The Difference Between Working Hard and Training Smart

Written by Shellin Chuong, 2015 Biofreeze Berkeley Half Marathon Ambassador

Shellin Chuong is a third-year undergraduate student studying at UC Berkeley. She currently trains with the Strawberry Canyon Track Club and the Cal Running Club, and has raced in multiple events ranging from the 400m to the half marathon. This year will be her third year participating in the Berkeley Half. More than occasionally during her free time, she enjoys treating herself to copious amounts of chocolate. 

I used to be anemic. As a competitive runner on my high school track and cross country team, I had the desire to perform at my optimal level. When you are young and you have the opportunity to run as fast as your legs can take you, you want to do whatever in your power to reach your goals.

SectionsTrackMeetDuring the winter of my sophomore year in high school, in between cross country and track season, I started overtraining. I began running competitively during track season of my sophomore year in high school; most of my teammates had already started competing as early as in middle school. Thus, a prime motivator for my intense training was the fear that I was behind, and that I needed to catch up. I operated under the skewed belief that, the less food that I consume, the faster that I will run. I also believed that, by pushing myself to rack up my weekly mileage, I can surpass my physical limits; quantity over quality.

As a result of my unhealthy drive to excel, I lacked the proper nutrients (including iron) as well as the energy to perform at a high level. Rather than feeling strong during my races, I instead began producing disappointing race times. I was mentally exhausted in the sense that I no longer enjoyed my daily runs, not to mention that I was physically drained. My shins ached from the easiest of workouts. I even dreaded attending afterschool practices, a pastime that used to be a lighthearted diversion from the stresses of high school. At one point during my track season, a spectator sitting in the stands told me that my performance had deteriorated significantly from those of the previous year; not out of spite, but rather out of confusion.


It was not until my cross country and track coach had pulled me aside and suggested that I reduce my mileage that I reconsidered my training regime. There is the belief that recovering takes time away from one’s training schedule, but done when necessary, it can speed up the process of improvement. Rest is an essential component of training, one that some competitive athletes often neglect. I, like some athletes, used to perceive it as a sign of weakness and laziness. To this day, I feel bad for deviating from my regular routine and reducing my mileage when fatigued by the physical demands that I place on myself daily.

Training with the Strawberry Canyon Track Club in college offered me a new perspective on running. Teammates are meant to motivate you to perform at your best on the track, but they can also keep you levelheaded. By attending regular dinners (and eating chocolate cake with them on special occasions), I began to see food as a source of energy for my long runs; I used to perceive it as an adversary.

Another lesson that my teammates had taught me is to view running as one aspect of a positive lifestyle, rather than as a job. I was shocked when my running buddy, a former (and highly talented) collegiate athlete who represented UC Berkeley, admitted to doing her normal training runs at a slower pace than what we had been running together. I realized then that I needed to slow down, and enjoy myself if I were to maintain my then waning motivation.

I admit that I continue to have difficulty with overtraining every day. I too often wrestle with my conflicting need to rest versus my desire to workout. There are weeks when I feel invincible, and therefore I put my physical abilities to the test, leaving me more fatigued than I am aware of. However, I am slowly learning not to over exert myself such that I compromise my own physical wellbeing. I have an idea of what my limits are, and I try to be careful not to breach them again.

XCSectionsSeniorYrI like to tell my teammates not to make the same mistakes I had by informing them of the importance of taking time off from training when they are physically exhausted, and remind them that recovery is essential for success. One should not train at the expense of his or her health, but rather to maintain it. I see my own teammates injure themselves (or simply lose their motivation) due to over exertion, and it’s certainly not healthy. Then again, who can blame them for taking their training up a notch when they have so much potential?

With that said, goals are an important element of training and they are essential for improvement in any field or endeavor. Without ambitions, it is difficult to find motivation to keep training. There is, however, a difference between working hard and training smart. Similarly, there is a fine line between being sore and being hurt/injured. Listen to your body carefully, and speedy times will follow; maybe not immediately, but soon enough.


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