10/14/21: The most important training lesson
This week's Think Better Newsletter is about the most important training lesson.
I don't usually write about my podcast interviews until they've been published, but I'm breaking my rule with this one.
We just recorded a podcast with Greg McMillan, founder of McMillan Running, creator of the McMillan Calculator, and coach to thousands of runners. In the process of my prep I read his latest book, Running Nirvana: 50 Lessons to Elevate Your Running, and I couldn't recommend it more highly.
The book covers all the key areas of running, from training to racing, nutrition and running form to prehab and brain training. And it does it in a way that makes it simple, clear, and intuitive. It's the best overview book I've read and it's filled with nuggets.
We discussed a bunch of the topics I found most interesting, but here I want to talk about what Greg calls "the most important training lesson" (lesson 2 in his book): While your cardiovascular, neurological, and mental systems adapt very quickly to running, the musculoskeletal system (the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and fascia) adapts much more slowly.
As he writes: "Even when you feel great and want to advance your training, you must take it slowly to allow the body to get strong enough to handle the running."
In all my years of running and reading, I've never seen it explained this way, using the body's core systems to explain why overtraining happens. To me, this makes sense, and aligns to my personal experience.
When I returned to running after a prolonged break, I always knew it would take two weeks for my breathing and my heart rate to stabilize and for my ability to maintain a "good pace" on my road runs to return (used to be 6 minute miles, now it's closer to 6:40).
I would run how I felt, but as soon as I felt good I would use that as an indicator that I was ready to run faster. And then despite feeling good, I would end up sore or injured. I was using the signals from systems that adapt quickly and overriding or ignoring the signals my musculoskeletal system was sending.
If you are coming back from a prolonged break or striving to achieve a higher level in your training, you need to build "down weeks" into your training. Every third or fourth week should be significantly easier than you feel you can go.
Ignore the signals telling you you're ready to go farther, faster, or harder. Those are coming from the wrong systems.
You will feel good sooner than you think. And when you do, you'll be tempted to do too much. So anticipate it, plan for it, and then stick to it.
Consistent small improvements are the key to making a leap, and injuries break that cycle. Ignoring the most important training lesson is a surefire way to have more injuries.
Are you building "down weeks" into your training plans to give your musculoskeletal system a chance to catch up?
Go Be More,
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast
"Sometimes you need to press pause to let everything sink in."
- Sebastian Vettel
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