The Road to Running Hell is Paved with Good Intentions


“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is a common saying. My basic understanding of the saying is that people have a way of screwing things up even though they do not have any malicious intent.

A Wikipedia article on the saying includes three different meanings:

  1. Individuals may have good intentions but never actually take action;
  2. When people act on good intentions they often have very bad consequences; and
  3. Bad events can happen from actions that were originally thought of as beneficial.

I think each of these meanings can be applied to running.  Obviously it is a bit of an exaggeration to equate “hell” with a running injury, but for serious runners, a major injury can take a huge toll on a person’s psyche.

Individuals may have good intentions but never actually take action

The first meaning of the saying obviously applies to the many runners who talk a big game, but never actually put the work.  How many times have you heard fellow runners boast that, “if they had the time to train” they would be able to sub-3 hour marathon or break 18 minutes in the 5k?

Instead of making excuses for why you are not running fast (i.e. not enough time, no running partner, weather is bad), how about actually putting in the miles and giving it a shot?  As I’ve mentioned before, I coached high school cross country and track for a few years and was so upset with students who had massive talent and a big mouth but no work ethic.

Take action now so you don’t have to live with regrets later.

When people act on good intentions they often have very bad consequences

The second meaning applies every time a runner has run a workout on an injury.  In doing so, the runner has the best of intentions – he or she wants to improve fitness and knows that missing a workout will be a missed opportunity.

However, any short term gains from completing the workout will be wiped out if the workout leads to a more serious injury. One of the most important characteristics of every great runner that I have known is the ability to listen to the body and take a day off necessary.

Sometimes it can take more courage to skip a workout due to an injury than to actually complete the workout.  Skipping a workout takes a lot of self-confidence and the understanding that one workout will not make your running career, but it could break it.

Bad events can happen from actions that were originally thought of as beneficial

The third meaning of the saying applies to many of the fad diets and training philosophies that gone in and out of style over the years.

Some of these are still controversial, but a few examples in my experience include minimalist shoes for runners with biomechanical flaws, carb depletion diets for marathon runners, super low-mileage, high intensity training programs that neglect aerobic development.

Each of the above were initially (and still are) seen by many people as a good idea. One great example is the low carb diet for marathon runners.

In the excellent book Advanced Marathoning, Pete Pfitzinger states that experts initially advised runners to run a long run seven days before a marathon race.  Then, in the proceeding three days, the runners were supposed to eat a very low-carb diet.  In the final three day period, runners would ramp up their carb eating. The goal for this procedure was to store as much glycogen as possible.

However, research has shown that this “carb depletion” fad actually suppresses the immune system and increases the chances of illness prior to a race.

The lesson here is to think for yourself and try not to get sucked into the latest craze until research has confirmed it to be beneficial.

Runners almost always have the best intentions. However, the drive for perfection and achievement can also have negative consequences.  Hopefully heeding the advice of the famous saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” will help you avoid your own running hell.

Put Your Brain on Auto Pilot to Run Faster