while running a 5K will most likely not kill you, if you don’t run on a regular basis, I would submit to the jury that jumping into a running event without some sort of cardiovascular training or plan could lead to injury or at least give one a false or negative impression about what racing a 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon is truly about. Is this to say you should never jump into a road race if you don’t run on a regular basis? I would argue you shouldn’t for my aforementioned reasons.
• The I-want-to-run-this-goal-but-still-want-to-do-this-race-too runner. This is the proverbial I want to have my cake and eat it type of runner. This is the runner who is training hard and is focused on attaining some time or distance goal at a particular event. And while this individual is looking good and strong in his/her training, decides at the last moment that he/she wants to compete in say an ultra-marathon two weeks before his/her goal race; or has signed up for a century ride (100-mile bicycle race) the day before his/her half marathon.
Now, I can understand that one can get antsy before a big race. But antsy is good. It means you’re ready. You’re hungry. You want to toe the starting line today. But don’t let your anxiety lead you to jump into a race that will almost definitely affect how you do in your goal event. Please don’t misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with choosing competitions during your training cycle as you get ready for your big goal event. But there should be a purpose in the races you choose to run. These races should assist you in understanding how your training program is progressing.
Whether you’re running just to run and never plan to race, or have visions of competing in the Boston Marathon one day, I still contest that there still needs to be some sort of method to your running-madness. The way I see it, I truly enjoy running and I don’t want to have to take time off of running if I don’t have to. What this means at my post-40 age is that I need to use my experience to sometimes calm my 20-something psyche bravado that still whispers in my ear from time to time and says, “Keep pushing more!” And answer it with the middle-aged sageness of “Today I have done enough, so tomorrow I can do even better.”
• David Allison has been a resident of Ahwatukee since 2005. He has a personal marathon best of 2:27 and was a Division I athlete at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the owner of Marathon Coaching Consultants and the co-founder of Phoenix Flyers Track Club, both in Ahwatukee. Send comments and questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.