Lately I’ve been considering 2 large camps many runners fall into when training for long distance races like the marathon. Well 3 if you consider a blend of the 2. But I’ve been trying to decide what is best for me, most effective and safest for injury prevention.
The idea of the first, and what I grew up with, is that building a strong foundation of high mileage is most important for long duration aerobic activity like the marathon. Worrying about speed work and other variable exercises is not so important and may be mixed in later. But maybe not. Under this umbrella training plan the runner would run close to every day. Especially younger athletes that recovery quickly. Taking maybe 1 rest day/week. Most of these runs should be slow and easy. Maybe include a threshold pace workout once per week and the long run once per week also. The runner is focusing on getting a very strong foundation of hitting the pavement.
The other camp says the runner need only run 3-4 quality runs per week. An example of this could be 1 easy run, 1 speed workout, 1 hill workout and 1 long run. The rest of the days would be rest or active rest like walking. Cross training like cycling or swimming could be done on rest days as well. Strength training can also be a big piece here for these people as well-targeted strength training specific for total body balance for strength and mobility of the runner’s body.
I have been running for going on 20 years now. Mostly leisurely. But in the last couple of years I have come to settle into a sort of blend of the 2, especially the last 3 months of intensive training. Still in my 20’s I find I really only need 1 rest day/week and if I do 1 high-intensity cross training activity, like cycling, I’m pretty well rounded (from a recovery perspective) for quality workouts every day (besides my true rest day).
I center my weeks around my long run, which I do Saturday. Sunday is my complete rest day. I may go for a family walk or hike, but I still consider this rest. Monday’s I try to reserve for speed work. If I still feel drained from my long run I sometimes push it to Tuesday and do an easy run Monday. So those 2 days are somewhat interchangeable, but primarily Monday=speed. Tuesday=easy. Right now I go back and forth between 4-6 miles on my easy run days. Wednesday=cross train. Preferring the bike, I push hard for 12-15 miles or time based depending on how much time I have available. The hubs watches our little one for most of my workouts. I take her out on my easy days, but sometimes pushing her in the jogger makes my easy days not so easy! So we play around with scheduling and I try to run during naps or before she wakes up in the morning. Thursday=hills. At an 8% grade, I do 6×150-200m at 80% max HR and 4×100-150m at 85% max HR and 2×50-100m at 90% max HR. 2-3 minutes rest in betweens reps. Over the next couple of weeks I will work those numbers up and add a 3rd bracket. I want to be doing 8x200m, 6x150m, 4x100m in the coming weeks. Fridays=easy. And we’re back to Saturday=long run.
I feel like I blend these 2 camps for myself, but know people who do both and are very successful. It freaks me out to run fewer days. Partly because I just love running and feel incomplete if I don’t get a run in almost every day, but also partly because I have a hard time believing I will be able to perform if I don’t run all those miles! It just doesn’t make sense to me so I guess I am still a firm believer in hammering out the miles. One key to this though, especially for people who just love to get out and run daily, most of your runs should be easy! My easy days are really easy, or they should be. 70% max heart rate for example. It’s really hard to buckle down and get those quality workouts in if you’re constantly tired from every run being at or around threshold pace. A good way to tell if you’re pushing too hard is to try the talk test. If you can carry on a conversation while running you’re probably doing OK! If you find yourself gasping for air and unable to string words into a sentence.. that’s too hard for an easy day. Save those high intensities for specific speed workouts or hills or something else, but don’t burn yourself out. You’ll find those few quality workouts/week will yield much better results and you’ll just feel better after more of your runs. At least that is what I’ve experienced.
I have experienced a certain struggle occasionally with those easy, slow days maybe some of you have experienced it too? I feel like I am just slow. I feel like race day is going to come and I’m not going to make my goals! It’s extremely troubling, but try to realize it’s good for you! It’s all a part of the recovery! Recovery is when our muscles heal and ACTUALLY GET STRONGER!!! It’s probably the most important part so don’t treat them like the black sheep runs of the week. Good for you-they are! I guess this is where I can understand the other camps belief that you only need to run 3-4 quality workouts/week. This would leave ample time for recovery!
Anywho, however you slice it, try SLOWING DOWN on those easy days! What’s the hurry anyways? It’s not a race right… bud dum dum tss.. I mean for many of us it is a race we’re working towards, but this strategy can help get you there. And just keep putting that foot out in front of the last! Thanks ☺️