Mark Armstrong: Can you have too much of a good thing with running?

Mark Armstrong gets some miles in.

Mark Armstrong gets some miles in. - Credit: Alison Armstrong

You can certainly have too much of a good thing when it comes to running and very few runners get the balance completely right all the time.  

At some point during your running journey (some starting later than others), you will either be under-trained or over-trained and either can lead to injury. 

I listened to a podcast earlier this week when the subject of addictive behaviours was spoken about and it definitely resonated with me. 

The argument goes that we all are, or have the capacity to be, addicted to something. It could be food, exercise, work, drugs... anything. It’s just that society accepts some forms of addiction and obviously some are more detrimental to your health than others. 

I’ve certainly felt an addictive tendency when it comes to running, especially in the midst of a marathon training programme or when I’m building towards a goal race. 

It can feel like one missed run is the end of the world and you reflect on it in those darker moments when perhaps training isn’t going so well. Part of the skill is to try and park those thoughts and remind yourself of the runs you did do and the training sessions you dominated. 

I’m in a good place with my running at the moment as I slowly emerge from a period being injured. But it’s probably taken the knee/hamstring issue that’s sidelined me for a while to jolt me back into behaving like someone who doesn’t let running dominate my life. 

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It’s a fine line because that intensity, if you can control it, is what can lead to the bigger gains in your training whether that’s going further or faster. 

But that intensity can also take some of the fun out of it. You have to look back on why you’re training for it and if it’s a good enough reason then it will make you do it. Whether it’s good for your physical or mental health is another matter and you’re not always the best person to decide. 

Running is so enjoyable when you first start but once the honeymoon period has worn off then a sense of pressure can build, particularly if you’re regarded as one of the ‘faster’ runners (I’m not, obviously). 

I know of runners locally that worry about races to the extent that it keeps them up the night before.  

When they arrive this is only made worse, unintentionally, by comments such as ‘you should win this today’ or ‘you should go under <time> minutes today’. It builds pressure and if you’re doing it for fun then you can do without it.  

Or they feel pressure to do a certain time, otherwise they will be letting their club down. No club worth joining is going to make a runner feel bad for under-performing but the pressure can come from within where you want to meet other people’s expectations, not necessarily your own. 

It can take some time to adjust but in reality, it doesn’t matter if you don’t meet other people’s expectations with your running. As long as you’re getting what you want out of it and it’s affecting your physical and mental health in a positive way then you’ve already won – that should be arguably everyone’s goal race.  

Whether your marathon time starts with a three or a four really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. 

With that in mind I’ll keep plodding along towards the Manchester Marathon and take it seriously because I know that distance isn’t to be taken lightly.  

But I’ll also try and maintain a sense of perspective even as the event gets closer.