Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Some Myths That May Be Killing Your Running: Part 2

Myth Number 4: You can train for a marathon just as well running 30 miles a week as 60 miles a week.
"It is necessary to understand that, while the object of training is to develop your anaerobic capacity to exercise, this can only be done in relation to your oxygen uptake level and capacity to exercise aerobically. In other words, it is necessary to run as many miles or kilometers as you possibly can at economic or aerobic speeds to lift your oxygen uptake to your highest possible level as the foundation upon which to base your anaerobic or speed training." ~ Arthur Lydiard
I started this "Myths That May Be Killing Your Running" (Part I) thing back in November, and I'm only on part 2. Seems this might be a marathon in its own right!! But I'm skipping to #4. Don't worry. I'll go back.

So, I hear this from so many aspiring marathoners, time and again: I like to run 3 days a week and cross train or do cross fit, or PX90, or Insanity, or the butt-kicking workout du jour. Less is more...I have a friend and it worked for her...

Here's the classic beginners marathon program - This is approach is practiced by (uninformed) coaches the world over: Run 10 miles during the week and then a long run on the weekend - up to 20 miles. This is a pretty standard approach for programs like Team In Training - and their program serves as a model for many smaller local training groups. Now, I have great respect for Team In Training and their laudable aims, but their methods are flawed for long term gains and health as a runner. Their aim is to get a runner to the finish, and they succeed remarkably well in that regard. But, that does not mean that this approach works for those who want to run, and not merely finish, a marathon. And again, I'm not judging the "I just want to finish" goal. But I also don't want to be judged because I might want something beyond finishing - and by that, I mean perhaps a time goal or making running a long term part of my life rather then something to check off the bucket list, or whatever. 

So, I'm here to say that this is a bad approach - both the "less is more" and the "weekend warrior" approach will not give MOST of us the best result nor the most pleasant experience - whether you are a novice or not. Whether you see yourself as a "one and done" marathoner or have other goals down the road.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news (and please don't shoot the messenger), but the research does not support this approach.  Don't get me wrong: there are many many disagreements within the running/coaching community about what is "best" in training. If there was ONE agreed upon approach then we would ALL be doing it. But things are not that simple.

Aristotle notes that we can only seek the degree of precision that a subject allows  ("Now, what I have to say about this will be adequate if I clarify it as much as the subject matter allows.  For we must not seek the same precision in all discussions..." ~ Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics). Training is messy business. We change our minds. We discover new things.  And so we must rely on the information we have, the research and the experience - Not our personal experience alone (hasty generalization), though that may matter for us, but the whole of experience.

There's two issues to consider here: 1) Aerobic and metabolic development, and 2) the specificity of training.

The ONLY way to develop your aerobic and metabolic system for running long distances is to run long distances which serves to increase the number and size of mitochondria in your muscles - and mitochondria are THE energy producing centers for your muscles.

So the fact is that weekly mileage matters and the best way to get your necessary/desirable dose of mileage is with regular, easy running. Easy running allows you to run more without getting injured and/or exhausted. Of course, as I've written about before, most of us run our easy runs too hard.  If you only run 3 or 4 "quality", which means hard, runs a week, you are missing out on this essential part of your training. Basically, you're trying to build a house before you have a foundation on which to place your house. 

So, the first step for any sort of training plan is to develop a wide base of aerobic capacity, which you can then build your speed on.  Easy and moderate mileage should make up 80% of your weekly miles. What some may refer to in the pejorative as "junk" mileage serves to:

*Increase and maximize Fat Metabolism
*Increase the number of aerobic enzymes
*Increase the Size and Number of Mitochondria in the Muscles
*Increase Capillarization

But these runs are relatively slow and long - 30 minutes to 3 hours (max). In an aim to get more with less, these sorts of runs get left out of the schedule. These are often not viewed as "quality" runs that are a necessary part of a well developed system. 

And for those doing the low mileage, 'weekend warrior'  approach, they just aren't getting enough of these miles.

To illustrate this idea consider a triangle: Optimal training for a goal event looks like a triangle, and the broader the base the taller the peak can be. The more narrow the base, the lower the peak, or the higher the likelihood that it may topple over.
The left triangle can still go much higher before it becomes unstable, while the one on the right is pretty maxed out at it's current height. The deeper and broader your aerobic base, the higher your peak performance can be.

Quality, runs are essential - Lactate Threshold, VO2 Max intervals, Intense/Short Repetitions - are all necessary to build the peak toward your potential, but if there is no base, then the slightest ill wind will blow it over, and more importantly, during your race you will not have the physiological adaptations to tap in to.

Descartes, the French philosopher famously known for his claim: "I think, therefore, I am", said that the Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle and Plato, constructed beautiful palaces built upon foundations of mud and sand. Theories many sound beautiful, simple, appealing, but when the evidence points elsewhere, it's foolish to believe what one wants to believe in spite of evidence to the contrary. 

This is what we know now. This is an ongoing search for understanding and results.  And, we are ALL part of this ongoing experimentation and research.


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  2. Thank you for sharing! This was quite informative I love the philosophical analogies.

    All this ties in with my own (first) marathon training. I have also started zone training (with about 7 weeks left until the race) after being informed that I was over training. But I got it, and it makes sense. And I'm glad I learned it now, rather than later. Because for me, this marathon is not something I just want to check off my bucket list :-)

  3. I've been pondering this for a few days now, mostly because I discovered that the training plan I'd been using has some uncorrected misprints (4 months to a 4-hour marathon, using the "updated" version that did some funky things to the 4:00 plan). He's not part of the 10/20 approach that you mention, but it generally has me running 4 days a week plus 2 days with 30 minutes of cross-training. I like it for the cross-training, although I'm less fond of the 21, 23 and 24 mile runs we're supposed to be doing (according to the original version). And then your post made me think I'm probably doing it all wrong.

    But after thinking/worrying about this during a few runs, I can't help but remember that even when I've followed Hal Higdon's intermediate plan, which I didn't like at all, last year's marathon (Steamboat Springs) wasn't pleasant. I'm not sure a marathon should be. And if Higdon can't get me there, even when I follow his plan faithfully, well, that pretty much leaves the reality that I'm not a very fast runner and the longer it takes one to run a marathon, the more painful it is (or so I assume).

    There's also the reality that if running is a part of my life--and it is!--then it also needs to be a *part* of my life rather than the entirety of it. Do I have the time to put in 30-45 miles? Yes. But 60? No. Or rather, I choose not to have time to put in 60, in part because I'm not fast and running 20 miles less per week frees up four hours of my life for my family and work and other hobbies. I already only sleep 4-6 hours per night, so it's not like there's a lot of free time floating around. Also, as much as I love running, I don't want to run more than 5 days a week. That makes running feel like a tyrant rather than a cherished part of my life. Running 4-5 days really does work for me and what I want from running and life.

    Maybe we're all looking for something different from each marathon? I've heard your line of reasoning from others, and while I don't aim to "just finish," I also don't understand what someone putting in 60 hours of training does get out of it, other than potentially a PR that some of us training less will also get anyhow.


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