Perhaps, Less IS More!!

As many of you know, I was sidelined with an achilles injury this past Janurary. Prior to the injury, I was averaging around 65-70 miles per week running, with a couple 80 mile weeks thrown in there as well. I was strictly running and that’s it! I was doing no cross-training, no swimming, no biking, no core stengthening…JUST RUNNING!

Since the injury, nearly four months have passed. While recovering from the injury and trying to maintain fitness for the Shamrock and Boston marathons, I decided (mainly out of necessity), to start incorporating some cross-training (biking, roller blading, swimming).

For the two months prior to the Shamrock, my biggest weekly mileage total, was a whopping 22 and my longest long run for those two months was a staggering 14 mile run at a blistering 8:48 pace!

But, because I couldn’t run, I was cycling and rollerblading like a madman! I was averaging about 120 miles per week on the bike and about 50-60 miles per week of rollerblading.

As any runner can tell you, coming back from an injury is always a bit of a psychological challenge. Regardless of how much cross training a runner can do, they are always a little “gun shy” when it’s time to race again for the first time. Going into a marathon with 22 mile training weeks and a long run of 14 miles, it was safe to say, I was not overly conifident in what might happen (or what wouldn’t happen rather).

But, somehow, I managed to not only get through the 26.2 miles at Shamrock, I also set a new PR in the process. How could this be?

This really got me to thinking….If I could put in substantially less mileage (running wise), not beat myself up as badly in the process and still run as good or better than before…then WHY would I want to continue beating myself up to run some crazy high mileage weeks?

After Shamrock, I decided I would try a totally new approach to training and would be my own guinea pig in the experiment. It also just so happened that a friend and training partner (Rob Hunter), also decided that he liked the “less is more” training approach and has since joined me in this new training endeavor. Instead of hours on the trails and roads together, we now spend hours in the pool aqua jogging and swimming.

Now, it is certainly worth noting that perhaps Shamrock was just a fluke and that my level of fitness from the months prior had carried over and allowed me to salvage a quality finishing time for the race.

I had tested my endurance, but had yet to test any of my speed off of this reduced running plan. So, this past weekend, several of the HRR gang were signed up and running the Cinco De Mayo 5k. A couple of the boys wanted to go sub 18:00 for the first time and they had set a goal of 17:45. I mentioned to them that I would go out and set the pace at 17:45 and if that is what they wanted to run, then that is exactly where we’d be. I didn’t register for the race, so I was treating is as a workout/pacing duties.

Ultimately, only one of the boys (Logan Johnson) went under the 18:00 mark, he ran a 17:55 and won the race. I finished 1 seoncd off pace and crossed the line in 17:46.

I was really happy with this run because I was actually on cruise control the entire time..the pace felt super comfortable and I had plenty left in the tank had this been a real race for me.

So, what does any of this mean? To me, it means that as a runner, we can maintain and or improve our fitness and running performance by incorporating more cross training and less weekly running mileage.

In the past, with the higher weekly running volume, I always felt beat up and never felt like I was recovered all that well. I was ridiculously weak in the core area and I had about zero flexibility and muscle elasticity.

But, with the new training plan, I am getting quality over quantity, I am using the pool workouts as both a way to build stamina, as well as recovery. With the addition of the aqua jogging, swimming and core work, I have seen huge improvements in strength, flexibility and recovery time between hard workouts.

So, what exactly have I been doing with my time? Below is last weeks totals and types of workouts.

32 miles running (4 workouts, 2 Speed, 1 Hill/Tempo, 1 Recovery jog)

5 miles swimming (4 workouts, 2 x 2000m swimming, 2 x 2000m aqua jogging)

15 miles walking (used as recovery and dynamic stretching).

1 Total Body Core Strengthening (90 minutes total)

So am I admonishing high mileage training plans?? Not at all! I certainly believe that higher mileage plans have their place and can be very beneficial. However, I also believe that the runner should build their body to handle the high mileage workload. Those who run the super high mileage (usually reserved for elite or world class runners) have done so through years and years of gradual buildup. Their muscles, bones, joints, etc. have adapted and have become accustomed to the high mileage weeks. None of them went out and dropped 80-100 mile weeks right out of the gates.

I am currently reading Eamonn Coghlan’s book “Chairman of the Boards”. Eamonn, for those who don’t know him was a former 5000 meter World Champion and is a sub 3:50 miler. He was also the first man over 40 years of age to go sub 4:00 for the mile.  During his freshman and sophmore years at Villanova, he trained at a volume of 40-50 miles per week and did not hit his first 100 mile week until nearly 10 years later when he started moving up from the mile and started training for the 5k.

So, even the world class runners do a slow and gradual buildup.

Essentially, I believe there are many roads that lead to the same destination. Whether you advocate the high mileage, or are more of a low mileage, higher intensity type..or somewhere in between. Nothing is necessarily right or wrong with any of these approaches…but, regardless of the plan that you choose, allow your body to adapt, build the strength first and then play around with the proper amount of mileage based on your abilities and what you can handle.

More than anything else, you have to be patient. As they say, “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day”..and neither is a runner. Once you decide on a training plan, you must constantly evaluate your improvement, setbacks and how your body handles the workload. Overnight success is not an option and the runner must understand that big goals take big sacrifices and big commitments.

If you are smart, patient and observent, it is likely you can and will achieve your goals. Also, if you have been running to a certain training plan for a period of time and are either seeing no improvements or regression…do not get upset and immediately throw the plan out the window. Step back, look through your training logs and see if you cannot pinpoint the cause of the setbacks. Often times, a runner gets upset with the plan, when in fact, the plan is just fine. Perhaps your nutrition, sleep schedule, stress levels, etc. are the problems and not the training itself.

Remember, there is more to running than just running!!

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