Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thoughts on Training

In theory, running more training miles would lead to better performances but there is a point of diminishing returns, as well as certain risks associated with such a program. There are also risks associated with my low mileage program. Many physiologists think that the best way to improve MaxVO2 is to simply run more miles, at least up to about 75 miles per week. Above that the gains are miniscule and are only made by directly addressing Max V02 via fast repeats. Sort of like the difference between a $500 bike and a $1000 bike is much more than the difference between a $1000 bike and a $10,000 bike.

Of course MaxVO2 is much less of a factor in races of Ultra distance. Running economy and efficiency is probably the most important factor in situations where you are staying sub-max for a long period of time (for example, 2 runners may both be able to run 10 miles at 5:00 pace, but when they run at 7:00 pace for 3 hours, one of the runners is working much harder). If all you did was look at their 10 Mile PRs you’d never know which one would make a better ultrarunner. Of course the 2nd runner could work on his economy and things would even out again.

In my own “serious running” past, my best times from 1K to the Half marathon all came during periods of moderate/high mileage (75-100 miles per week) that included 3 key workouts; a tempo run, a VO2 interval workout, and a long run. But, I ended up injured frequently. I have found that running more consistently for longer periods of time can lead to almost as good of results, and I prefer to race all through the year rather than peaking for just 1 or 2 events, so I think my current training philosophy works well with doing 6 – 8 ultras a year, as I have been for several years now. The main difference I have found is that a low mileage plan leaves less room for error in your races, meaning you have to be honest about your fitness levels and set your goals accordingly. Then, you have to execute a good race plan and be mentally strong because you don’t have the tons of miles to fall back on.

A fascinating thing about ultras, versus say a 5000m race, is that the fittest runner doesn’t always win an ultra race. Rather, the one who runs a well-paced race, is able to stay hydrated and fueled, and stays mentally strong through the rough patches is often the one who wins. This is why I have been able to actually train a bit less the last few years but stay at a similar or higher performance level than my first few years of doing ultras; I’m just a better, smarter ultrarunner now than I used to be. I also think there is something to be said for the long term benefit of all the long races; I don’t feel as if I need to do as many long runs now that I have the muscle memory of so many of them in my legs.

My basic training philosophy is to simulate your race as much as possible in training. For example, consider the Leadville 100. Many people run a lot of miles, including hills, for this race. But then consider the average finishing time is about 28:30. I did the race with my father this year and we finished in 28:42. I estimate that we ran 30 miles and walked 70 miles. We didn’t run up ANY hills during the race. So, it would make sense for most people training for mountainous 100s to spend the majority of their training time walking since that is what they are going to be doing a lot of come race day.

So, whether it is night running, eating on the run, mixing walking and running or whatever you expect to be doing in your race, incorporate that stuff into your weekly training.

Here is an “old” training week (Sep 1999):

Mon – AM 5 miles on flat dirt. Noon 7 miles Garden of Gods trails.
Tue – AM 6 miles on TM 40:59. PM track workout totaling 13 miles. 3 x 2 miles with 2:00 jog recovery. 10:19, 10:20, 10:13.
Wed – 9.5 miles trails in Garden of Gods.
Thu – AM 4 miles on TM. Noon 9 miles on roads, structured fartlek. 2 x (1:00 hard, 1:00 easy, 2:00 H, 1:00 E, 3:00 H, 2:00 E) with average pace being 5:20.
Fri – 8 miles TM
Sat – AM 10 miles total, including local road 5K in 14:44
Sun – AM 22 miles on Sante Fe trail at 6:45 pace
Total – 94 miles

Current Ideal Training Week:
Mon – 0 running. Walking with dogs.
Tue – 1:00 total time running, including 4 mile flat tempo run (5:45-6:00 pace)
Wed – 2:00 rolling dirt run.
Thu – 1:15 total time running, including 4 mile uphill tempo run (7% grade / 8:00 pace)
Fri – 0 running. Walking with dogs.
Sat – 2:00 flat dirt run, at about 7:45-8:00 pace
Sun – 1:30 hilly dirt run.
Total 7:45:00 / 60 miles


Jasper said...


I don't really disagree with any of your thinking about your approach. One certainly can't argue with your results. However, the thing that amazes me about people like you is that you are able to do so well at 100's without ever doing training runs over 4-5 hours in length.

