There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
-Beverly Sills

Shortcuts. Hacks.

Whatever you call them, they’re everywhere.

We’ve moved away from the “experience the journey” mentality, and towards the “take me from point A to point B as quickly as possible” approach. It’s now …

… Couch potato to marathoner.

… Beginner yogi to guru.

… Overweight to beach ready body.

Everywhere you look, you’ll find promises like these from advertisers (even friends) who have a shortcut — or appear to have a shortcut — to the desired destination. And usually they’re pretty damn sexy promises to boot.

I mean, why wouldn’t you cut out all the hard work and time, and reach your goal faster? Isn’t it worth a shot?

The Time Barney Stinson Took a Shortcut

Have you ever watched the show How I Met Your Mother? If you haven’t, you should. It’s hilarious.

There’s this one episode where Marshall, the happy go-lucky goofball in the group, is training to run the New York City Marathon. He’s working hard and dealing with the typical lessons new marathoners learn the hard way … think chaffing, nipple bleeding, and carbo loading.

Then he breaks his leg.

Bummed, he complains to his friends at their go-to bar:

“All that work I put in for training for the marathon was a total waste!”

That’s when Barney Stinson, the pompous, top-shelf whiskey drinking playboy played by Neal Patrick Harris chimes in:

“Training for a marathon. Ha. You don’t train for a marathon. You just run it!

“Here’s how you run a marathon. Step one, you start running. Step two …. there is no step two.”

Barney is so sure he can run the marathon he bets $50 on it, and the next day he toes the starting line. And sure enough, he finishes!

For Barney running a marathon was just about the 26.2 miles. It wasn’t about the process, or the adventure. Or the fact that it wouldn’t be pretty. He knew that if he had enough will power on race day, he could get it done.

He took the shortcut.

I see runners do this all the time.

  • They skip easy runs because they don’t think they’re important.
  • They hear that they can train for a marathon without ever running a long run, and opt for the easy approach.
  • They keep the type of training they enjoy, and forget about everything else.
  • They avoid the core work, cross-training, and difficult workouts, because they think they can.

And you know what? Loads of runners cross that finish line just like Barney.

Having taken the easy route. And it paid off.

Kind of.

The Problem With The Easy Route

In running — and life, for that matter — you can take the short cut, and sometimes be successful. So why not always take the easy route?

Because it’s trouble. That’s why. It’ll always have a way to come back and bite you in the ass.

After Barney made it back to Marshall’s place to brag about his accomplishment, he got on the subway to head home. That’s where things went wrong.

His legs quit working, and he couldn’t get off the train … for hours.

Now, I know this is a sitcom and not real life, but the same regrets happen in reality too … although usually a little less dramatic.

When runners take the short cut with their training, they’ll often:

  • End up with a race or training ending injury
  • Fail miserably at meeting a time goal
  • Burnout because they haven’t set up the proper systems
  • Reach a running plateau they can never escape
  • Hate the experience so much, they never race again

If all you want is the finish line medal, take the short cut. I’m not going to stop you.

But if you truly want to become a better runner, there are no shortcuts.

You have to do the hard work. You have to put in the hours.

And you have to start with the fundamentals.

Going Back to the Fundamentals

After coaching dozens of runners the past few years, I’ve noticed something I hadn’t paid much attention to before:

Most of us skip running fundamentals.

Running is one of those things in life that we learn to do as children, but turns into something bigger when we train for a race. That’s a huge benefit — everyone knows more or less how to do it, and can generally pick it right up — but also a setback, because few people truly learn the right way to run.

We skip that part.

When we decide to train for or first race, we find a plan and start ticking off the miles. And as a result, few of us learn:

  • How to establish a sustainable routine
  • Proper running form for longevity, injury prevention, and efficiency
  • The components of proper training
  • How to utilize speed work for more power
  • How to build lasting endurance

And so forth, and so on.

If we want to truly excel at running, we need to become masters of it.

We need to avoid the temptations of the shortcuts, and take the longer — but equally as exciting — route.

Because as we improve, and start running longer and faster, every skipped step will compound on the last.

And that shortcut will come back and bite us once again.

Ready to go back to the fundamentals and take your running to the next level? Start here.

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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2 thoughts on “The Danger of Taking Shortcuts in Your Training

  1. “… don’t become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many days, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials. How could he make them understand?” – John L. Parker (Author of Once a Runner)

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