My intent of this series is to document my thoughts (as of today) about what I know and how it is influencing my training moving forward. I have read quite a bit recently, as I mentioned in my previous post. After having the time to think about all of the information and map it to myself, I have developed a few principles that I plan to follow and believe apply to most others. Each principle consists of a section below.
Long Term vs Short Term
If you are someone who is looking to get faster immediately, this is the wrong approach for you. There are plenty of approaches that promise to get faster quickly. I have tried several of them. They work very well for the short term (1-2 months), but my results from this type of training came in the form of injuries and barely making it to the starting line each and every time I tried them.
After reading through my various sources, I believe that long term training brings the best results. However, it is very challenging to keep long term goals in mind, when it is so easy to reap short term rewards. However, by sticking to the plan of developing the base (the long term view), the benefits of this type of training will be realized. I mean, wouldn't it be great to just run harder each time we throw on some shoes? What you'd find is that you would either stop progressing after a short period (hitting a plateau), or you'd get injured. I've done it before and made the mistake too many times. That approach is not in my plan.
Alternatively, you could take the long term approach to training (ie building the base first). However, it is important to point out that the training programs preached by the mainstream sources we read in magazines frequently loose sight of the critical components to ensure longevity in the sport. We as test subjects of our own experiments (unless we are coached by someone else), tend to follow the advice of experts or what you read on a blog and that seems to work for him/her. But when we read this advice, we take it, assume it will work, and go off and hammer out a workout. Often times, the result is immediate short term satisfaction. Once done, we think, "Wow, the was great. I just need to do this key workout each week (and increase the distance/pace) and I will be able to conquer the world!" But herein lies the problem. The advice we are given, or the workouts we typically follow based on this advice, doesn't take into account the long term view.
I like to call this "finding the sexy workout". You know what I am talking about, don't you? A sexy workout is one that you can look at and think about how great it will be to tell all your friends about or how hard you are going to push yourself. Most advice we see are "sexy workouts" without much discussion on the background (base) needed to tackle such "epic" workouts. They need to sell books right?
Let's compare two workouts and you tell me which one you would rather get excited over:
1) 10 x 400m @ Lactate Threshold w/1:00 recovery
2) 45 min easy
I think you can tell me which one is sexy (numero uno) and which one is not (numero dos). But again, number one takes into account the short term view of getting faster today through a threshold workout, while number two considers the long term view of improving efficiency through lower heart rate training. When we approach a training cycle, and even each workout, we need to consider our goals. Specifically, how will this training cycle/workout make me faster/stronger/more efficient in the LONG TERM?
A great workout is just that...a great workout. But the way we get faster over time is to look toward the long term by becoming more efficient (ie running faster at an easier level of effort than before). This can only be achieved by long term base training to allow your body to adapt. Otherwise, I've found the short term (instant gratification through speed work type of workouts) approach results in self sabotaging of one's future ability to continue running. This is commonly because we either don't run the appropriate pace, resulting in more fatigue in our legs, and subsequently preventing other quality workouts from occurring due to the need for additional rest to recover. Or, too high a percentage of our training volume comes from interval/speed work, resulting in the inability of our bodies to efficiently burn calories (by burning carbs vs fats) and risking injury due to the larger percentage of stressful activity applied to the body. For shorter distance training, the impact is less compared to endurance training. My focus is on endurance. However, efficiency lies in the heart (the ability to handle/process work - Heart Rate), so no matter what speed/distance you run, an efficient system will lower your times.
This does not mean all of these types of workouts are bad, however. There is a time and place for speed work. But the base building period is not it. I'd guess that it may not be appropriate for many people to do this type of training either, based on where they are in terms of their base level of fitness. My advice, and the plan I am currently following, is to go back to the basics and build a very large base to ensure longevity and efficiency in running. Yea, it takes a long time to do this. Yea, it isn't "sexy". But I believe this approach will work the best for me. Only after this has been established, will I start building in the higher intensity stuff.
Let's get back to applying this information to myself and my approach moving forward. During my previous marathon training builds, I began incorporating some of the types of training you read about that the advanced runners are doing (based on my times and running experience, I "qualify" as an advanced/intermediate runner in most training programs) and that you read about in articles by experts, such as 800 repeats to "build speed", "tempo" runs to increase lactate threshold, or what have you. Over a period of a few weeks, I noticed increased tightness in my legs. This was treated with icing, foam rolling, and continuing to run...I was training for a marathon, after all! Well here is what has happened each time when my body had enough and was unable to recover from those higher intensity workouts ----> injury!
But why? While we are in the moment of training and looking at week to week results and see progress, we thing it is a good thing, right? In some cases it is. But, I have looked over my workout logs from the past few years, reviewed a ton of information from the books I have read, and it all comes down to one thing.
I should have been continuing to build a large base, without high risk speed work, until I saw the fitness gain diminish from that type of training first, before incorporating any speed training into my program.
I had the "base" to complete the assigned mileage to begin any of the programs I was considering, but had I known what I know now, I would have continued to build the base before incorporating any other types of training. Each of these types of riskier training techniques gave me the instant gratification in the short term to see the immediate impact of getting faster. In both cases however, the injuries that resulted from chronic fatigue and the inability to recover, sidelined my training for a month or more, barely giving me enough time to throw in some longer runs to even attempt the marathon. Are there benefits to performing the workouts? Absolutely. But is it necessary? I don't believe it is for most of us.
The risk of injury is simply not worth (in my opinion) the extra few seconds you may gain from doing "speed" workouts without the huge base to warrant the incorporation of those types of workouts. Had I stuck with the simple plan of putting in the mileage, while focusing in becoming efficient at a low HR in each of those cases, without incorporating extra stuff to see my speed progressing (short term results), I'm pretty sure I would have made it to the starting line with a strong build up and ran the race I envisioned when I signed up (long term results).
We are so focused on improving ourselves in the short term (to get instant feedback), that I believe it impacts our long term outlook (making it to the starting line healthy and appropriately trained without burning out).
As I mentioned in Part 1, one way to get feedback safely is by conducting baseline tests every month or so (but no more frequent). A baseline test should be conducted at the beginning, and then repeated, while attempting to maintain consistent conditions, such is not being done on a windy day. Baseline tests give you periodic assessments of where you are, without the constant incorporation of risky speed work. If you can continue to show progress in your baseline tests through base building, then your base can still be built further without incorporating the speed stuff. Only AFTER you have seen the gains drop off from the baseline tests, should those other types of training be incorporated.
Stay tuned for part 3...