Your phone can motivate, but it can also encourage habits that keep you from running your best.
False political headlines have fooled many in the social-media age, and “alternative facts” aren’t limited to partisan topics. Any blogger or influencer can post, tweet, or snap training advice that seems legit – but is it? “You can put out some really crappy information and get it perpetuated,” says Janet Hamilton, an exercise physiologist and coach.
While inaccuracies spread more swiftly than ever, you can also use the internet to vet your sources. “Take that extra step and ask, ‘Okay, where’s this coming from?’” says coach Ryan Warrenburg. “That’s easier than it’s been in the past, too.”
Being a discerning consumer of online running information can prevent plateaus, overtraining and injuries. Here, established experts Hamilton and Warrenburg lay down the truth about four misguided, social-media-fuelled training trends.
RACING EVERY RUN
Instagram posts stamped with the mileage and time sure look better with faster paces. However, without recovery days, your body never has a chance to grow stronger after hard workouts, Warrenburg says. Plus, relaxed-pace efforts build mitochondria, tiny organelles in your muscles that process fat and glucose into the energy you need to run, Hamilton says. They also strengthen tendons, bones, and slow-twitch fibres – the type of muscle that carries you beyond short sprints.
Instead, limit hard running to one or two days per week (with the hardest kilometres counting for only about seven per cent of your weekly total, Hamilton says). On other runs, you should be able to speak in full sentences with your running buddies, Warrenburg says. And if the pressure of going public tempts you to pick up the pace, leave your watch at home or your training app closed on those days.
ENTERING EVERY RACE
Bloggers and other influencers often receive free race entries in exchange for promotion, which explains their frequent participation. But marathons and half-marathons put enough stress on your body that racing more than a few each year ups injury risk, Warrenburg says. And to do your best, you need time to build mileage and taper beforehand, then recover afterward, Hamilton says.
Instead, if you’re aiming for your fastest time, cut back to two marathons per year with four to five months in between, Warrenburg says. Newer runners should stop at three half-marathons per year, while those with more experience could do four, Hamilton says. Most runners can do shorter races more frequently – a 10K about every eight weeks or a 5K every six weeks. You can toe the line more often if you use events as training runs, Warrenburg says. But that strategy won’t work if you can’t maintain control when you pin on a bib.
MID-RUN SELFIES AND SNAPS
Posting a mid-easy-run pic may help you connect with the running community, Hamilton says. But pausing during tempo, race-pace, or long runs can interfere with gains. “The purpose of the workout is to maintain the intensity over an extended period of time,” Warrenburg says. “If you’re stopping in the middle, you’re changing the dynamic.” And then there’s basic safety and etiquette: Slamming on the brakes to whip out your phone in a crowd can cause a pileup.
Instead, save mid-run documentation for easy days, double-check that the coast is clear before you stop, and ask others’ permission before posting a group shot. “Just like in traffic, you want to respect the people around you,” Hamilton says.
HITTING ALL THE GROUP WORKOUTS
November Project on Monday. A group track session on Tuesday. Spin class on Wednesday. A packed schedule guarantees an Insta feed full of #squadgoals photos. But if you keep it up, you’ll soon be posting updates from the physical therapist’s office. High-intensity workouts, even if they involve minimal or no running, don’t count as easy, and going hard daily beats you up and boosts your risk of injury and illness, Hamilton says.
Instead, use the motivating power of groups strategically. For things like track workouts, choose partners close to your fitness level, and finish feeling tired but not totally spent, advises Warrenburg.
Alternate hard workout days of all kinds with easy or rest days, Hamilton says. High-intensity cross-training can replace hard runs in the off-season, Warrenburg says, but in the final eight to 12 weeks before a goal event, focus on hard running workouts targeted to the distance you’re racing.