Are You Cheating Your Training?

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.

Watch stopping

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?

A new mom and Upstate, NY resident who loves the marathon, a good beer, and all of the numbers/nerdy things. I write about my journey to a sub-3:00 marathon, training tweaks for improvement, and finding that "running/life balance" unicorn. On tap Next: Maneuvering through motherhood and postpartum running!

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  1. Couldn’t love this more. The watch-stopping is a personal pet peeve. I like to check the elapsed time on Strava for suspected watch-stoppers.

    1. Thanks Liz! So yeah, I admittedly used to be realllyyyy guilty of it. Live and learn, right? But yes there are some workouts or things I see from people where I’m like….no way…and sure enough there’s a large gap in time that was undisclosed. I think Social media is really a large cause of this, the need to post the faster times or workouts. It’s an easy trap to fall into but the consequences to training, and mental strength is far more damaging then OMG posting a slightly slower workout would be.

    1. Thanks Colleen! I admit, definitely struggle with this at times as I’m juggling this and that and feeling like there isn’t time in the day. But everyone’s life and situations are so different. I*try* to focus on the fact that I truly do love my life and all I have going on, even when it feels overwhelming. I really wouldn’t trade it.

  2. Great post! It really bothers me when I (suspect) popular bloggers or running instagrammers engaging in this behavior (especially disobeying coaches, stopping their watch to get a ~sexier~ pace for the garmin shot, and running for where they think they should be) it just endorses counterproductive training habits, dangerous since many newer runners find these people “inspirational”

    1. Thanks Ava! Yes, it’s hard when they have so many people who look up to them but could be getting the wrong idea about what works, what doesn’t, what is healthy or not. It’s also been pointed out that it can be very discouraging for those newer runners trying to look up to them or turn to them for guidance. More often than not the lies are pretty blatantly obvious but a lot of the IG ‘influencers’ get looked at on a pedestal with halo around their head so the lies, things that don’t add up, and unhealthy behaviors get overlooked or stretched to just be considered as normal.

  3. I used to sometimes make up excuses to stop during a tempo run to tie my shoe or fix my hair or some other thing but this past year I sucked it up and told myself I could slow down but no stopping! I improved my tempo runs immensely and got back in shape way faster and racing was much better. The big change was that once I stopped sharing runs and paces online and kept it all private I had no pressure. I think cheating can be driven by caring what others think too much. Social media and strava are good for some things but really who cares what paces someone else runs in a workout? I kept it private this past summer for safety concerns and it turned out to be great for me.

    1. I think the biggest thing, is that you recognized that you were doing it or finding reasons to. I know I used to do that as well (totally guilty, not denying it!) and once I realized that slowing was better, or just you know sucking it up and trying to push through too. The cheesy old line that your brain will give up long before your legs do is very true!

      I agree that the cheating in this sense is definitely much about social media and what others think and could see the benefit of private training/not sharing. I think that really depends on the person and situation though. For me, since I am not currently running with a coach sharing my stuff on Strava helps hold me accountable(example: strava can show you the overall time vs. moving time). Just like I like to sign up for race tracking for myself so I know that my friends/family are watching and will see those splits. But my issues in the past regarding certain habits where I was cheating myself was a lot more about being afraid of pushing, not having the confidence that I could do something, and also not actively recognizing at the time how much I was selling myself short.

      So what I take from it all, is that you recognizing the habit, why you are doing it, and correcting the habit whatever way it takes (not sharing, sharing in certain ways, asking friend for help, whatever it is!)