MARCH 18 2013
Last week, as a trainer at my gym was taking me through a workout I can only assume was meant for Olympic athletes and mistakenly given to me, she casually mentioned that a friend of hers runs a half-marathon distance before work each day. I don’t know if that was a real example or just a story meant to distract me from the sheer pain she was inflicting on my arms, but it stuck with me. Balancing running – especially a stepped-up Routeburn training schedule – work and life isn’t something that I find easy enough that I could dedicate two hours a day to a run. (Of course, if she runs it every day, she very likely runs a half marathon in the time it takes me to run 10km… but that’s beside the point.)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a creature of habit, and right now my habits are fairly set: Monday through Thursday I run in the mornings before work, around one of a few convoluted series of courses in and around Ponsonby and Western Springs. Saturdays are my long run, starting from my house and winding around various trails that branch out from the end of my street. It’s a great routine, and one that I’ve settled into well, but god knows if I was asked to add an hour to one of my weekday runs, or add another run in there somewhere, I would suddenly struggle.

One thing I’m wary of – and most people training right now are probably coming up against the same thing – is overtraining. At the moment I’m running between six and seven hours a week, with a three hour run every second week – scaling back the long run to two-and-a-half hours on the weeks in between. And I can tell that my stamina is benefiting from this; I can feel the strength building up (even as my ankles start to ache from jumping between rocks on a Saturday morning). There’s the risk that overtraining will lead to injury; that’s a thought that flashes across my mind every time I land the wrong way on a root or stone, but there’s the other risk that overtraining will lead to burnout.

I cross-train – I don’t swim, having had a couple of West Coast beach swims the week before the sharks decided to make their presence felt, but I do train at the gym on my Friday ‘rest day’ during the week. The step machine is fast becoming my best friend, and I’m trying to get in the habit of the cross-trainer and stationary bikes rather than just jumping on the treadmill because of its familiarity. It’s one way to get around the inevitable psychology pushing you to do more and more. It’s not easy to silence that thought, but it’s necessary. You can’t train all the time because it’s simply not good for you, and if your friends are anything like mine, they’ll help you along by complaining at loud volume whenever you attempt to sit out a plan for the sake of your training.

Late last year, a friend of mine did a challenge of running every day for thirty days. I thought this sounded insane. I’m fairly sure that’s exactly what I said, in as encouraging a way as I could, when she told me about it. But she said the most interesting thing was how you manage to fit runs in when you have to do it. It’s easy to assume you have absolutely no spare time, but when you stop and say no, I have to get at least half an hour in somewhere, you manage to find a little moment to head out. Because her only guideline was that each run had to be a minimum of half an hour, she managed it – and with amazingly little disruption to her lifestyle.

It’s hard to imagine what things are going to be like in six weeks; hard to remember what it’s like to just be running a casual two-to-three hours a week. Life feels balanced right now, if a little heavier on the running side than usual. It’s worth it, without a doubt. Not the easiest thing when you’re dragging yourself out of bed in the pitch black of the morning and you know almost every single other person you know is still asleep, but really, running’s a hell of a lot of fun whether you’re doing 21km each morning or not, and there are much worse ways to get your exercise in. Actually, including letting that trainer I mentioned give you a workout for half an hour. It’s nine days later and I’m still aching.