As you say, the best chance of success in a race comes if you simulate your race as much as possible in training. Yet, if you're only doing training runs of a few hours, I don't see how you're doing that. I suspect the answer is that you're getting the important benefits (for both legs and endocrine system) of those many-hours-on-your-feet efforts from the other races that you do. As you say, there is probably some "muscle memory" of all those race miles.

I personally find it better to prepare by doing longer runs (8+ hours) in training. I find it easier to stay uninjured if I do those kinds of efforts as training runs before a 100, rather than relying on a lot of races to get my distance systems tuned up. Every race you do carries much higher risk of injury than a training run, IMHO.

The cool thing about this sport, though, is that people succeed with a wide variety of different approaches. Look at the three fastest Leadville runners ever - you, Matt, and Tony. Hard to imagine a wider spectrum of training approaches...


Paul DeWitt said...

You're right Jasper about numerous different approaches all producing good results. Speaking of that, I think some people are too quick to jump from one training program or idea to another (flavor of the month syndrome). Most benefits of any program will only be apparent after many months of steady work. It is always good to look around at other stuff that works, but also stay positive about what you are already doing if it is working. BTW, I generally don't keep training logs, but when we moved earlier this year I found 3 years of logs from when when we first moved to Colorado, so it has been neat to look back at what I was running then.

Anton said...

I agree with everything Jasper wrote. Paul, when I read your post the first thing that popped into my head was that, "YES, specificity is the exact reason that I do all the running I do!" 100 miles is a heckuva long ways to run, so I feel like I need to get my body used to running a lot. I also undergo what some might consider voluntary borderline overtraining because I feel like the crappiness I will feel on some of my runs (as a result of accumulated fatigue) is invaluable preparation for what I will feel the 2nd half of a 100 miler.

However, I also agree with you in that sustained, consistent (relatively) moderate training is going to--over time--produce better results than sporadic bouts of extremely difficult training. Accordingly, I hope to be more disciplined about moderating my training loads in the future.

Your thoughts about efficiency also interested me because that's another reason I believe in high mileage---the more you do something, the more your body is going to want to cultivate the most efficient way so that it can adapt and survive. But obviously, it all comes at a high level of injury risk, and the sustained moderate level of training probably wins out as the best approach. Diminishing returns are another factor (I liked the bike analogy).

Jasper, I wouldn't say that Paul's and Matt's training are actually that different. Matt basically trains like Paul, but with probably twice as much volume.

Finally, I also wholely believe that everyone is different and can succeed off of different types of training.

Paul DeWitt said...

Let me expand on a couple points I made and also say that I agree with both of you; all things being equal doing those longer runs would help me be a better ultrarunner, but I just have to be realistic with my own physical limitations. If I were coaching somebody else and they seemed more durable, you bet I'd recommend more miles and more long runs, but just not at the expense of the quality stuff.

Another point of this whole exercise though is to demystify ultra training and show that it doesn't have to be a linear type equation as far as training miles go. I have people all the time say stuff like, "I know how much I train and I'm only doing (10K/half Mar/Mar/etc) so I can't even imagine how much you must run." I'd like to see younger people who have speed at the shorter distances bring that talent to ultras and not think they have to radically change their training.

Finally, and I am going to have a future posting more about this....while I don't run a lot anymore, I am getting at least as many hours each week walking as running (7 or more), which with the hills and altitude here means I am getting some training benefit from that time. Walking is something I genuinely love to do and I can do it with my wife and dogs and actually enjoy the trails around here even more than when I'm running, and I just never feel as beat up afterwards as if I did that additional time as a run.

Anton said...

You make a good does not NEED to be radically altered. Although, I would say that the younger, faster track/road runners would need to do some long long runs in the beginning before they get the "muscle memory" you were talking about.

Interestingly enough, a buddy of mine, Alex Nichols (he paced me at Pb last year, ran a 2:27 in the Ascent this year and is a sub-15 5K/25-flat 8K guy), is planning on heading out to SF for the North Face 50 the week after XC nationals. He's been doing 100-120mpw all season with 3hr long runs and two 5-6mile speedworkouts per week...I think he's going to surprise a lot of people. Well, I actually think he'll either finish 3rd behind Matt and Uli or he'll completely blow-up and find out that 50 miles is a heckuva long ways to run...