Friday, November 30, 2012

Some Myths That May Be Killing Your Running: Part I

Myth Number 1: "In order to run fast you must train fast."
Myth Number 2: "You race the distance, you don't train the distance"
Myth Number 3: "Efficient, short term plans will allow you to reach and realize your running potential"
Myth Number 4: You can train for a marathon just as well running 30 miles a week as 60 miles a week.
Myth Number 5: Online logging sites/social media offer a new opportunity for measuring ourselves against our peers and keeping us on our (competitive) toes, and offer opportunities for free training advice and that's always a good thing.
"It's just a matter of understanding what's necessary and discipline yourself to do it." ~ Arthur Lydiard
Part I

Myth # 1: "In order to run fast you must train fast." True or False?

First, this is true. BUT it's taken too far. This is the number one piece of advice I hear from runners; novice, intermediate, experienced. We've heard it a million times. And we've bought into it lock-stock-and-barrel. Why?? Because it make intuitive sense. And it is absolutely true. But the problem is that, as with many things in life, these things are rarely this black and white. This is not an all or nothing proposition.

Do you have to run fast to race fast? Yes, but not ALL THE TIME. Fast running must be really pretty dang FAST. Easy running must be really really really slow! What I see time again, particularly with marathon runners, some of whom are quite experienced, is that all their runs are fairly fast (often just 15-30 seconds slower than marathon pace), even for very long runs. Few runs are really fast, and none are really really really slow. Most of us run too fast for most of our workouts, without running fast enough on hard days nor running slow enough on active recovery days.

And the fact is, that no one out there can honestly tell me (unless you are very new to running and/or live in a cave) that you haven't heard this before. But we tell ourselves that that applies to others, not to us.  Others may need those slow recovery miles - but not me. I feel great - and I'm gonna beat the pants off those slow chumps at my next race...And the Kenyans and Ethiopians (who are known to run VERY slow on recovery days) laugh all the way to the bank...

So what does it really matter if I run fast all the time? If I feel good, what's the harm? Shouldn't I be tuning in to how my body feels and running accordingly?? We're always told - 'listen to your body! Stop relying on technology.' Part of becoming a mature runner is learning how to sense where your body is and what it wants to do. There's two problems here: 1) It's all well and good to listen to your body, but it's actually very hard to shut the head out of the whole process. Are you really listening to your body? Is your brain, perhaps, whispering "Come on this is so slow, you'll feel better (mentally) if you pick it up a bit";  2) Your body doesn't know what's on tap for tomorrow. Perhaps your body joyfully proclaims, "Yay, I feel great!! let's run like the wind!!"  Your body doesn't know that you have a hard session planned for tomorrow - but YOU know that, don't you??  Well, there's a time to listen to your body and a time to tell it to shut up and listen to reason.

Let's suppose you have a hard workout scheduled for tomorrow - a long tempo, hills, intervals, etc. and today is an "easy" recovery run - but you wake up feeling fresh and springy. You have a busy day ahead of you and want to get moving or perhaps you need to exorcise some stress from your soul and psyche - and I experience this fairly often - And so, instead of running your active recovery pace, you pound out some good heart throbbing miles, return home pleasantly worked and ready to deal with your day? What's the harm in throwing in some extra fast running? How can that possibly hurt, especially when your body gives you unequivocal permission??

Well, now the question is: Will you be able to get the same quality run out of yourself tomorrow? With marathon training QUALITY and QUANTITY matter. You want to run enough miles (shear volume DOES matter. More on that later), but the trick is to increase volume without sacrificing quality. And there's the rub. You can not, over the course of weeks or months increase volume and still have really high quality hard runs if you do not respect the role of the 'active recovery' run.

Furthermore, aerobic running (at a pace that you can carry on a conversation) taps into a different metabolic system. When your running a comfortable pace you rely more on fat for fuel, sparing glycogen. If you run for 90 minutes or more this system is crucial, and really gets to work at this point. Running too fast means using glycogen rather than fat, and so that metabolic system remains untrained.

The combo of slower aerobic runs and faster fast runs (tempos in particular) is that you are able to maximize fat metabolism and lower the pace at which you can continue to rely heavily on fat (aerobic threshold - AT), sparing the limited glycogen that we can store. Since marathons generally are run just below AT pace, the obvious result is that you will be able to run a faster marathon.

Lots and lots of us succumb to the notion that some miles are 'junk miles', but those supposed 'junk miles' are important, IF they are run correctly - otherwise they're worse than junk. Don't run them and you sacrifice volume. Run them too fast, and you sacrifice quality. Run them just right, and you maximize your training for your present and future running-self.

Take the long view...Think not just of today, but of tomorrow. Think not just of tomorrow, but of next year...and the year after that...and the year after that...Running is a process. Developing the runner you can be is a state of becoming, not a state of being.


  1. I love the way you break this down. It's worded very well. I "coached" some of my running friends when they were training for their 1st 1/2, recently.
    This concept was SO difficult for them to trust! I remembered how hard it was for me to stick with it when I 1st learned it, as well.
    Great post and I can't wait to read the other myths.

    1. As a coach, I battle constantly with my runners (and with myself) on this. But when you trust it and see the results, that usually leads to some devoted converts ;)

  2. So easy to run those miles faster and faster. Reminds me that I need to heed EASY day for what it is and not 'race' me to the end.

    1. There is a time and a place for most things. Those fast "easy" miles may be a confidence boost, but they will be a progress killer.

  3. You are so right about this! I didn't know that I was running easy runs too fast until this last cycle when I started using the heart rate monitor. At first it was humiliatingly slow. But the fast ones were MUCH faster than I was used to as well. Gradually, the slow ones got less slow....You wouldn't know it from my race this weekend, but I'm a believer.

  4. Great post. I'm guilty of this. Will try to do better.

  5. Hi, I appreciate your writing. I like to do is sit back and take in nature. To look at the birds, listen to their singing, go hiking, camping and jogging and running, walking along the beach, playing games and sometimes being alone with the great outdoors. It's very special to me. thanks for the post!
    Cheers, @Pamela


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