Peer Pressure Sucks – Even for Runners

My foot the day after, being run over
My foot the day after, being run over

I made a comment over at Mike’s Running Around the Bend and he suggested that I make it into a post, so here it is.

Peer Pressure, marketing (which can be a form of peer pressure) and advertising are prevalent everywhere in our cultures. The use of the “cool kid” imagery to get us to do stuff, even if it is not in our best interests at times, has become “just the way it is” with the constant barrage of TV, brand imagery and us bloggers talking about how “great” it was to do whatever, especially when it comes to running marathon distances – You know the holy triumvirate:

  • half
  • full
  • ultra

Over the past few years, I got caught up in the you gotta run a lot of miles every week and that running in a marathon (half, full or ultra) is something you just gotta do if you are a “real” runner.

mmmmmm cough, cough Bullshit!

You do not need to run a lot of miles a week, run a marathon or even run in a race (sorry Dr. Sheehan I disagree with you on that one) to be a runner.

I really think that prevailing mood in social media and many in the running community has gotten too many runners to thinking that they are supposed to run “big” miles and always be training for the next half, full or ultra marathon and that other races are given a short shrift when it comes to respecting that distance.

After all it can’t possibly be a real race if it last less than an hour for most people – I mean just about anyone can do that. Sarcasm there folks – but that is some of the attitude I have seen and heard.

Peer pressure sucks and it leads too many runners into that seemingly endless cycle of:

  • run
  • train – run further/faster
  • get injured
  • rehab
  • start running again
  • repeat.

My Experience

Gratuitous photo of me, after picking up my 2nd place age group award. Thanks Brian for taking the photo

I know that I fell into that cycle, errrrr trap, when I got caught up in wanting to run a marathon in 2011 and 2012 (luckily I didn’t), I would start to train for one, dramatically increase my mileage/pace and then find myself hit by the injury bug when I started to do too many miles for the condition my body was in.

Then towards the end of my base training for MCM in 2013, I got injured and injured again while starting to gear up to attempt another one this year. Yeah some of these injuries were self-inflicted training errors, but others were a result of attempting to do things my body was not ready for.

During those years and even earlier this year, looking back with 20/20 hindsight I can admit that I was trying to “keep up with the Joneses” by continually attempting to run higher mileage necessary for racing a half with the times that I wanted or full marathon BQ training.

Unfortunately, when I did that “bigger/faster mileage” and put pressure on myself to continually train for half or full marathons, I found myself injured and not running – all too often.

Since I capped my training mileage after my latest freak injury, at a level that is more reasonable for me, stopped thinking about running a marathon (for at least 2-3 years) or half marathon (this year), which allowed me to focus on the running I enjoy – not the running I “have to do”, to train for a particular race or distance.

Now that I have finally gotten marathon madness out of my system and starting to get back to my roots (shorter distances, at a faster for me speed), I am running better and more consistently.

Old School

Even though I am a bit techy and love my GPS devices, computers, blogging, etc., I am still pretty old-school in what I think about running and training.

I don’t believe that the vast majority of runners either newbies (under 2-3 years experience) or even old crusty runners who have been on the shelf for a long period of time should be attempting a marathon too soon.

Sure there are exceptions, but are most of us really the exception? I know that like most people, I and other runners do not want to hear that, but…

first build a good base built, learn how to train properly for you, learn what your body can actually handle, do the race progression (5k to 10k, move up to 10 milers, etc.), experience shorter distance racing, but most of all figure out what you enjoy about running.

In my opinion that is what the first 2-3 years of running or returning to running after a long lay-off should be – learning, having fun and not worrying about Marathon Madness.

Even us old farts, need to stop think about what we are doing now. Remember, what we enjoyed doing as young studs/studettes, might be different from what we want or can do as we all age. Keeping it PC for a change Harold?  Naw, just reminding everyone that we all are aging and our preferences change as we get older.

Just because there might be runners who successfully run a marathon or even multiple marathons in their first couple of years of running doesn’t mean it is the best thing for the rest of us. We are all individuals and what works for some probably doesn’t work for everyone.

