How ‘Hard’ Should Hard Days Really Be?

Most of us are familiar with taking easy days “easy”, so you can take your hard days “hard,” but how hard do we need to go? Images of runners throwing up, trackside, used to be hailed as images of a productive workout, but in reality that’s usually not true and a productive workout doesn’t have to be that way. Around this time of year is when a lot of people fall into the trap of going too hard on their workout days. Here’s some of the traps people fall into, so hopefully you don’t fall into them too:

  1. You completed a great training cycle back in the spring and felt great. During those workouts you hit X:XX pace, so that must be the pace you can hit now, right? Not necessarily true, your fitness changes and you need to listen to your body to understand where your fitness is RIGHT NOW and what pace you can handle.
  2. You are starting a new training cycle. You are excited. Your legs feel fresh. You may even want to impress your coach or new training buddies so you go out quickly to celebrate these feelings.

  3. The heat. It’s an oven out there with the dew point (more informative than humidity) sky high. The conditions you are running in need to be respected and you need to adjust accordingly. Your paces will look very different in the heat compared to what they looked like in the spring.

  4. We often remember the peak of our fitness, rather than your fitness at the start of a training cycle. Our bodies need time to adjust to the new demands, but don’t worry, it will come.

  5. Strava / Social Media. We’ve all been there, ran a little quicker than planned knowing your friends will let kudos rain down on your phone. But who are you doing this for, them or you?

Running too hard during track workouts

Yes, we want to go hard on our speed days, but not so hard it ends up sacrificing the quality of our run for the rest of the week(s) or worse, injury. When it comes to workouts, I like to use the phrase “it’s better to undercook a workout than overcook it,” to help get the most from the workout. That doesn’t mean you go easy, you need to break out of your comfort zone to improve, but you should leave most workouts feeling like you could do 1-2 more reps if you were asked to. I say ‘most workouts’ because maybe every once in a while (say once every 4-5 weeks) I will go harder than usual where I feel exhausted at the end and couldn’t do another rep (but still not puking on the side of the track).

It helps if you don’t go blazing out on the first couple of reps. In fact, I’m a big fan of using the first couple of reps to find your rhythm and get a good gauge of the pace you can handle for the whole workout and then pick it up for the remaining reps. On your next workout, put the ego to one side and try to find that right balance.

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