Rerun: Approach Your Limit. Don’t Jump the Shark.

Periodically we will feature reruns of posts that ran before Salty Running’s official launch. This was before Salty Running had lots of bloggers and Salty wasn’t pregnant and able to forgo sleep to post like a maniac as she attempted to get the site up and running. Today we’re reposting our Fonz post about overtraining that was originally posted on March 20, 2012 to give Cinnamon a break as she wraps up her latest film job. We also thought it was a good reminder to behave as everyone starts ramping up training for fall race season. So sit back and enjoy. Ehhhhh!

Fonzie on water skis, in a scene from the Happ...
“Whoa! Why are you running so fast? Don’t jump the shark!”

I am a big nerd, I admit it. I minored in math in college. I loved math, at least when I could still understand it. When I got to differential equations it just got weird. Oh wait. Why am I telling you this? There is a point and it does have to do with your running.

In calculus there is a concept called a limit. It will help to explain the concept with an example.  Let’s talk about jumping the shark. When TV producers want to keep audiences from getting bored with long-running shows, they often try spicing their shows up by adding new characters or new plot twists. However, there is a limit to the gimmickry that audiences will tolerate before the show jumps the shark. Here the limit is the amount of changes to a show’s original format that viewer’s can tolerate before they lose interest in the show. The producers want to use just as much gimmickry necessary to keep audiences tuning in, but not enough that the show crosses over the limit, or jumps the shark (Yeah, this was a gratuitous move to give me a reason to post a photo of the Fonz!)

Now what does this have to do with your running? Well, the purpose of training is to stress our bodies so that they adapt and become stronger and more efficient and more resistant to that stress. However, as we approach our limit we flirt with injury. If we push it just a little too hard we break our bodies down too much and we have to interrupt training to recover. However, to really reach our potential we need to train as close to our limit without going over and becoming injured or overtrained.

So, as runners, our limit is the amount of training we can do before we become injured or overtrained.

Our running limits aren’t always easy to see, so here are a few tips to keep you on the right side of your limit:

1. Know the purpose of each run and respect itEasy runs are meant to harmlessly build your aerobic engine or to get blood pumping through your legs to help you recover. Tempo runs are important to work on sustained harder efforts and to practice mental toughness and focus. The purpose of intervals is to boost your VO2 max and work on running efficiently. The purpose of a race is to run the distance as fast as you can. No other type of run has the purpose of a race! If you run harder than you need to you are venturing too close to your limit. Do what is necessary to achieve the purpose of the run, no more and no less.

2. Run the right pace and no faster:  If you run too fast you are not helping yourself. It might seem like it. See #1. You might think you can run a three minute PR if you can run a workout as fast as someone else who runs a 5k three minutes faster than your PR. I wish it was that easy. Almost all training plans tell you to run workouts based on your current race pace, not your aspirational pace. Running aspirational race pace is usually a sure-fire way to cross your limit. If the workout calls for marathon pace, don’t run half marathon pace. If the workout calls for 10k pace, don’t run mile pace. You might survive going nuts in one workout, but if you keep doing it it will catch up with you and you will be sitting on your butt looking at the shark you just jumped over. Listen to your plan and respect it!

Bangor, Wash. (Oct. 22, 2006) - Master-at-Arms...
But officer. It felt so good to run too fast. Image via Wikipedia.

3. Incorporate adequate rest and recovery into your schedule:  Most of us need to incorporate recovery days after all hard workouts. Some more advanced runners can handle back to back hard days, but most of us can’t. If you’re not sure, err on the side of taking an easy recovery day after a hard day. If you are racing, you would be wise to back off on the intensity the week after to allow yourself to recover. You might not even feel beat up after the race, but if you really raced your muscles and connective tissue are at least a little traumatized. If you back it off a bit they will thank you!

4. Listen to your body: Sometimes our bodies cry uncle for seemingly no reason. If you’re resting heart rate seems higher than normal, you feel sluggish, achy or unmotivated it might be time to take things down a notch.

So that point I mentioned earlier is respect your limit. Approach it carefully and always stay on the right side of the shark.

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. I love the way you put this. Hard training is always teetering on the edge of injury, and not pushing so hard that your recovery stops you from training hard a few days later.

    I remember the Fonz jumping the garbage can and then smashing into Arnolds Chicken Stand.

    1. I loved Happy Days! I even names my first cat Fonzarelli 🙂 It’s a fine line to train hard without overdoing it. You gotta take some risks and sometimes that’ll backfire. It’s part of running and anyone who’s really going for it is going to Jump the Shark at some point, but it’s always best to avoid it if possible!

      1. Raises hand and says, “Guilty!” Today was my day to do a long run so I ran 9.5 miles along Tramway Blvd. in Albuquerque. I was surprised how quickly it warmed up and I was off to a late start. Initially I felt fine with my 2 minutes running to 1 minute walking ratio but out of curiosity I took my pulse and it was already 148 beats per minute. I should have packed it up and gone home, but instead I reduced my run/walk ratio to 1:1. My pulse continued to climb until it was right at 160, 100% of my maximum pulse rate. However, it was almost time to turn around, so I kept going. (I’m claiming delirium here.) After all, it was my long run and it seemed like a shame to waste it. I had also run out of water so even though I kinda thought I could still make it without refilling my bottles, reason finally prevailed. I ducked into a gas station, soaked my hat, and got more water. It ended up being a not-too-bad run for me, but after I got home, cooled off, and read your manifesto, I decided I needed a new one of my own. The first two rules are NO more runs down in Albuquerque until we have too much snow here in Cedar Crest to enjoy our much cooler running paths and ALL long runs start by 7:00 am! I wanted to mix up the scenery but there are no excuses for working out that hard. Thanks for the wake-up call.

        1. Candy, you crack me up! Sure, maybe you pushed it a little more than you “should” have, but sounds like you stayed on the right side of the shark – this time. Sometimes it’s good to push ourselves and sometimes it’s not. As you continue on this journey you’ll find your limits and sometimes they’ll be way beyond where you thought they were and other times they’ll sneak right up on you. But I love that you learned some valuable lessons and made some new rules for yourself – that’s an important part of the process!

          1. Yay! Thanks for the feedback. It means a lot, especially because I know how busy you are. I actually feel pretty good tonight. Just a few sore muscles but nothing major. Hooray for 9.5 miles! So glad I kept going.

          2. Glad you’re feeling good. See – you were capable of doing more than you thought! Hope you still feel good tomorrow 🙂