Stop for a Minute

All those half or full marathon plans in books, magazines or online, along with the great and no so great coaches (yeah, unfortunately not all running coaches are great) out there that can “prepare” a runner to run the marathon distance, does not mean that a runner should do them.

Yes, often we can do more than we think we can, but then again we have to temper our expectations with a bit of reality too and not get caught up in what “everyone” else is doing.

Sometimes, actually most of the time, we forget that, want to do, too much too soon and our bodies are not ready to endure the stresses of half marathon, much less marathon training or going for a BQ time and the injury bug cycle begins. That’s my story of my training any way.

The miles in most marathon training plans need to get pretty intense over a 4-6 week period, before the taper and having basically a 10 week base building period for someone who is only running 15-20 miles a week when the program begins – well in my opinion is just not enough of a running base to avoid injury for most people.

Something that we often overlook, is just because a runner ran a marathon 20, 10,5 or even a couple of years ago and then went on the couch for some reason, gained oooddles of weight and then got back into the running game to lose the weight (I can look in the mirror here). We have the mentality of being able to do more than a novice runner, but in reality if you have not run in over 6-12 months you are starting over physically and need to give our bodies time to get back in condition for the running that we want to do, without pushing it beyond its capabilities.

So just because you think you can, stop and look at the running you have really done over the past couple of years – do you really have the base necessary to start training for either a half or full marathon?

Are you sure?

How many do you need to do?

How many of the injured runners are doing or attempting to train to race for more than one marathon a year or several half marathons?

To many I think.

Running the half or full marathon distances in a race is much different from running them during training. Racing (even if you say you are just running it) takes more out of you – you do push yourself much harder during a race and it takes longer to recover from them than a training run.

For a while, I was doing at least 13.1 miles every week, but when I actually did a half marathon race it was completely different from any of my training runs of that distance and took a  lot more than a week to recover from. I think my experience mirrors most people’s experiences.

However, it seems that every week I read about runners who compete in multiple races at the marathon distances (half, full, or ultra) over the course of a year, which makes me wonder when does their body get a chance for some down-time and real recovery?

Are those people running monsters, who’s genes are great for running and are not like the rest of us or do they just train smarter than the average runner?

Or are they just lucky and the running injury bug, hasn’t caught up to them yet.

The Reality is that

Over the past few months, I have finally learned, the hard way – even though I have been a runner for a very long time, that we all have a sweet spot that our bodies like when it comes to mileage and training routines.

The hard part is finding it – usually by trial and error.

Yes, we can move beyond that sweet spot, but it takes a lot of hard work and patience – and most of all it does not happen overnight.

It takes months if not years to break through that ceiling (I know runners do not like hear that).

For many most of us it does not mean that we can say “Patience, my ass, I just want to run a half, full or ultra, because I want to!”

It usually doesn’t work that way and when we do “go for it”, more often than not…usually sooner than later, when we do too much too soon, we get injured.

Then once you get in the injury cycle, it becomes a very hard cycle to break and to not just rush back into running hard again, because we have such and such a race on our calendar.

Most running injuries in my opinion come down to

wanting to do too much too soon.

IMG_4129

Unless your foot gets run over by a hay wagon or some other freak accident 😉

I know a year or two sounds like forever, but at the same time you have to decide if running is a short-term or long-term part of your life.

I don’t mean to be a kill-joy when it comes to wanting to run a half, full or ultra marathon, but from what I have experienced and have seen too many other runners experience with the injury cycle, while attempting to train and/or race those distances too soon or too often – it sucks to be continually injured.

No I would not tell someone not to train for one those races, but at the same time, I would ask them to look closely at their reasons for wanting to do those distance, what kind of running have they done and how often they plan to do them?

Runners have to figure out “their” why.

Basically, are they doing them because they want to or is it because they have a friend, club members, favorite blogger, get caught up in the latest running magazine/ezine article or watched on TV/online one of the big name marathons like Boston, New York, London, Tokyo and all the others and got motivated to go ahead and just do it.

That peer pressure thing.

My advice is to slow down, think about it and build a good base before committing to doing one or giving in to marathon madness

Then figure out when to throw in the towel, when the injury cycle becomes a recurrent theme in your running and move back down to shorter distances for a while, to build the base you need to do what you want.

