Is it really all about quality over quantity?

The expression ‘quality over quantity’ is frequently used where running and exercise are concerned and why on earth not, you might say. We’re all busy people so it makes sense that we use our time as efficiently as possible. Plus, by following this approach we reduce the risk of injury through overtraining and increase our chance of meeting our training goals at the same time. What’s not to like?

Well I’m not so sure, actually, and am starting to wonder if following this mantra could even be counterproductive. The thing is it implies that it’s better to opt for an interval or tempo session over slower, steady pace runs. It suggests we should push our bodies to the limit. We should go hard or go home.

I’m not a huge fan of speedwork and I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who dreads this cropping up on their training plan. I know runners that thrive off it and to be honest, I’m jealous. I only wish I could learn to love it more. I’ve tolerated it in the past. I’ve slogged it out on a track, trying to run so fast that my lungs burned and I felt like I was going to trip over my feet.

Sure, it felt great afterwards. It felt like I’d accomplished something really beneficial and grown as a person by doing something I hated. All that stuff about ‘great things never happen inside your comfort zone’ is true. But on the other hand, doing things that I ultimately don’t enjoy just isn’t the way forward for me.

The thing is I feel this ‘quality over quantity’ mantra neglects our emotional wellbeing. By constantly pushing ourselves to our physical limits we can forget to take care of our minds, which is when things fall apart. Why should it be a luxury to just run for the fun of it and enjoy ourselves, rather than having to make each session count?

Ultimately, we run as a hobby; after all, it’s unlikely any of us are ever going to be athletes. I don’t mean this in a disparaging way; in fact, it’s something I frequently remind myself of when I get too carried away and it provides the reality check I need. I run for fun. I run as a release. I run because I love it. And because I enjoy it, I do it more. I put more effort in, I run more and I get better as a result.

To me, this makes much more sense than doing things I hate just for the sake of a few seconds off my PB. It just so happens that I’ve run most of my fastest times when I was happy and enjoying myself; a 10k PB the morning before meeting friends for a boozy birthday lunch. A marathon PB on a scenic course with a friend. Chatting away, I barely noticed we were pushing the pace and when we crossed the finish line in under three hours and 20 minutes I couldn’t quite believe it.

I only mention this because I think it illustrates the point I’m trying to make. To me, a quality run doesn’t have to be one where you hate every minute or you’re going so fast you feel you might vomit. It’s about just running because you can. It’s about enjoying and appreciating the moment and the scenery. It’s about learning to love something so much that you become good at it without even trying.

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16 thoughts on “Is it really all about quality over quantity?

  1. I’m glad you threw in that 3 hours and 20 minutes at the end – otherwise people might think you’re not the speedy gonzales that you are 🙂

    I hate fartlek type of intervals and I don’t do them. I do hill repeats once in a while and I do Crossfit where there is a lot of high intensity followed by rest… The fun factor HAS to be there, otherwise what is the point.

  2. I need to add Go Hard or Go Home to my list of hated expressions!
    Great post Cat. Haile Gebrselassie doesn’t do speed work any more favouring longer runs. I think we all need to start saying, what would Haile do? He always looks so happy!

    • I’ve never liked that one either! I’m sure I read somewhere that intervals don’t really work for long distance running – think it’s more important to do long stretches of your training at race pace to actually get used to what pace you need to run – after all, it’s not magic and you can’t expect to run fast for 400m then sustain it for 26.2 miles. I like that! Might start a [hashtag]whatwouldHailedo!

  3. Great post Cat. I think what you say about us not being pro athletes is spot on- yes, we want to achieve something and get a bit faster, but putting ourselves through absolutely punishing sessions that we don’t enjoy is just daft. To me, no run is ‘junk mileage’ if you’ve enjoyed it and it’s provided the time away from work/revision/stress/life you needed. Also, I would definitely notice if I was running at sub 3:20 marathon pace 🙂

  4. I love this post, it’s so easy to get carried away with numbers and times and it takes the joy out of running. I do like the fast sessions though, I love pushing myself and running as hard as I can – I’ve seen great improvements in my pace and strength through speed work recently, although I do agree that if you don’t like it then it will diminish your enjoyment of running in general. Guess it’s just about balance.

    Sub 3:20 marathon?! Jesus woman you really are a machine!

  5. I love this post! This is exactly why I stopped all the crazy training I was doing for my last half marathon: I wasn’t enjoying any of the running anymore. I did what made me feel good and confident and I got a PB. Of course, all of the previous quality training runs had also done loads in order for me to achieve that time, but there came a point when running was something I dreaded. Now, having run the race and rested I am back to being excited about running because I can, as opposed to because I have to. Yay!

  6. I absolutely agree that you should only do whatever kind of running makes you happy. That is why we run, after all.

    I think it really does depend on what your goals are though, or indeed if you have any at all. As someone who can do a sub-3.20 marathon without even noticing, I imagine your goals are somewhat different to (some of) the rest of us! I spent several years doing the same 3-8 mile runs, not improving my 10k times, and getting a bit fed up. This year I’ve added in speed work and hills and while they’re tough, it’s made my races so much easier and more enjoyable. And faster 🙂

    Because I’m getting on a bit, I really have to focus on quality over quantity. My body simply can’t handle running six or seven days a week, so for me, quantity isn’t the answer. We’re all different though and I think you’re right to highlight the importance of emotional wellbeing. I’m constantly delighted to notice just how happy the running community is, so hopefully most of us are getting it right!

    • Getting on a bit?! Haha! But I love that you love speedwork and completely get your point – ‘plateauing’ can be a issue if you don’t really have a goal or aim. But then I suppose that having goals can lead to constantly chasing something and ‘never feeling happy with what you’ve got’ syndrome (ie achieving your PB then immediately setting a faster goal)!

  7. I always emphasise quality over quantity with my clients but then when doing resistance training with the over 50s it’s really important that the form is correct as I don’t want anyone to end up injured! However in a running environment when you are doing it for you then it really is about what you enjoy doing.

    I’ve just started running (ok, ok, jogging) again and I go at a pace where I enjoy it, I might be back of the pack but at least I’m there 🙂

    Also 3hr 20 for a marathon!!! Not sure you need to do speedwork 🙂

    • Completely agree – it’s easy to do weights wrong and technique or quality is everything – I suppose that’s the case with running too – sloppy/bad technique on top of it all doesn’t help much. Enjoy your jogging! 😉

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