The Benefits of Running Less

There’s nothing that makes me smile bigger than receiving Success Mail.

I share this with you because it is the perfect illustration of the “Power of Less.” That is, taking a look at the big picture, tuning into your body, your age and your fitness; and then going against the grain to find a training recipe that works efficiently for you.

I realise this isn’t as easy to do as it is to type. And trust me, it’s not an easy strategy to coach, either. In the world of high-volume plans, it’s so easy to get caught up in more kilometres and ignore the most important thing in training – you.

It feels good to train hard and put in lots of kilometres, but for many it leads us to less than optimal performances and injuries.

Here is the Success Mail that inspired this column:

You helped me out this past July. I was running myself into the ground, exhausted, and I was worried about backing off without compromising my goals. (Read her original question overtraining here.)

My dream was to get near my mother’s marathon personal best – 3:46 at the 1985 NYC Marathon when she was 44 years old. I knew if I got near that time, I would qualify (for Boston). I also wanted to honour my marathoning parents, both of whom are gone now.

My last marathon was in 1990, and I crashed and burned at 4:20. I’m now 47 years old. So I followed most of your advice and backed off, with my average weekly mileage around 98-116km.

On race day, I took your advice and raced GPS-less, running by feel. Although I had to walk three times after the 32-kilometre mark, I finished in 3:50:04! It looks like I’m heading for Boston in 2015. Thank you so much. – SUZANNE

This is the perfect example of…

Going against the grain and training by quality rather than volume. When you do, your body recovers, grows stronger, and achieves things you might not have believed were possible.

All of us have an optimal volume threshold, and when you tune into your body and have the courage to change what isn’t working, you’ll go places.

Overtraining whips your ass. It doesn’t matter how many cute outfits you have, if you run too hard – it will burn you out.

Masters runners can still run personal bests, especially when they modify their core regimen to involve less-frequent (but higher-quality) runs during the week and more cross-training.

Easy runs have value, too. The key is to run at a truly easy effort, which happens to vary daily.

Racing by your body is the most effective way to tap into your inner GPS and earn personal records.

Dreams are worth striving for. Suzanne shed 30 minutes off her best marathon from 23 years ago and honoured her parents in a meaningful way.

As you lay out your plans for the coming season, keep what works, toss out what doesn’t, and tune into how your body responds to your program. Sometimes the simplest of changes can make a significant difference down the road.

As I coach ageing runners, I focus their training based on how their bodies respond and handle the stress. In many cases, this means running fewer days per week. I also use this strategy for younger runners who are more prone to injury and burnout. We’re all different.

Never be afraid to run against the grain, ease back on mileage and intensity, and try new ways to prepare. Some runners perform their best on three to four days of running with cross-training mixed in, while others do better with more running days and split daily workouts.

The real magic happens when you figure out your personal running recipe.

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