Personally, I am very happy training now for my 5K’s this year and who knows, if I stay injury free for a while, I might just start to think about racing longer distances again someday, but when/if I do, I plan to do it slowly and a lot smarter than I have in the past.

  • Do you feel that there is an undercurrent of peer pressure to run longer distances i.e. that you “have to run at least one half marathon or longer races, due to the “cool kids factor”  from other runners, the Internet, running publications or others in the running community to feel like a runner?”

  • Has the injury bug bit you while training for a “longer” race, did you get into the injury cycle – what did you do about it?

15 thoughts on “Peer Pressure Sucks – Even for Runners

    1. Jason – that is one of the issues with social media that we forget about sometimes and need to make ourselves aware of. I know that I fell into the peer pressure trap too much. Now what can we do about it? How do we make something as positive and negative as social media can be — to make it more of a positive?

  1. Amen, Harold, Amen! Social media has not done anyone any favors when it comes to running sense. The other thing that gets left out is the long-term damage to bodies that is occurring. Even if these folks are escaping injury–and many are–they are hurting their long-term healthy. That many miles, and that many big races, leads to an inflammatory response within the body. Add it up over the years and see where it leads…

    1. Thank you Amanda – It was hard to have a lot of running sense back in the old days, especially when you got around a bunch of other runners, not much has really changed in that, but the power of social media has made common sense in running more difficult to find in ourselves. There are so many runners out there in the world of social media that we “know” and want to emulate, do better than or use as a motivator to do more, do better, be faster and all the rest. That we lose the focus on what we should be doing :-). The inflammatory response of our bodies running, overtraining and racing too much, is something that most runners do not know enough about or even realize is an issue. I didn’t for a long time and still have a lot more research to do, so that I can fully wrap my head around it. Another one of those research projects that I really need to know more about – thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  2. This is a great post. You verbalized a lot of the things I’ve noticed myself in the past few years. I have some things to add to it, but I’m trying to formulate them into a post myself. Thanks for the perspective!

  3. You’re absolutely right Harold! We need to be running for our health first and foremost. That is the goal of running. Yes, there are the joys of competition- which we need to realize, for 90% of us, is against (should be against) ourselves alone. But, even a PR should not be at the cost of our health. Now I’ll just take my injured knee to my stationary bike and ride for a bit 😉

    1. Erik – you speak so many words of wisdom in this comment. It is about our health and 90% of competing is against ourselves (although I love it when someone who doesn’t know me talks trash at the start about that old white haired dude being too far up front – just a little extra motivation to do a little better sometimes, especially, when once in a while the old fart might finish ahead of trash talker 😉 ). But really, I am glad that you are still hanging around here, you bring a great perspective and also a great attitude 🙂

  4. And THIS is why I suggested turning it into a post! Awesome, as everyone else noted!

    One thing worth highlighting is the quality of running coaches. Most people really WANT to help and I know a couple of people who got their certification this summer are wonderful people who I think would be great coaches.

    But there were another couple of people who got their certifications who I no longer follow, because I just can’t. One in particular … has unresolved eating disorder issues that show up pretty clearly from time to time on her blog (a problem based on advice she gives others in her posts) and also tends to get injured due to the ‘too much, too soon’ issues. What type of coach would THAT person make?

    And I totally agree about the progression … and I sit here 5 weeks out from an ultra asking myself not IF I can do it (I think I can do OK), but rather WHY? I mean, I have already said I don’t care if I end 2014 without running any races, so WHY should I care about an ultra … is it for me? Is it because I CAN? WHY? If I can’t come up with a satisfactory reason I will cancel.

    Thanks again for the great comment turned post!

    1. Thank you again Mike…it was a great suggestion.

      Most coaches mean well and try to do the best they can for their athletes, however, even some who have the best of intentions – it doesn’t mean that they will be a good coach or the right coach for a particular runner, especially if they do not have/use current coaching method, information or know how to integrate current developments, theory and practice into their coaching methods. Then there are some who should not be coaches, until they resolve their own personal demons – like the one you use as an example.

