Performing to Your 100% Potential and Injury Risks

Is pushing yourself harder to get a 100% performance worth the extra risk of injury, or is ‘safer’ to back off in an attempt to lower your injury risk but wind up with a 90% performance?
girl on track
This is the question that I wrote about in an article at Competitor, ‘Is Squeezing 100% Out of Yourself Worth the Risk?’. I wanted to bring it up here and get some of your thoughts as well as be able to voice a bit of my own opinion.

The question was sparked initially by something Dathan Ritzenhein said when he was discussing his own injury-riddled past year. He was quick to point out that he isn’t necessarily ‘injury prone’ but being that he’s an elite athlete it’s his job to push himself to the limit. To straddle the fine line of just enough versus too much…sometimes you go too far over the line and wind up hurt.

Different people have different reactions to that philosophy; some will always preach that leaving more in the tank or taking the conservative route is the thing to do regardless. Others are totally in line with Dathan Ritzenhein as they are training that way all the time themselves; after all even if they backed off there is no guarantee that they still might end up hurt…valid point. Then there are tons of degrees between to two extremes.

I think what it comes down to is the individual, what they are training for, and how running realistically fits into their life.

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* Newbies and high school athletes have YEARS ahead of them and here is where I’d say the smarter thing to do is err on the side of ‘less is more’.

* Collegiate athletes too have years ahead of them but are in a different spot because often times there are big stakes on the line or other issues complicating matters. Their team is vying for a Championship title, they are on scholarship, their coach really wants the points…sometimes they have to race through an injury.

* Elite athletes in my opinion will be more in the position than anyone else to take more gambles than others. But their position is starkly different that ‘mortal runners’ because like Ritzenhein stated, it’s their job, it’s their livelihood AND they have a whole team working with them. Taking gambles is a little ‘safer’ being that they are able to tend to other forms of recovery and rehab the rest of the day. (ie: massage, ice baths, naps, etc.) They also have conditioned and calloused their bodies more than most and are in tune with them. Not that they don’t misread signals and make ‘I knew better than that’ mistakes like everyone does, after all they are only human.

* Mortal runners and competing runners. There are far more runners who compete but know they are not Olympics bound…still, a PR is a PR and comes with as much of a sense of reward and runner’s rush for anyone! So how do competing runners in this category play the odds?
1) Get perspective. If you have a coach, training partner, or third party who knows where you are training-wise, take advantage of them. Often times it’s easier to come up with a resolution if you’re not the actual one debating what to do.
2) Think long term. What is your ultimate goal or race? If this IS your big day maybe it’s worth risking it a bit more…but if you’ve got a whole season ahead of you maybe your decision should be different. Ask yourself, “What do I ultimately want to achieve; how will this decision or workout/race effect that?”
3) Gauge the pain. Be honest with yourself…you know ‘that’ kind of injury pain; sometimes the hardest thing to do is back off and not go harder but it’s the right thing to do. But if you’re just mentally in a blah mood because of a bad day, I think it’s at least smart to go out and start the run then take it from there.
olympic runners
I suppose that’s my reasoning behind it all; but I DO think that some athletes are able to handle different workloads than others or are able to handle more pounding without getting hurt than others. I think after a certain number of years all runners know about what mileage they can handle, then know when to push it and when it’s a little smarter to back off or cross-train instead.

1) What are your thoughts on this question?

2) How do you find the right balance or make decisions regarding training when it comes to workouts, backing off, or adjusting your plan?

3) What kind of mileage or workload do you know suits you best or keeps you sharp but now hurt?

4) What is your ultimate goal? It can be for the end of the season or years ahead…don’t be shy. :)

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8 thoughts on “Performing to Your 100% Potential and Injury Risks

  1. Yes, I agree with you that depending on what level you’re running at, that helps determine whether it’s appropriate to push through or not.

    At my level, I would never push through an injury during training and probably not during a run either….but perhaps if it is at the very end of a super important race and it’s an injury that I know I can recover from quickly?

  2. As a casual runner, I’m not likely to push through an injury or major pain. But, having spent most of my life in a ballet studio, under the cracking whip of an intense instructor (I mean, seriously, ballet teachers are hardcore), I have learned to rise above any pain, and smile like everything is just peachy. We used to get stickers as a prize if we bled through our pointe shoes.

    I think your approach is far more humane :)

  3. I have a tendency to push myself a little hard……….that’s kinda how I ended up with the stress fracture this summer. But I can say I won’t make the same mistakes again.
    Finding the right balance consists of listening to my body. I’m getting better at doing that.
    I’ve found 40+ miles a week works well for me. That was before the injury and I think that if I get back up there and SLOWLY increase my mileage I can do better with higher.
    My ultimate goal is to one day run a 100 mile race; preferably the Western States Endurance Run.

    • yes, there is that fine line and we have to be careful not to just push too hard in the WRONG times…but it’s all a learning process because *duh* if we all knew when NOT to push we’d just not do it…lol. :P

      but i’m happy u’ve learned the right balance and if u do the western states, girl, u best let me know cuz that’s run in my backyard. ;)

  4. aaah I love this post!!!! This is such a hard question for me. For me, I have big goals and I just really LOVE running and so I have a tendency to be impatient and push too hard. Hence what I am currently going through right now with injuries!! My coach is a huge help with this – she likes to say “my main job right now is to keep you on a tight leash” hahaha. I think for me, at the moment, I need to learn that patience, NOT pushing, is going to get me closer to my goal. I know that I can handle 60+ mpw (done it before), but I also know that I need to build back to that slowly. I know that I can handle tough training, and so it’s soooo tempting to jump right back into it – but in reality, the smart thing to do is be patient and let that come back slowly and safely. I do have a lot of good years ahead of me, so the current best thing to do is be conservative and patient. Pushing that line can come later when I’m closer to my big goals – they’re a long way off, and…well Rome wasn’t built in a day haha. Actually even just reading this post and writing my comment made me realize that I think making shorter-term goals would help me a LOT in building up to where I want to be while simultaneously playing it smart and safe – I have a tendency to keep my eye on that big ULTIMATE goal and I always want to get THERE as fast as possible…but that’s not always healthy hahaha.

    • ya…patience is not usually something all runners have…it’s something we FORCE ourselves to respect after learning enough times the hard way that rushing things is no good. :P

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