Take a few months to enjoy fewer miles and see some Spring PRs!
Guess what? You don’t need to log 100-mile weeks in order to run fast and hard – that’s unless you are a ultra marathoner or marathoner, but even then, you need to give your body some time off. You cannot train 365 days a year unless you want to burn out and injure yourself. If you are interested in getting that coveted PR in the 5K to half-marathon distances, change things up a bit and cut back on mileage for a couple of months. This is a great time of year with all that food and festivity, to beef up on strength and stretching – and I don’t mean running to the gym and pumping iron – I mean doing isometric exercises and yoga to improve strength, flexibility, and your core.
We are ALL obsessed with how many miles a week we run and are compulsively driven to train as much as we can in the mistaken belief that more is better – but you will be amazed at what you can do on less running.
In November and December each year and during portions of the summer, I allow myself to shrink back a bit on mileage and change up my running program to add some cross training. I am usually a 3-5 day a week runner. While I will always continue that type of schedule with a few weeks off throughout the year, during November and December I do not obsess about 10-mile+ runs on weekends. In fact, this week, I let myself off the hook with running only half that distance – but I ran that distance fast to condition my heart to take the speed – because next year, my personal plans are all based on running shorter races faster and then hitting a major marathon PR.
And who knows? You may start to run fewer miles adopt this new “less is more” running plan, or you’ll revert back to logging longer miles but for a little while at least, you’ll give your body some much needed rest if you reduce mileage during some portion of the year. I mean, even Ryan Hall and his wife were hiking a this fall in South America. Even seasoned marathoners need time off the track, the roads, and well, for Ryan and his wife, the grid. You’ve got to take a little time to allow your body to heal and relax. The distance will come back give but give yourself some time to chill out. Just remember, however, you do need to keep up your intensity – which means to not give up your cardiovascular fitness in this reduced mileage time. Taking a week off will probably do you good, but taking three weeks off completely is not a good idea.
Dr. David Costill, one of the foremost exercise physiologists in the world, found that runners continue to improve their oxygen processing capacity (known as VO2 max) in tandem with running up to 80 kilometers (or about 50 miles) per week. For those of us who have the time to run that much, that’s great, but Dr. Costill will tell you your VO2 max will probably level off after 50 miles – and really, why run so much every week of your life, especially in the winter months when it’s cold and our muscles are tighter? You won’t loose fitness by giving yourself a month or two off of the distance – if keep up your intensity – which, like I just mentioned, means you do something to keep your cardiovascular fitness high but your miles low (or lower, as the case may be).
The 3-day a week plan
I’ve read that running as little as 3 days per week results will enable a runner to increase their VO2 max – but that depends on how he or she trains. Again, intensity….ooooooh.
In one study I read about, 25 runners were put on a three-days-per-week marathon training schedule using the FIRST training program at Furman University. They performed one tempo session, one speed session and one long endurance session each week plus additional cross training such as cycling or strength training. So reduced miles, increased intensity of the training, coupled with cross training to maintain cardio.
After 16 weeks of training, the runners ran a marathon and 15 ran personal bests.
So in this example, they training 3 days a week and completed a marathon and most got a personal record. The cross training and other fitness exercises could have significantly added to their overall cardiovascular fitness. The thing is, in all of these cases, we don’t know if these are people that had a PR that would have qualified them for the Boston Marathon or that a 5 hour marathoner ran a 4:58. That said, here is the key – with increased cardiovascular fitness and good flexibility, you can increase your running times no matter what – and that is a whole other article in itself!
Finding that “happy place” to prevent injury
It goes without saying that if you training poorly you may get hurt. There are some of us who can run 50-80 miles a week and do great. I personally would break down. Everyone needs to find their “happy place.” That happy place, is predicated on a million factors including your physiology, how far and how fast and how often you run, your shoes, your stride and your flexibility…oh and so much more. It’s like riding a horse. People used to tell me horseback riding wasn’t a sport, but after I defined everything that goes on technically when you ride, from your equipment, your weight, strength, fitness, horse’s fitness, position on the horse, angle of posting, upper body and lower leg strength and other intricate training details I won’t go into here, your training and ultimately your race results will be based on details specific to you, that will enable you to prevent injury. But, most of us are egg headed and we promote injury….merely from over training.
Many runners find this out by accident-they get injured, are forced to rest up for a week or so, then come out and race their best ever, much to their complete surprise. Sometimes rest is our best training secret.
Plan ahead – add a month to your training schedule
To really get the full benefit of this reduced mileage period, plan ahead further than you normally would, for optimal training. For a 5k, 10k, 10-miler or half marathon, you can indeed run a little as 3 times a week but you should make sure your mileage is conducive to your training. You should, depending on how fit you are when you start and how far you are running, train to your distance. This means, that if you are running a half marathon and want to PR I would recommend that if you are going to train for 4 months to run your next race to consider training an additional 4 weeks and make the training period 5 months. Why? because the laws of periodicity and adaptation say so. In plain english, if you run 10 miles once your body won’t adapt to that distance. Run that distance three times, and your body will. Your body adapts by repetition to a distance…..this explains why many runners hit the wall at mile 20 in a race. They’ve trained and run that distance once but then need to honk out the last 6.2 miles when their body has not adapted to the first 20 miles of the race. To really train for a marathon, you need to train for your body to adapt to longer distances….so just keep this in mind. It certainly doesn’t mean you won’t finish a marathon. It just means you may bonk or just get really tired as you finish up. It’s not the end of the world if you are a recreational marathoner.
A training schedule with adaption built in
Before you consider your next half marathon on your long, slow distance (LSD) day consider the following plan:
This schedule assumes you are a recreational runner who has taken at least 8 to 12 weeks to build to 12 miles on the LSD day and we are 6 weeks from race day.
Run 12 miles 6 weeks before race day
Run 13 miles 5 weeks before race day
Run 13 miles 4 weeks before race day
Run 12 miles 3 weeks before race day
Run 11 miles 2 weeks before race day
Taper – no long, slow distance the week before
Race Day – go get ’em
Note: normally when you are finishing a training program, you run 11 miles, then 12, then taper, and then race. Why not add four weeks to your schedule and train your body to adapt to the half marathon distance? You will surely get the PR you want, because you won’t conk out at mile 11. You’ll have a body trained to run the race.
Now for marathons, this is a lot to ask – to run a marathon before a marathon is ridiculous. I am not suggesting that this is optimal but I do suggest that runners