      One thing I like about you is that you look at things pragmatically and don’t let a race registration or what the rest of us are doing, drive your running or your decision to race or not. If you are trained for the ultra, which I think we both agree that you are, have a pretty good idea that finishing is well within your capabilities and the yes the family is behind you doing it and will be there to support you – go for it. It is a challenge you have prepared for and will be something that you can look back on as something you did. However, I know how important family is for you and if they are not onboard and if you are not 100% committed to racing the distance walk away, keep smiling and have fun with your running.

  5. I have been in the injury cycle for a full year at this point. When I first started running 3-4 years ago, I didn’t know any other runners, I didn’t even know about the competitive side, and I was just running a couple miles a few times a week to stay in shape. I remember the first time I ran 5 miles… I did it because I thought it would be cool to run to my work and back again one morning. Not because I thought “I should run 5 miles this morning” or because I wanted to get any sort of distance in. I just wanted to run what I thought was a cool route. I probably spent 1.5-2 years unknowingly building a base between using cardio machines at the gym and running when I felt like it on nice days. Then in summer 2012 I met a group of competitive runners, the London Olympics were going on, and I had caught the “I want to get fast” peer pressure bug. I found out about and joined my university’s running club. I did well for a little bit, but I ramped up my mileage to 40-45 miles over the course of four months after finding out what other people were running (coming from 15-20 miles) and got a stress fracture in February 2013. That spring is the fastest I have ever been, because since then I have gotten injured every other month and when I can run, I get so frustrated because, like you said, my body is really having to start over, and I’m just not giving it that opportunity.

    Sorry, this comment has become a rant about my running regrets over the last year and a half. xD Right now, I’m not running and I’m waiting as long as it takes for my body to heal and “reset” itself so to speak. Then I hope to come back to running patiently and look at it as a second chance to start fresh and do it “right”.

    1. Don’t be sorry, sometimes you just have to let the words come out and when you re-read them you see what you need to see in order to make the changes necessary to get back to where you want to be. Taking time off to heal – sucks. I know and it is easy to say take the time off – we usually ignore it. That attitude puts and keeps us on the injury merry-go-round, especially when we have had a taste of running well (for us). You are smarter than I am and allowing yourself time to “reset” is a smart training decision. I wish you well and will be interested to hear how it goes for you 🙂

  6. Hi Harold,
    I’ve probably been guilty of both applying peer pressure (mostly unintentionally!) and feeling peer pressure. As far as longer distances, I think it has to do with doing something that sounds impressive just to finish. Most of us won’t ever win races, but finishing a marathon (or a similar long-distance) seems to justify the work of putting in miles day after day. The funny thing is that it likely takes a lot more training to reduce a 5K pr 5-10% than to just finish a marathon. In any case, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of justifying your running with some major goal – you’re smart to recognize and avoid that trap.

    1. Hey Ron – I think everyone that runs does some unintentional peer pressuring, whether it be as simple as wearing a race t-shirt to something, talking about how our running is doing, offering to run with someone, etc. or like me – writing about my running on my blog. I don’t believe that most of the time runners intentionally try to pressure others into doing more, it is more this is what I am doing. Unless you get yourself into a group of runners, then there is some peer pressure, due to our competitiveness 🙂

      You are right if our friends and runners we hang around with are doing one or more of the marathon trinity, it sounds so cool and we feel like we should be too, even if our bodies are not ready. Naw most of won’t win any races and we are competing more with ourselves and our egos and other people in any race. Running longer races is a hell of a goal and helps motivate us to get out the door when we wouldn’t otherwise, sometimes when we shouldn’t too.

      I do agree with you on the it takes more focused training to reduce your 5K PR than it does to “just” finish a marathon. But to improve for any activity you have to focus and improve your training to see improvements, it is when we get caught in the trap of continuing to attempt it because “everyone” else is doing it or the do it again only faster and get on the injury merry-go-round that we have to stop and really take a look at what we are doing.

      It took me a LONG, LONG time to figure it out and I have a feeling, that unless I am very careful I will fall back into that trap very easily – my competiveness (yeah even though I am an old fart), compulsive personality and that having a BQ and running Boston is “one” of those life goals/bucket list things, I have had since I was around 12.

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