Approach Your Limit. Don’t Jump the Shark.

Photo by "Mike" Michael L. Baird

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!)

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

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.

Leave a Reply to Cinnamon Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. This is THE HARDEST part of running for me! I often feel like I need to catch up because of time taken for work, so I push it a little faster. Or sometimes I’m just having so much fun…or I want to keep up with my friends. And tempo runs or other types of workouts? Forget it. Not in my repertoire. I’m lucky if I can cram a few miles in or commute on my feet!