When you think of cheating in running, usually the first things that come to mind are doping and course cutting. While both of these things are more rampant than any of us would like and are far from victimless crimes, have you ever given any thought about the things you do to cheat yourself? Most of us have one or two habits that we know aren’t the best for our training, but there may also be others that we don’t even realize are holding us back from reaching our full potential.
Running easy days too fast
Just because you can run your easy runs faster doesn’t mean that you should. Running easy days too fast puts unnecessary stress on the body, adds to recovery time and prevents you from putting the speed where it really counts: in your races and workouts.
Not running hard enough on your fast days
On the opposite side of that coin, not pushing yourself enough in workouts can hold you back as well. If you always run in your comfort zone, then that’s where you will stay. It is possible that you may see SOME gains, but your training will not be as effective as if you were using proper paces and you will likely plateau quickly. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone doesn’t always feel good (that’s kind of the point), but if you truly want to improve, you have to do it. Use a pace calculator like McMillan’s Running Calculator or Jack Daniels’ VDOT Calculator to find the right training paces for your fitness, and stick to those paces.
There are various levels of this habit, some of which cheat your training much more than others do. If you are constantly stopping your watch to rest in order to hit the paces for a workout, you are 100% cheating yourself. Stopping during a tempo run defeats the purpose of the workout. You are much better off slowing the pace down and running the workout consecutively than stopping simply to make it look like you ran faster. In contrast, major intersections or other stops are sometimes unavoidable; stopping at a light won’t defeat the purpose an easy run.
Avoiding workouts you don’t like or aren’t good at
Running should be fun and running shouldn’t always be a chore, but that doesn’t mean that you should get pure enjoyment out of every single workout. You don’t like hills so you avoid them? That’s fine, but don’t complain about the hill that knocked you off PR pace at your last race. Avoiding the workouts you hate keeps you from getting better. I used to avoid tempo runs in favor of speed workouts, because I was better at speed and I enjoyed it more. Thankfully a coach talked some sense into me. Now I like tempo runs and I’ve gotten better at them too.
Running for where you want to be, not where you are
This is a tough love question and one that is really hard for most people to answer honestly, at least out loud. Just because you WANT to run a sub-3 marathon doesn’t mean you can or should be running workouts at 6:50 pace if that is not your current fitness level. I’d LOVE to be a 2:45 marathoner vying for an Olympic Trials qualifying time right now, but I am in no way in 6:15 pace marathon shape, so I won’t be training at that pace. It can still be a goal down the road, but I need to work to get there.
Not listening to your coach
You’re cheating your training, your coach and your money all in one with this habit. Adding miles, constantly running faster or slower than prescribed and refusing to share your workouts and information all defeat the purpose of having a coach in the first place. Everyone doesn’t need a coach, but if you have one, do what they say. You can’t blame your burnout or your inability to PR on your coach if you didn’t even follow his or her instructions.
Being a weather victim
People of Florida, people of Texas, people of Puerto Rico….those are weather victims. If you had a few races with less than ideal weather, sure that’s no fun, but the universe is not against you. If you only train outside when the weather is 50 and sunny with a light breeze because you simply cannot with any other conditions, you are definitely cheating yourself out of building the grit and strength that it takes to run in wind, rain, snow, sleet and heat.
Not respecting the process
Do you skip warmups or cooldowns? Do you think it makes you cool to talk about how you show up late or about how you never stretch, hydrate or take rest days? We ALL have habits we could be better about and we all have things that we know we SHOULD be doing. Nobody is perfect, but when you know that you can and should be doing something and you purposefully choose not to do that thing, you are 100% cheating your training. Bragging about irresponsible habits is disrespecting the process.
Not having a life outside of running
It may seem funny to say that this cheats your training, but I truly believe it does. When we are in go mode and training hard for a big goal, it’s easy to get sucked in and let running consume your every thought, but it’s also important to let your mind and body relax, to enjoy spending time with your friends and family, to read a book or to focus on your job. These are all great ways to keep things a bit more in balance. If you lose sight of your family, friends and work, what happens when the race is over? If you are not giving yourself time to be a person and not just a runner, you’re missing out on a whole lot more than a PR could ever be worth.
Not accounting for life outside training
Related to the previous habit, it’s also important to account for life stress and activity with your training. Do you work on your feet all of the time? That will affect your recovery. That doesn’t mean you should quit your job, but maybe it means that you should structure your training a bit differently. Are you dealing with a crazy stressful time in life with work and kids? Maybe it’s better to cut back on mileage a bit to avoid overstressing the body. Your body doesn’t know the difference between relationship stress, work stress, and running stress….at least in terms of hormones and things that can lead to overtraining.
Comparing yourself to others
On a similar note, you might see so-and-so on Instagram running 90 miles per week with 5 boot camp classes mixed in, and feel bad because you’re “only” managing 50 miles in a good week and you can’t remember the last time you did a pushup. You start to think that maybe you should get up even earlier to fit in a few more miles before work. But what you don’t see is that maybe that person isn’t working full-time or she has more help than you do to manage everything going on in her life. It doesn’t mean she is “better,” it simply means that you have different situations. You may be able to do more or less, based on your responsibilities at any given time.
Fibbing your training
I’ve never understood the purpose of lying about your training. Adding miles, making paces faster than they really are, or neglecting to add in all of the other workouts you are doing are all common examples. YOU know what you did or didn’t do, and when race day comes the results will show. What good comes out of claiming a mileage number for the week if you didn’t actually run that mileage? You’ll find those missing miles count at mile 22 of your next marathon. What good comes from writing a training log and leaving out extra miles you ran or extra workouts you did? Not being honest about what you’re doing can send you in a downward spiral towards burnout or injury.
Is cheating your own training really only about how it affects you?
In this day and age, I say don’t think that it is, especially when we consider the runners with large followings on social media or on their blogs. You have other runners looking up to you, turning to you for advice, and wanting to emulate you. Of course those runners are responsible for their decisions, but I still think there is a level of responsibility on influencers to think about what they are portraying.
I recently saw an Instagram post by a well-known runner who specifically said that she disobeyed her coach’s instructions. She tried to run a workout for where she wants to be, not where she is. She ended up running slower than she should have because, unsurprisingly, she bombed the workout after starting way too fast. In her post, she was bragging about not respecting her coach, the training, or her current fitness level. While no one is perfect and there is no one right way to train, I think it’s important to at least try to set a good example for our kids and for others in the community.
Have you ever cheated your training, or do you know someone who does?