In the summer training season of my senior year of high school, I wanted to do absolutely everything extra that I could to give myself an advantage over the competition in the upcoming track season. Among other things I would go for a second run that was slower and shorter than my first the shakeout my legs. I did this for approximately two months before official practices started, and when it did start, I told my coach about what I had been doing for training over the summer. To my surprise he told me that those extra 2 mile runs I did everyday most likely have little to no effect on my fitness. It turns out my body didn’t actual start to work it aerobic system until 4-5 miles into a run so anything short of that did nothing for me. To define practice, it is repeating something to result in some improvement or increase in efficiency. Since these runs made no difference in my fitness, they weren’t even considered practicing running by definition, it was just running. My coach then advised me to not do these extra runs unless my weekly mileage demanded more then I could handle in a single run. This was to avoid dips in my performance from overtraining.
In the bigger picture, middle distance athletes are supposed to train based off the kind of fibers are most present within their muscles. If an athlete finds themselves on the slower end when it comes to speed then they will train their slow twitch fibers into intermediate, likewise speed-based athletes train their fast twitch into intermediate. Under the previously assumed definition of practice, it is completely pointless for a slower athlete to train their max speed by doing a speed strengthening workout because it wouldn’t help strengthen their slow twitch fibers. So why do these athletes still do these workouts? Taking a deeper look into running, it is not all about staying at a certain speed for a certain time. Many factors such as form, mentality, coordination, and flexibility all contribute to the art of running. Distance strong athletes training at their top speed may not help their aerobic fitness at all, but their sprinting form and flexibility will improve. Similarly, when a sprinter engages in a longer distance run, they aren’t helping their speed whatsoever, but their aerobic system and mentality are improving. These are all considered practice by definition because what they are training is improving despite it not helping their priority event whether that be distance or sprints.
However, if a sprinter decides to run at a pace that’s fast but not quite fast enough to fully engage their fast twitch fibers it won’t have an effect on their anaerobic system. The same goes for the distance not being quite long enough to engage the aerobic system. These shorter slower “sprints” will have no affect on their goal of getting faster, so at this point its just running; no practice involved. The same goes for a distance runner running half the distance at a slower pace then usual. This run will not engage the aerobic system at all therefore no improvement will result from doing the run. The only reason anybody would decide to do more running is if they are overworking or chasing pain in the hopes to get better. These actions are where it stops fitting the definition of practice and fits more towards the definition of Overtraining Syndrome. Overtraining Syndrome, as stated by Alice Palmer in “Overtraining: Spot the Signs” is a persistent, unexplained dip in performance that continues even after sufficient rest. These extra activities that athletes think will push them ahead of their competition is closer to discontinuance than it is to practicing. It’s more beneficial for athletes to not practice at all then it is to engage in extra running related activity. In fact, the best treatment for overtraining is to take a step back in your original training plan and put more focus on recovering the overworked muscles.
Overtraining usual occurs when an athlete feels so dedicated to their goal or cause that they want to do more than what is assigned to them. They often take things into their own hands and do dangerous amounts of extra training. According to Marci Goolsby in her article “What is overtraining,” chasing pain or overreaching is when the muscle soreness goes above and beyond what you typically endure as result of when you don’t take enough rest between training sessions. When you ignore the signs of overreaching and begin chasing more pain because you believe it will make you a better athlete it becomes a case of overtraining. Then the resulting weakness and dip in performance makes the athlete work want to even harder through the pain in an attempt to get better. This results in serious injury and can take anywhere from weeks to months of time to recover, which given the athlete in this situation wants to work harder, can be very mentally challenging. A complete halt of practice can throw a dedicated athlete down a rabbit hole of mental distress which is why overtraining is just as mentally dangerous as it is physically dangerous.
After being told the extra runs I was doing weren’t benefiting me at all I looked at my training plan with an entirely new perspective, as it had already been made to work me to my fullest despite my brain telling me to do more. I should have been doing more recovery instead of more miles. Part of practicing anything is taking a break and letting yourself recovery from what it is that you are practicing. For middle distance athletes, since they are by far the most worked and diverse athletes when it comes to training plans, they have to immediately let their coach know if they feel overworked or are having any sort of unnatural pain. Failure to do so can result in months lost of training and competition. Furthermore, if you feel like you can or should be doing more let your coach know and they’ll give you safe options on what else you can be doing.