Someone asked this question yesterday on the Runner's World messageboards. Running can feel so good, so easy, and so effortless. Which eventually begs the question: how much should I push it? It's so easy to overdo running, and sadly, the effects of overdoing it never really show right away.
I really identified with this newbie's post. I'd been there, and I think it's safe to say that most experienced runners have been there, too. As a beginner, everything's so easy in your early days as a runner: the goals are achieved almost effortlessly, the kilometres build up quickly and your performance improves by leaps and bounds. When you're in the middle of a runner's high, it's easy to convince yourself that the extra 2 or 3K won't hurt, or that the race pace you just ran on your 5K training run wasn't a bad thing.
I am victim of pushing it too hard. The week before my first 10K in May, I was nervous and antsy for my race. I felt good, my legs were rested and I was ready to go. I'd had my gait analyzed, tried on almost a dozen different shoes, had a new race-day outfit ready to try. I thought to myself: 'I'm a runner! I can handle it!'. So I went out for a run on a Sunday morning, on a new route, did some sprints... I felt so good. The skies were blue, there was a nice breeze, and the road wasn't crowded at all. Then, later in the evening, we went out for dinner. I could barely move my knee. It hurt to walk, but it wasn't unbearable. After the 10K the following Saturday, I couldn't walk and I couldn't bend my knee. I'd pushed it to hard, too soon, on a cambered road.
Things didn't get much better after that. I tried a few slow, easy recovery runs. My knee tingled before the 5K mark. I couldn't believe it. Just a few weeks ago I was running 12 or 13K. I tried sports massage - didn't help. I spent much of June and July resting my left knee, popping ibuprofen and icing it. I played ultimate and ran occasionally, but I was always fearful of how my knee felt after the fact.
Only now— 2 months and under 20K later— do I feel well enough to undertake another training plan. I was ran over 80K in March alone. Now I have to start over. I'm not starting the Couch to 5K program again, but I've been very careful in designing my training plan for the next 12 weeks.
Someone in the thread on the Runner's World forum offered the following mantra: "My next workout is more important than today's workout." Every training program is based on this fundamental belief. Slowly and steady wins the race. Bit by bit, month by month, year by year you develop as a runner. Injuries and overtraining stand in the way of the slow, upward progress of a runner.
I know I want to be able to run my next workout, and every work out after that. I am going to have to keep repeating it during every warm-up, so I don't fall into the trap of pushing it too hard, too soon.