Why are we so confused and frustrated with our running?

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a really nice guy living on the outskirts of Melbourne.  He was looking for a running coach to help him with his running.  We were talking about his goals and training over email and with his permission, I have given you part of the actual email correspondence that we had.  Check out his confusion….

"That's one of my problems at the moment, goals!  SO MANY OF THEM!  So my own training is in disarray.  I don't know whether to knock back and hit a 5-6 month patch of Maffetone running.  Then there's Matt Fitzgerald banging on about 80/20 running!  But on the other hand, we all want to go fast...and I KNOW i'm capable of going sub 3:30 over 42.2 and would LOVE to have a crack at a BQ, but for me thats a 3hr 05 marathon, which, well, yeah, I can't see that happening.  Basically, I think I've read way too much and now I have all these ideas in my head, but have no idea what's best for me."

WOW!  That’s a lot of goals, a lot of different methods and a lot of confusion to deal with.   Trust me, I can really sympathise with this.  It was not so long ago that my head was in this exact space.  It is a complete nightmare.  You don’t know where to turn, who to believe, what method or technique to try, what magazine or blog to read, what race to sign up to.  It sucks!  The sad thing is that this thought process is actually pretty normal amongst runners and is not exclusive to beginner runners at all. 

So where does our confusion stem from?

From personal experience, I think it is from two main sources:

  1. We are SO impatient!    
  2. Information overload


We are SO impatient! 
Basically, many of us feel the need to improve every time we run. We expect that improvement to be quick and at a faster rate than other people that we compare to for some reason.  Whilst I understand the thought process, the problem is that it leads to very short term thinking.  

See if you recognise this imaginary scenario….. Imagine my easy 5km run averages 6:30 min/km pace on Thursday night and my easy 7km  run on Saturday averages 6:45 min/km pace, then I might come home after the second run and feel disappointed.  I might legitimately think that I am getting slower and my training plan isn’t working.

Have you ever thought like that? I know I have in the past.

Yes, it is possible that your training isn’t working and yes it is possible you are getting slower.  However, taking two individual runs, a couple of days apart and drawing the conclusion that all of your weeks and months of training must be failing, is jumping the gun a bit and well, in my view….. impatient.  There are so many variables that we seem to conveniently forget when we decide that we are getting worse: the wind might have been stronger; you might have had a terrible nights sleep; you might be hungover; you might have been to the gym on Friday; you haven’t drunk any water all day; the route might have been harder; the list goes on….

Where things really get interesting is when you are in that frustrated, impatient, slightly stressed frame of mind and decide to read the Runners World article that magically pops up on your Facebook feed which suggests, “15 ways to get running improvements in 2 days.” (slightly exaggerated, but you get my point).  Now, at this point you have a few choices….1. Ignore the article. 2. Read the article, say “hmm that’s interesting” and think of how that might apply to you 3. Say “WOW! I need to do this" and then promptly change your entire training regime, to start afresh with this new idea.  The number of people that choose number 3 in this situation amazes me.

Information Overload

This lack of patience is not helped by the fact that we are overloaded with information that can help us run better, get fitter faster, recover from injury quicker…. I am constantly frustrated at running and health magazines for making things so seemingly simple, but actually managing to confuse the heck out of us.  By the time you get to the end of a Womens Health, Mens Health, Womens Running or Runners World magazine, you are either totally confused or you are convinced that your training is rubbish and that you need to immediately try using some new method that a professional marathoner in Kenya uses.  It is not just magazines though.  Strava, and Garmin Connect give us access to masses of confusing data that very few of us know how to interpret and also other people’s data that we are encouraged to compare ourselves to.

Trust me, I am not trying to stop people from reading interesting articles online, using Garmin Connect or buying running magazines.  Far from it.  I have a subscription to Runners World and am on Garmin Connect. We can learn a lot from all of these different tools, experts and resources but it is what we then do with that information that counts.  We have to bring that information into our own world and ask a few important questions of it.  Be honest with yourself…..

  • Have I given the training methods / regime I am currently doing, a REAL chance?
  • Will this article or method REALLY address the root of the problem?
  • Have I got a REALISTIC chance of fully implementing this change in my world?

So, now that my slight rant is over, here are my own take aways from writing this blog:

  • The best results come from discipline and consistency over time.  That is pretty much the case for most people, whether it is business, sports. Think about how many jump shots Michael Jordan practiced, how many free kicks David Beckham took in training, or how many drills Sally Pearson runs each week.  The idea of a quick fix, overnight success is just not going to happen for 99.9% of us.  Stick with it , be patient and be consistent.
  • Having so much information and always acting on it is actually quite stressful.  Find a way of simplifying and filtering this information and the stress will reduce drastically.  I wrote a blog last year on the reasons why I got a coach, which still stands true today. I now stress far less, use less data, compare less to others and commit fully to the training plan that we jointly create, rather than searching for the next best idea.  I have picked out a quote from that blog that describes how I felt before I hired a coach.  If your thinking is along these lines, it is time to find a filter!

"This constant adaptation became over-complicated, obsessive and wasteful.   The need to adapt stemmed from my tendency to over-think things, and the need to know that I was doing the right training.  The problem was that I simply didn’t know.  I didn’t know what was right for me and couldn’t distinguish the advice, supposed evidence and opinion from the thousands of resources available through Dr. Google.  I was paralysed with too much information and wasted a lot of valuable time and energy worrying about it.”

  • If you regularly change from method to method, coach to coach, program to program, it is highly unlikely that any of them are going to work as well as you would like, as I felt in the quote above.  Try one core method (whatever that is) and stick with it for a decent amount of time.  Give it a chance.  Be patient enough to see the changes that can occur, rather than adding to the confusion by changing before you have given it a real chance.
  • Keep learning and trying to improve yourself, but interrogate and question the information in front of you (including this blog!) and be honest with yourself as to whether the information is going to add or take away from your efforts to keep improving.  If you have a coach, ask them questions and work with them to improve your running, rather than getting increasingly confused, stressed and frustrated.  Nobody wants that!

Happy running guys!


Does this article resonate with you? Are you confused about your running?  If the answer is "YES!" then sign up here for weekly emails and to have a chat with me about getting your running to where you really want it to be!