I’ve always been interested in running and looked up to friends who’ve trained for marathons or go running all the time. Running is great because it’s really easy to fit into a busy schedule and it leads me to explore new parts of my city (or better yet, a city I’m visiting).

Throughout my life, however, I haven’t been able to run much due to an ongoing series of injuries. In Middle School I absconded from the swim team for a semester to join the track team, but I didn’t end up running much due to excessive heel pain (maybe I was growing too fast). In college I ran on and off – I even racked up 13.3 miles on a training run once – but throughout college I had knee pain that kept me from training in any serious fashion.

This all changed after I started going to physical therapy for my shoulder (I broke my scapula last December). One visit, I asked my physical therapist to take a look at my long-standing knee pain. He diagnosed it as being caused by a tight IT band and showed me how to use a foam roller. Over the course of a few weeks, the foam roller improved my knee pain immensely – to the point where it was no longer an issue when running.

That was this summer. Since then, I’ve started running a lot more (more frequently than I ever have in my life). Through physical therapy and my girlfriend who is part of a running group, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way. There was one lesson I learned that I can attribute to the majority of my improvement in running: stop running so much.

For most of my life, I followed this cycle:

  1. Think “I haven’t run much recently, I really need to run more.”
  2. Go out for a 6-8 mile run to compensate for my lack of running
  3. Feel terrible afterward
  4. If not injured, Repeat steps 2 to 3 every week or so until actually injured.
  5. Don’t run for 6 months, feel bad about self
  6. Start over from step 1

I learned how to break out of this cycle: Now I never over-exert myself on a run and make sure I never start a run unless I am fully recovered. (I wrote about how my watch gives me a good ballpark estimate of recovery time).

I learned that if one runs anything above a 5K without having trained properly, the risk of injury is high. I now only do 5K races and rarely run more than 4 miles on a training run. Lesson learned: Just because I can run 6.2 miles doesn’t mean I should do a 10K race.

Despite running less and exerting less effort on each individual run than before, I am now faster and feel more confident in my running.

It’s hard to get out of the cycle of overtraining, injury, and under-recovery. What I originally thought was a motivation issue was really a knowledge issue.

Lesson learned: Improvement doesn’t come from one-time efforts where I leave everything on the floor. Improvement comes from frequent workouts, focus, and ample recovery.