Did you ever notice how, sometimes, runners have a bit of trouble with maintaining a realistic perspective? This seems to happen to all runners some of the time and some runners most of the time.
Have you ever said, “I only did 4 miles today” or “I just did 3”?
Most people have. Heck, I have. It’s easy for runners to lose sight of reality, to undervalue our efforts, to fall into a pattern of subjective perspective, and that is always a mistake.
The words, “I only ran four miles,” may reveal a problem with our perspective on our running training, and it’s my goal to help you to see every day’s training from a more objective perspective.
One of my favorite sayings is “It’s all relative.” That relates closely to this topic.
Back in the day, when I, personally, hosted and lead all my local Run Tampa club’s group runs, I would always make two statements. Before we started, I’d say:
“Go as fast as you want, as far as you want, and turn around when you want.” When I said that, I was giving people permission to customize the run to be exactly what they wanted or needed it to be, and that always worked well.
After a run, invariably, someone would say, “I only did ____ (fill in the blank) number of miles.
When I heard that, I would say this: “I only have one rule at these runs: Never use the word ‘just’ or ‘only’ in the same sentence with the number of miles you ran, because no matter how many miles you ran, today, you ran farther than 99.9 percent of the population, most of whom were either still asleep or sitting on the couch while you were running.”
It’s funny because, over the years, there were times – there are times – when I’ve accidentally slipped and do it, myself, and it never failed, someone in the group would say, “Deb, I can’t believe you said only!” That makes me smile because it means they’ve been listening, and they remembered.
The thing is – and this is what happens to me, personally, on those occasions – the more we run and the longer distances we become accustomed to doing, the more insignificant shorter distances become; that’s where the relativity comes in.
Running Longer Distances
Now, really, running longer distances, in the big picture, is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve said it before, if someone likes to race half marathons, then I think it’s a good idea for that person to do at least one marathon. It will tremendously improve their performance in all future half marathons because, mentally, they will seem much shorter because they are much shorter than a marathon. And the same is true of someone who likes to race 5k’s; they should do at least one 15k or half marathon – or at least a 10k, because after that, a 5k will feel short, and it’ll be easier, psychologically, to run the whole thing, harder.
So, I’m not at all suggesting that you avoid longer runs. Not at all. This is a separate topic. I’m just saying don’t let that warp your perspective, your sense of what distance is worthwhile and valuable, because even one mile is worth doing and valuable. Really, seriously, it is!
Look at it this way: Think of all the times you didn’t have time to get in the miles you wanted; so, you ended up not even going out. You considered the day a missed training day, but in actuality, you could have definitely managed to squeeze in say, two miles, but you felt like 2 miles wasn’t worth it.
One or two miles is very worth doing, and here’s why:
Two miles compared to zero is much much better. I’d like to say it’s ten times better or twenty times or a hundred times better, but it’s more than any of those because zero times anything is zero. This bears out that old saying, anything is better than nothing, and so it is, dramatically better, for several reasons.
For one thing, the entire medical community is telling us more and more than we need to get out and out and move throughout the day. So, even the opportunity to walka mile a couple even once a day is far better than not, and by the same token, running one mile, then, is an extreme improvement on not doing it.
From a running fitness perspective, your body needs to be reminded, very often, that you’re a runner. If you miss one day, no big deal, but when life gets busy, if you’re supposed to run on a given day, then to do even one or two miles is far better than none because your body and your mind need a constant reminder that this is who you are, and this is what you do.
I hope that makes sense to you because it makes perfect sense to me. Running is part of my identity; so, a missed day that was meant to be a running day, is always a disappointment, and if I let time constraints keep me from doing it, then I am disappointed.
Even one mile is better than no miles. At least I can give my body and mind a little tiny piece of what it’s craving.
If I am time-constrained, then that’s always, to some degree, stressful; so, even one mile of running will make all things better. Even one mile will lower my stress, but this may not help some people as much because you have to look at it from a glass half full standpoint and exercise positivity by focusing on the fact that you managed to get out there and get in ‘some’ running rather than focusing on what you didn’t have time for what ever number of miles you would have liked to do. Again, it’s a matter of perspective.
Let’s say every other week something comes up and you end up missing a day of training because you don’t have time to do your whole workout; so, you just don’t do any of it. That, I think, is a huge error. Let’s say you actually could have eeked out time for two miles. If this happens every other week, with 52 weeks a year, that’s 26 weeks times 2 = 52 miles. Is 52 miles worth running? You bet it is, and 26 is too, for that matter.
Any physician will tell you that even brief bouts of exercise, even 10, 15 or 20 minutes is still very much worth doing. It will make that day, healthier. Just getting up from a chair and walking around the office is worthwhile; so, certainly running one mile vs zero miles is a huge difference. So, don’t let the fact that you’re accustomed to running many miles ever stop you from just doing one or two.
That doesn’t mean you should ‘aim’ for one or two miles.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t also make the point that I would never recommend aiming for one or two miles, not if you’re trying to improve at running. Even to just maintain good fitness, I’d say do at least three. Once you are a runner, I think it’s best to aim for a minimum of 3 or 4 miles or more on any given day, unless it’s a rest and recovery day, which is just as important as running on a running day.
But, assuming it’s a day when you’re supposed to run, then it’s better from a health and training perspective to mix it up the distance, better to do 3 miles one day and 5 miles the next, than to do 4 miles on both days. It’s more interesting and will provide a superior training effect. Any time a running coach creates a schedule using the accepted training principles, it’s always going to vary mileage from day to day within a week.
Any distance is worthwhile, very worthwhile. If you only have time for one or two or three miles, just try to keep things in perspective and remember the time when you were just starting out and you would have felt a sense of extreme accomplishment for doing that. Strive to recapture that. Give yourself credit and embrace that feeling once again.