Just how hard should training be? Some think the greatest runners just work harder than everyone else, but do they go 110% at every session and race?

When training for a marathon recently the wise words of Carl Hardman, a 2:19 marathoner himself, run through my head on a regular basis.

“I always have the next session in mind. Rather than burying myself in every session, there was always something held back for the next one. My coach Norman makes sure of that. It’s all about consistency.”

Marathon training is certainly a situation where the sum is greater than the total of the parts. Every session, from easy 30 minutes to key long run, is a building block to your PB. You train for months, years even, and everything adds up to race day.

Irish marathoner Stephen Scullion once told me that “no session mattered more than any other”. There may be runs that have bigger impact, others less, but they all mattered in the long run towards race day. Scullion treats every run as important and that has shown in the great results he has seen in 2018. 

When we spoke back in January of this year the 2:15 man also felt that you shouldn’t be going to the well on every session. Holding back a wee bit each time meant that you recovered quicker, didn’t pick up little niggles and could start to build months and months of quality training. Then you don’t have to retire quite as often.

When do you dig deep?

This doesn’t mean you don’t work hard. Every top runner must suffer and feel the burn, but it’s that extra gear that needs to respected. When you bury yourself should be taken into account, respected as a hard toil in the body and mind and given the recovery time needed.

If you’re destroying yourself on Tuesday racing your mates at track and then expecting to hit a tempo run on Thursday or Friday then there’s only so long you can get away with it. Going one or to seconds slower for that last 400m rep might mean 0.1% less improvement, but 10% quicker recovery (this stats are totally made up). Consistency is the game. 

Let alone the fact you might not want everything to be a full on sprint for different training emphasis, even on those long tempo runs keep an eye on your form and if you’re still getting the effect you or your coach want from the session.

Sometimes you need to see the man with the hammer

Some times you do need to feel the pain of hard work. Each and every runner is different and some need to feel that effort level in training to really grow, others have to simulate the latter stages of a race to get mentally, as well as physically ready. It just doesn’t need to be every session.

Runners that find the latter stages of racing a struggle (don’t we all?) or see the biggest drop off to their competitors might really benefit from pushing to the limit in training more often that others, but that is where the physical and mental challenges of preparation meet.

When you do take it that extra level, take note of it in the days to follow. Any hard effort needs recovery and time to help you grown stronger, but the harder the effort the bigger the recovery needed.

Confidence and rest

The mind needs as much preparation as the body and knowing how hard you can work might be a valuable lesson too. Pushing yourself, on a solo run, at a track session or on a key long run, can provide that satisfying feeling post run. You know you’ve got what it takes on race day.

It can go both ways too. If you give it everything you’ve got in training and come up short then confidence can take a hit too. You’re on tired legs, mid training and tired from work. You give it your all and it’s just not enough. Taking the lows in your stride is as important as riding the highs without getting carried away. 

Also reflect back on those tough session with objective eyes. If you have a coach, friends or family to reflect with then even better. Digging deep doesn’t always mean running fast, it can be getting up for those early morning runs or getting out after work. 

So knowing when to ease off in general, not just at the end of a run or an effort, but also week to week. Knowing when to take a day off or cut a run short doesn’t mean you’re weak, you’ve just got next week, next month and consistency in mind. Run smart. 

Ultimately consistency is the key. We say it again and again on Fast Running, but that’s just how important it is. Day to day, week to week, month to month and year on year. Keep that training ticking other and progression going forward the you will get better. Pushing harder isn’t always the answer for getting stronger. 

RELATED: Does training have to be perfect?

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