After a summer of doing intervals and tempo runs and cutting back mileage I haven’t really been able to see that translate to faster legs. Speed-work seems to suck me dry and to drain the drive to run. After running a good half-marathon race last year, I thought I might be on a trajectory to finally qualify for Boston late this year. I’m no where close, and you might think that I’m feeling quite defeated, but instead I’ve just abandoned the goal of running faster. Running is no longer a means to an end, it has become the purpose, and I submit to the goals that it wants to achieve. This is a life-style, a philosophy, so let’s embrace it.
Low Heart Rate
I’ve started to run at a very relaxed pace and am keeping my heart-rate in the 136 to 143 range. All summer long, I’ve been doing aerobic runs in the 147 to 153 range and tempo runs have brought my heart-rate up to around 165. No more interval or tempo runs for me except via occasional races, so the regime shift is towards race-only lactate-threshold exposure.
Running this kind of volume of around 55-65 miles per week is a new experience for me and it feels awesome. This is why I run and this is connecting me with our ancestral heritage and history of running. This is how I imagine traditional cultures moving around from village to village and the thought of them doing interval runs just to wear themselves out is humorously caricatured in my mind. Doing intervals is a modern concept, perhaps backed my science, but I doubt it is something that the Tarahumara practice knowingly. I’m thinking of Kenyans and Ethiopians who use running as a means of transportation running to and from school located at 10 miles away from home. Sometimes they might run a little faster than normal but for the most part I’m assuming they got their conditioning via casual runs. From now on 100 mile running weeks is not just for elite athletes, it is a normal physiological feat we were all meant to accomplish. What separates the elite athlete from the rest of us then is the intensity at which they perform those runs. While I don’t plan on the intensity I do plan on brushing up fairly close to 100 miles per week, depending on how much time I have and on whether my running dynamics can handle it.
Intervals Fast, Recovery Slow
If I do a hard interval work-out, I need about two days of rest to recover. If I just run a nice slow, long run, I feel like I don’t need any, but I usually give throw a rest day in there as a precautionary convention. So there’s a trade-off that I’ve been wrestling with. I usually feel and look tired the day following speed-work and then I spend days with low-mileage and resting and sometimes I never seem to quite recover. My legs just get zapped and then there’s no training stimulus. Concentrating on recovery doesn’t seem to do much good either. I’ve simply just been giving speed work plus recovery too much emphasis.
Volume is Expanding
Right now the training stimulus feels gentle and I sleep well. Stress hormone cortisol is low, which aids recovery and muscle building. My legs feel fresh even after a 17 mile run and I can’t wait to get out there again. I may be slow, but I want to believe that I was built to handle 100 mile-per-week, so I’m going to go with it. If I add speed-work, I’ll think about adding it sometime next year, but no more than once every two to three weeks (in the past I’ve always tried to do speedwork once or twice every week and as a result I’ve never been able to go comfortably go over 50 miles per week).
Below is my monthly mileage and looking back, the 50-100 miles per month looks rather lame. I wish I had my act together years ago, but this is pretty much what you get if you focus on a couple of 6-10 mile tempo runs in the week plus a long run on Sunday. My first son was born in November 2010. My second was born in February 2014 – amusingly they seem to cancel each other out.
Ironically, the recent paradigm shift happened when I decided I wasn’t going to care about mileage anymore. I decided that I should focus on the number of hours on my feet instead since that would help remove a pace-centric point of view. If an elite runner spends about 10 hours per week training, then I also wanted to spend about 10 hours per week training, regardless of the vast differences in distance covered.
Giving up the need to run fast has given me the opportunity to run as much as I want. I’m now running freely, it is liberating, and I can’t wait to see what happens now.
Challenging Run Fast Be Fast Dogma
Since interval training doesn’t work for me and hasn’t worked for years. I’m still a 3:30 marathoner as I was 5 years ago and I haven’t been able to put much of a dent in it. I lost about 3 years of running after my first child, but still this isn’t for lack of trying and over the last year, I’ve been trying to do everything right. I wasn’t quite sure whether to just focus on High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or to try the Maffetone approach so I went for a middle ground, choosing Eric Orton’s training program which combines raw speed with a build up of strength and endurance. Fail proof I thought. While the training regiment has kept things interesting, it hasn’t resulted in substantially faster times. I got a little bit faster possibly, but not much.
So, I’m definitely challenging the notion that “you have to train fast to race fast”. My legs can easily move at a pace to run a sub 3 hour marathon, but the main issue is fatigue. I’m fully embracing the Maffetone principle that 90% of energy expenditure in a marathon comes from fat metabolism. I’ve been coupling this with a low-carb high-fat diet, which I believe is particularly synergistic with this approach. Anyway, we’ll see how migrating to this extreme, fat-metabolism-centric position pans out for me in two weeks time.
Same Speed Less Effort
In September I was running 9:09 min/mile (5:41 min/km) at a heart-rate of 149 bpm, and this month I’m averaging a 8:57 min/mile (5:36 min/km) at a heart-rate of only 140 bpm. While I might not be seeing faster training paces, I find the drop in effort very encouraging, and it feels so darn awesome to be out there running I don’t want it to stop.
Find Out More
Here’s a great interview with Camille Herron who used high mileage and slow miles to conquer speed. I just found out that she sticks with a 120-130 heart-rate, even lower than mine, but still picks up the pace on marathon race day with a blazingly fast 2:37:14 personal best. Get acquainted with the Maffetone principle by watching this video.
The above two videos are a bit long so if you just want to get a little inspiration, check out how Sage Canaday‘s emphasizes good old classic Long-Slow-Distance (LSD) to smash records on all distances in this video. His best for the marathon is an unimaginable 2:16:52 and I love his message to just be patient and consistent. If you are pressed for time skip to around the 7:20 mark on YouTube where he tells his story about how training for a marathon allowed him to run super fast 5K’s.
Those little things [running form, nutrition, sleep] really add up. Consistency month after month, year after year, even decade after decade.