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.