How to stop overtraining and instead find the sweet spot in your running

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The More is More Paradox of Training and Life. If I told you that less is more, you would probably believe me, right? Unfortunately, most people’s brains think more is more. It just makes sense. The more you work the more returns you get out. The hedonic treadmill in its most purest form.

As a runner or even in your career/school life you work hard you get the results.

From understanding the law of diminishing returns to exploring historical perceptions of effort and reward, we’re going on a journey that’s part facts, part theories and 100% something you need. 

We’ll debunk myths with a fun real-world example, balance the scales of risk versus reward, and argue why, sometimes, less really is best. Expect to learn about focusing on higher output, not just more input, and why this approach might just transform your training, and life, for the better.

Stick around till the end, and I promise you, you’ll leave with a fresh perspective on training and life that could change the way you run, work, and live. Let’s find that sweet spot together – the one where less effort leads to more gains, and life feels just a bit lighter. 

Let’s Go…

Quick Note – This will fall between my self-named categories of “Facts” and “Theories and Opinions”. Probably skewing more towards the side of “Theories and Opinions” as it’s hard to objectively know how every single person trains and how their body adapts to stress.

Please take everything I say with a grain of Pink Himalayan Rock Salt and know that I do come from a place of science and data, but sometimes you just gotta say how you feel about science and data when there is no evidence to support your ideas and theories.

The sweet spot for daily running for maximum health is somewhere in the middle.

All around us, seemingly unrelated things follow this same pattern, from career work to physical exertion to parenting strategy.”

“When a non-runner starts running, they will see immediate benefits. Your entire body will transform for the better. Muscles and bones get stronger, heart and lungs expand, brain functioning and hormones normalize.

Training your way up from running around the block to becoming a two-mile runner still brings great benefits – just slightly smaller. The fifth through the twentieth mile turns you into a hyper-efficient machine. If you’re lucky (sarcasm) some people start seeing joint injuries as they rise through the ranks.

And by the time you reach the fringe world of 100-mile runners, serious injuries and surgeries are completely normal – as well as unexpected organ failures in otherwise young, healthy people.

The Sweet Spot of Physical Training adapted by The Frugal Finance Hacking Mr Money Mustache

Everything is linear; in our heads, history, and the stories we tell. So naturally our experiences and outcomes should be linear too, correct? Not really.



United States Nonfarm Labour Productivity from Trading Economics

Moving forward I’ll use the example of training for a half marathon/ full marathon because that’s what I enjoy and know pretty well. You can insert whatever activity or thing that you do.

I’ll present the issue at hand, a solution and hopefully, you can benefit from the combination of words/sentences/paragraphs that I’ve put together and help you live a doper life.

A few assumptions before we proceed;

  • This is a crude example based on my personal training and I acknowledge that everyone is different in their own training fitness objectives and abilities
  • This post takes into account that you are a motivated individual who knows that they cannot run for 5 minutes, 3 times a week and expect to complete a marathon in under 3 hours (We all live in a universe that abides by the laws of physics)
  • I also assume in this post, that like a lot of “type-a personalities” you do the actual “work”. So much so that you usually do more “work” than necessary and sometimes to the point of feeling tired and rundown from training.

Risk vs Reward

With running, the most elite and pro runners tend to run 6-7 days a week and sometimes even twice a day. They are professional and for every .01% gain, they can get help. They risk injury and burnout to get a .01% gain because winning pays the bills… sometimes. So the risk is worth the reward to them.

Now for an amateur or novice, they most likely won’t be winning anything outside of their local-yocal 5k park run (which I finally did here). Putting in more effort most likely will give them diminishing returns while increasing the dreaded iiGB scenario (Injury, Illness, and/or General Burnout – Which is an acronym that made up, and will keep running with, cuz).

For the sake of knowing the scope of what I’m talking about here is a quick numbers breakdown.

