This I Believe (second draft)

The following the newsletter that I sent out to subscribers a month ago.  I shared the first three parts of it here and I thought I would be appropriate to share the rest of it.  I hope you enjoy it.  You can join the newsletter at the bottom of this post.

There is a project called “This I Believe” – http://thisibelieve.org/ – that is based off of the same series done by Edward R. Murrow.  Here is my list as it applies to training.  It is not a comprehensive list, but it’s close.

I believe if an athlete wants to run faster, they need to run.  The Law of Specificity for a runner means that you have to spend a significant amount of time running to get better at running.  Now, the ratio of running to non-running work may (and probably should) change throughout the life of a given athlete.  Early in a career, when the athlete doesn’t have a very good aerobic foundation, more running needs to occur.  When the athlete is in their late thirties and beyond, a bit more general strength (potentially weight room work) and a bit less running is probably the best recipe for success.  But the bottom line is that if you want to improve as a runner then you have to run.

I believe that the long run is the key workout for developing the aerobic metabolism (though many would argue that threshold training is better).  Because of this belief, I also believe a runners should do a weekly long run, except for the few weeks during the year when they are resting for a big race.  Show me a runner who keeps a solid weekly long run in their training and I’ll show you a runner who makes incremental improvements in their fitness.  The long run is difficult, not sexy, and the long run often means that you need to rest (and possibly nap) later in the day.

I believe runners need to do non-running activities to stay healthy.  There are obvious benefits to General Strength and Mobility (GSM) – you develop stronger muscles to handle the pounding of running, and you develop greater range of motion.  Another aspect if that your hormonal profile is better after GSM work – you keep your levels of testosterone and human growth hormone high.  Some non-running activities should be done before the run, such as the Lunge Matrix (LM), while others can be done after the run, such as Active Isolated Flexibility (AIF).  The key concept here is that if you just run you increase the risk of an overuse injury.  If you do non-running work as part of your overall running training you decrease the risk of injury and you can run injury-free week after week.

I believe that consistency in training leads to personal records most of the time.  Show me a consistent runner, who has been injury-free for months, and I will show you a runner who is PRing at a variety of distances.  Ask an elite runner what the most important aspect of training is and much of the time you’ll hear “consistency.”  String together a few days, which then leads to a week, which then leads to a month, which then leads to a season, and you’ll be running fast times.

I believe race pace work is essential to running a PR.  You have to teach your body to run the pace you want to race it.  There is a biomechanically component, the angles of your knees and arms at any given pace.  There is a metabolic component, as your body has to figure out how to fuel the pace you’re running.  Example: the body is going to produce more lactate when you run a 1,500m due to the role of the anaerobic system compared to running a marathon.  When it comes to fueling the body to run a marathon, the body will have to use more fat, especially in the last 6-8 miles of the race, to finish.  Running race pace helps your body not only groove the biomechanically reality of the race, but it also helps your body become more efficient and providing the fuel to run that pace.

I believe fartlek workouts are a great way to teach a runner to run by feel.  And I love the fact that you can do some work at race pace during a fartlek, yet keep the overall effort at threshold pace or lower.  A well executed fartlek workout is a workout your can recover from, allowing you to continue to gain fitness in the next workout or long run.

I believe you must value rest and recovery as much as you value training.  Related is the reality that hardly any athletes do this, but it’s important.  The best athletes in the world train, and then rest.  While most people reading this don’t have the luxury of taking a nap after every workout, the flip side is that after a Long Run it’s best to have some time carved out to take a nap.

I believe that adult marathoners can run a solid marathon by running five days a week, with one workout and one long run, assuming they have 16 weeks to train, and assuming they have been doing 4-5 days of running per week when they begin the marathon cycle.  The best rhythm is Tuesday workout and Saturday long run.  At the risk of sounding like a Runner’s World article that says you can run faster by running less, the reality is that most adult runners get worn down by marathon training and toe the line fatigued, both mentally and physically.

I believe that threshold running is the next most important running after the long run.  AND I believe there are many ways to get a threshold stimulus – fartleks, sub-threshold running (i.e. slower than threshold), progression long runs, progression runs…the list goes on and on.  The key here is that the runner knows how to run by feel and that they know what will be going on during the run so that they get the right stimulus.  The “Goldilocks Principle” applies here – you need to get this workout just right – not too hard, not too fast – and if you don’t get the effort quite right, err on the side of running a touch slower than your threshold.  Remember, you need to recover from this run so that you can do the next workout on your schedule.

Okay, that’s the list as of May 29th, 2015.  As I said, it’s not comprehensive, but it’s a start.

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  • John

    I completely agree. I am a late 30s runner and have about 15 years of generally consistent running (minus a several months when each kid was born). I trained for a half-marathon last year. Key parts were a long run each week and a tuesday or wednesday workout. These alternated between

    1: tempo runs (by feel) that extended by 0.5 to 1 mile each workout and topped at 7 miles and

    2: track workouts that were various combinations of 400s through 1600s. Generally progressing to longer intervals as the race approached.

    Averaged a consistent 45-50 miles a week. Felt great through training and nailed my stretch goal of sub 1:23.

    This year I decided to train for a marathon using Hanson’s advanced plan (sub 3:00 goal). I foolishly didn’t realize it at the time but I was completely overtrained almost the entire buildup. Always fatigued, struggled through workouts but was so focused on getting every run in that I ignored it. Even after taper I felt physically and mentally tired. Made it through 20 miles and fell flat. 2 months later I finally feel fully recovered (thanks to the myrtle routine).

    Next time (if there is a next time) I’ll be sticking to the principles you outline above.