Running Less to Run Stronger

It’s been about a month since my last half marathon, and something unexpected has happened. Running less has made me a better runner.

My half marathon training involved running 25-35 miles a week through wintry roads and on treadmills, pushing myself in the hopes of improving as a runner. I ran through varying levels of knee pain, thinking that if I got off track of my training schedule I wouldn’t be at optimal fitness for my race. Two days before  my race, I went out for a short shake-off run that turned into a walk because my knee hurt so bad. I went into the race nervous about my knee, worried that the pain wouldn’t allow me to beat my previous race time, or worse, that I wouldn’t be able to finish at all. I ended up completing it about a minute slower than my previous half marathon. I was grateful for the experience, yet I couldn’t help but be disappointed in myself for not accomplishing my goal of setting a new PR.

After the race, I didn’t run for 8 or 9 days to rest my knee. My longest run since I started running again has been 8 miles, and I’ve gone from running 5 or 6 days a week to running 3 or 4 times a week. Much to my surprise, my runs have improved immensely. During training, my average pace was around 9 to 9:15 minutes per mile. However, now my runs never go over 9 mins/mile. Just this morning I ran 7.6 miles at an average pace of 8:40/mile. The other day I somehow ran 5 miles at 8:14/mile.

I’ve realized I didn’t train properly– I didn’t fully listen to my body or really get to know my body in order to learn what works for me. I would rest my knee for a few days after a particularly painful run, but after that I would go back to running lots of miles almost everyday, thinking a short rest was enough. In retrospect, I can now see clearly how wrong I was. I was so focused on the mileage and the schedule that I had tunnel vision. I lost sight of the bigger picture and of what’s most important. If I had just trusted myself a little more and believed that I could finish the race without all the vigorous training, I think I would have had a much better race. At this point, I know I’m fit enough to run a half marathon without the frequency I once thought I needed. In fact, I think the frequency was my downfall.

Now that I’m running once every two or three days, the quality of my runs have improved. And with that, I find myself happier. Having a day or two off makes me more eager for my runs and more appreciative of each one. I think I was so fixated on an image I had in my head of what a runner should be that I forgot it doesn’t make me any less of a runner if I run 3 times a week as opposed to 5. Having this time off has made me remember why I love to run. I do it for the opportunity to reflect, I do it for that raw and real feeling of connecting with my body as my chest gets heavy and then light again, and I do it challenge my limits. I’m really glad I took this time to learn what works best and realize that for me, less mileage makes me a stronger runner.

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