I, and most novices/advanced runners, run anywhere from 30-45 mins (5-8km/3- 5mi) a few days a week, and then look to do a once a-week-long run of anywhere from 1-2 hours (10-20km/6-12mi) depending on what I’m training for.

Less is More? No, Less is Best!

Okay stay with me on this as I’ll get a bit into the “quantifiable theory” territory, but it’s a fun thought experiment/theory with not too much scientific evidence.

What happens when I double my INPUT and turn those 30 min weekly runs into 1-hour runs? What if I double my long run to 2 hours? [Sarcasm] Surely I would get double the OUTPUT of overall fitness, economy, and speed… right? [/Sarcasm]

Well, first of all, I will most likely experience the iiGB Scenario ( Injury, Illness, and/or general burnout). If I did see gains, I’d estimate they would be in the range of anything from 1.05-1.20 times (Which would be 5-20% which in reality is almost too generous). This is ironically similar gains to what I was getting when I was just running 30-45 mins a few times a week with the weekly 1-2 hour-long run.

I’m sure you can agree that these are very marginal gains while I increase the risk of the iiGB Scenario 2, 5, or even 10 x depending on things.

These are crude estimated numbers based on my own training and because of so many factors like your genetics, running history, intensity, duration, and lifestyle, your results may vary greatly from mine. A bit more research around where the point of diminishing returns in aerobic fitness/vo2 max, can be found here.

Contrary to what most people think, double input doesn’t mean double output linear gains. Unfortunately, those feelings and emotions that x input = y output trump logic. So why do most people think more is more?

Photo from Pmctraining.com

Helping You Focus on Higher Quality Output

From my discovery process (Scientific research, speaking with experts, and my own experience) we tend to go more is more because we are just programmed like that. Linear is just easy.

Our society from the start of the agricultural/farming revolution had the “double input and you double your output” mentality. It worked in everyday life activities, so why would it not apply to other things as well?

It also worked in the industrial/factory evolution and it worked up until the technology revolution. If you wanted to make double your money in the 1950s you worked 80-hour weeks instead of 40 hours by working the day and night shift. Hell, some companies (like the US Post Office) would pay extra for working nights and overtime so why not? Seemed to be much simpler days.

Unfortunately, in the present day and moving forward that’s not the case.

The same could be said about computers and technology: processors are not getting bigger, they are getting more efficient and economical (multicore processors with many threads, etc.). They do this by being built smaller but more effective and engineered to use less power and do more things. (This is a very crude example and a mechanical computer engineer will most likely write me a stern email. Apologies in advance!)

Like computers, this is how I think you should treat your training, life, relationships, etc. Try to be more effective by focusing on the right things which usually means you become more efficient. Less is Best! (link to the less is the best coaching)

Be a Prius and get crazy output for very low input. Hell, be a f*cking Tesla. As far as actual energy goes, it’s solar dammit. The sun is literally infinite and provides all the energy we need for this world.

I feel once you start living and thinking more critically about things, you can then input a fraction more of your”effort units” to yield the results of an efficient, effective, and better life.

BONUS

The ex-co-host of this show, Phil Cross and I ended up going back and forth about the meaning of this and he really poked some holes in what the f*ck point I was trying to make. It’s a fun listen so make sure to listen or watch the podcast version of this as your argument might be similar to his.

Feel free to hit me up on Instagram or email me at talk@dlakecreates.com if you want to push back on this or you agree. I love it all!

I love working with people on creative things. I love setting ambitious goals and objectives and going after them like a journey. Health/fitness processes and systems are creative journeys by nature. I’m totally open to helping anyone in the health, fitness and wellness space create their own journey. Hit me up, (holler at dlakecreates dot com) to find out more.

Links & Learnings

Effects of Running-Specific Strength Training, Endurance Training, and Concurrent Training on Recreational Endurance Athletes’ Performance and Selected Anthropometric Parameters

The most powerful way to think for endurance sport and distance runners

When I finally won my first 5k race

Sweet Spot In Life

Mark Manson on why Working Harder is Not the answer

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