Yesterday I ran an easy seven miles through a forest preserve and back. It was warm out again, so I didn’t run hard.
When I got back home and saved the workout on my Garmin Fenix, the data was shared over to my phone and spit back as a report. I was surprised to see that the Garmin app characterized my run as UNPRODUCTIVE.
I’ve teased and joked about my UNPRODUCTIVE training with my wife. It seems no matter how fast or slow I go, the Garmin shoots back that warning that I’m doing something wrong.
After that last run it said something like: “This is slower than your recent efforts. It may indicate that you are tired from training.” That is ironic, because it often says my runs are UNPRODUCTIVE…because I’ve run faster than usual.
Dangers of overtraining
Way back when I was training 60-80 miles per week in my early 20s, it was common for me to put in too many hard efforts close together. That led to injuries, colds and other breakdowns. One day during the start of a thirteen-mile run with a South African physician named Sol Epstein, I described the fact that I had frequent sore throats and was fatigued. He listened patiently for a mile or so to my naive complaining, then turned to me with a suddenly loud voice and said, “You’re fucking overtraining!”
He was right. But I was a product of that era. The philosophy back then, at least among the runners with whom I trained through college, was to go hard all the time. We typically ran our twenty-milers at between 6:00-7:00 per mile. The next day we’d do speedwork. We might have a race on Tuesday, do more speed work on Thursday, then race on Saturday. Sometimes on race day, we’d warm up four miles the morning of the race, jog a mile before competing in the five-mile race, then cool down a mile. Back home after the meet we’d run four more miles. The next day we’d do another 15-20 miler.
Out of my fucking mind
So it was shocking to be told by my runner partner Sol that I was out of my fucking mind trying to train so hard all the time. He was part of the racing team from the Runner’s Edge shop outside Philadelphia. Most of those guys in that group were far better runners than I, possessed of 10K times in the 30:00 range, or below.
I learned from training with them to do long runs much slower for 15-17 miles, but finish fast. Our speed workouts on the Villanova University track were quick, yet restrained efforts at a prescribed pace. That experience of training with them changed much of what I knew about distance running.
These days, it is empiric data produced by devices that rules the world of endurance athletes. Yet that data is valuable only to the point that you can effectively interpret it relative to conditions. Some of those factors are definitively subjective, such as windy conditions, that don’t show up in pace-per-mile results. It’s true on the bike, too. That means assessment of a specific effort remains under the power of your judgment.
So there are days when my supposedly UNPRODUCTIVE training brings a smile to my face. The slower pace I ran yesterday was not the product of undue fatigue. I kept the pace modest for the precise reasons that my Garmin typically tells me that I’m going too fast. It’s all about managing your collective effort. I knew from years of training that my body wanted a run at 9:30-10:00 pace. Only the last mile or two were faster, down around 9:00. All good.
Likewise, on days when I feel good and rip through an 8-miler with negative splits down below 8:00 pace, Mr. Garmin may report that I was UNPRODUCTIVE and all I can say to my watch is two simple words.
That said, I do love knowing what the exact pace of my run, ride or swim turned out to be. I also love looking at the maps because they are a gratifying visual record of a workout, no matter how good or bad it went. It also helps knowing my pulse rate, elevation changes and relative cadence. But I’m not so tied to data that I can’t deal with not knowing these things. I’m not a total convert to a data-driven life on the road.
My wife wants me to get a power meter for cycling. But I think back to a year that I rode without any devices at all. No cyclometer. No watch. No nuthin’. Just rode. I needed that year to rediscover the love of riding. A part of me loves the notion of freedom too much to tie myself to a power meter or a heart rate monitor. People swear by them, I know. But I prefer to swear at my supposedly UNPRODUCTIVE training and laugh it off if Mr. Garmin doesn’t like what I’m doing.