The Fallacy of Miles

Any good runner knows that the more miles you log, the faster and more efficient your running becomes — right?

Sort of.

Suffice it to say, if you are rested, nourished, and adequately recovering between training bouts, the more you run the faster and more capable a runner you’ll become.

In my grossly unscientific and general experience, runners are high-achieving people. Chances are good that in addition to running, you also dedicate significant time and energy to your work and/or studies, to nurturing your family, cultivating relationships, and everyday chores like housework and grocery shopping. Sound familiar?

My version of that is hauling my weary self out for a run after scampering around at work for 10-12 hrs. I’m tired and depleted when I start, and usually fairly demoralized by the pathetic slog that ensues. But I’ll be damned if I haul through a workday without being able to reward myself with endorphins after.

And now I’m sick. So I thought I’d write a lovely self-admonishing post to appease the gods of running, prove that I see the error of my ways, and trumpet my failures to the world.

Other iterations of the scenario may look like this:

  • Not taking days off, or hard cross-training under the guise of ‘active rest’
  • Running long every day
  • Running fast every day
  • Running the same distance every day
  • Running extra on race days (beyond a sensible warm-up and cool-down) to get more miles in
  • Forcing yourself to run longer than you really want to on a regular basis with the objective of slimming down, building endurance, or otherwise taking your running to the next level.

Running isn’t punishment. It should be enjoyable, gratifying, challenging, and constructive. The aforementioned habits will only tear you down, physically and psychologically, over time. It’s okay to run long, or hard, or fast 2-3 times a week. It’s fine to challenge yourself to run longer, harder, and faster than you have before. If you want to work out 6-7 days most weeks, that’s great! But do it with some love and respect for your body. If you’re tired, stop. If you’re hungry, eat. If you feel sick, rest! Runners are notorious for routine and consistency – it’s the source of our power. But for the love of good health, it’s also okay to sleep, eat, and sit on the couch.

Over-exercising doesn’t strike overnight. Rather, it’s a habit of hitting manual-override of fatigue symptoms, again and again and again, for months or years. My second marathon is a good case in point, which I ran because other aspects of life were in transition and I wanted to experience a modicum of control. Retrospectively, it wore me down during an already challenging time. Similarly, for the past couple of months, I’ve been striving to chase down some old PRs, hitting the gym every day after work even if it means I don’t get home ‘til 8pm (which is really late, for me). While my brain forged ahead with exuberance and commitment, I neglected to give my body the time it needed to recover day-to-day. I didn’t factor in the energetic demands of my job, and I didn’t respect the immune-strength required to thrive in the disease-ridden work environment that is a hospital. Which brings us to this moment, in which I am camped out on the couch, sick and miserable, as I have been for the last 4 days.

What I want now is balance. I want speed and endorphins, only without illness and injury. Back in college (before nursing school), running was practically the only physical demand on my body; the rest was mostly mental. I could afford junk miles and throw-away cross training sessions. Now it’s time to grow up, and start training like the effective, intelligent adult I am.

Dear gods of running, am I sufficiently contrite? May I return to good health, and life?

P.S. All the muscles in my legs are now dormant, anyways.

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