I’m not one for resolutions at the start of each year. I find they are often unrealistic and put a lot of pressure on myself. Instead, I tend to set “SMART” goals. For this year, I set 4. I ensured each one is specific (S), measurable (M), attainable (A), realistic (R) and timely (T).
For the last 3 years, I have run about five days a week. I love running. It gives me time to be present with my surroundings and tune into my body. It allows me an opportunity to throw my emotions into something. Running reminds me that I am strong. And it reminds me how wonderful my body is. My unhindered movement is a reason to be grateful. I do not take my mobility for granted. Plus, I almost always feel better after I run than I did before I started. So, one of my “smart” goals for the year is to double my distance.
My understanding of how to safely increase distance is by adding 10% each week. But 4 weeks into the year, I’m struggling. I am very… aware of my left knee. I cannot qualify the sensation as “pain,” but the knee is frequently in my thoughts. I am physically fatigued. And I am hungry with an intensity I do not recognize. Generally, I nibble throughout the day, and then I have a meal in the evening. But that is no longer enough.
So, what gives? I thought I was being safe by gradually increasing my distance. My shoes are in good condition, I have no medical conditions, my weight is healthy. What the heck is wrong with me? After scouring the internet, I think I figured it out.
Recovery. Or in my case, lack thereof. (Am I a fool or what.)
According to Runner’s World, recovery plays a vital role in the training process. It allows the body time to adapt to the novel physical demands it is under. Apparently, I am not running too far. I run too often. The experts recommend running 3 days a week instead of 5 for the first 8 to 12 weeks of training. Honestly, 3 days a week does not seem like enough for me. But that is my emotions talking, and I hope to keep that in perspective. Because my knee seems to think 3 days a week sounds great.
Similarly, I learned some other tips about how to successfully train to double my distance. For example, if running a specific daily distance seems too challenging, reducing the weekly mileage can be a solution. I should gradually build mileage back up as I adapt to running 3 days a week. This conservative approach will allow me to progress at a pace that suits me, and it reduces the risk of injury and burnout.
Another area I’m probably lacking in is that it’s important to vary the distance I run every workout to keep it interesting. Muscle memory matters. I tend to find a good loop and stick with it for a while. But that is no good. Designating one day of the week as my long run day will help me increase my mileage to my desired level. Cross-training can also complement running by building muscle strength and flexibility, and balancing opposing muscle groups. I’m definitely doing more vinyasa classes than before.
The experts also recommend folks strive to be the tortoise, not the hare. Focus on the distance rather than the pace when increasing mileage. Take walk breaks. These breaks are an opportunity to catch our breath and recover. Take deep breaths and relax our shoulders. If necessary, we can opt to walk more frequently to cover a given distance. Showing ourselves compassion is critical.
Recovery is vital.
Last week was my first week only running 3 days, and as I write this, I feel bad for not running more. As though only running 3 days instead of 5 makes me less of a runner. But I can say, I feel better this week. I felt stronger during my runs, and my fatigue has lessened. I did not run as many total miles this week as I usually do, but I did run my longest run to date. So I am going to trust this process. Showing myself compassion and allowing myself to recover is an act of self-love. Ultimately, an act of self-love that will help me reach my goal.
Maybe you’re not a runner, but you’re encountering a similar plateau in terms of your fitness goals. I think the takeaway is still applicable. Maybe take more rest days. When asking our bodies to change, it is important we give them time to adapt. After all, our incentive to pursue these goals is because we love ourselves, right? I’m going to try to continue showing it by giving myself permission to slow down and recover. And I hope you all can too.
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Photo: Unsplash via Nicolas Hoizey, Sydney Sims