In our LHR community, many runners have grown wary of training for a virtual half or full marathon. Once in the spring was ok, but now that postponed marathons were canceled, it’s become, “what can I do now?” This 5k group is designed to fill that void. It’s the perfect opportunity to train for something shorter and maybe something you haven’t done in a long time!
For my friends who don’t really train through a long stretch of snow, wind, cold, and poor footing for more than a few days, then you may not find much use of this blog. For the rest of you, you are probably like me and wonder if you are literally just spinning your wheels. The end result can be an unwarranted lack of confidence as you head into a winter or early spring marathon. Today, I want to discuss what common concerns I get and then provide you a case study as to why we don’t need to throw our original goals out the window.
There’s a few questions and concerns I get this time of year, but the biggest reflect around a sudden loss of fitness (or apparent) because of familiar loops being slower than they were in the fall. For instance, this morning we ran a loop that we run throughout the year. On a normal easy run, I will run 6:30-7:00 minute miles. Last night we got a little dusting of snow which made the sidewalks and side roads a mess. The pace of today’s run was about 7:30 per mile, but it felt like I worked harder than my 18 mile long run yesterday (that was 6:30/mile average). What gives? Over one day, I assume that most people chalk it up to the previous day’s long run and the fact that there is snow. However, it’s like this all winter and it gets in our heads. I am averaging 30 seconds per mile slower all the time. There’s no way I am going to be ready! I get it, especially in this age of social media where we all see our friends just crushing life.
The truth is, even though the paces may not line up, the effort is still there. I know what many of you are thinking- but you hate using heart rate, power meters, and all that, so aren’t you contradicting yourself? Well, maybe, but I say the same things about those tools as I do GPS. That is that they are tools and they all have a place. Here, I don’t mind any of those, as long as you look at those numbers afterwards to really analyse. In a perfect world, and some of my Boston runners got a little lecture about this with hills, is that I certainly want you to know your paces. However, along with that, I don’t want your workouts to be GPS only. Along with keeping track of that data, one should also internally note how they feel at those paces. How do they feel when not pushing hard enough? Too hard? If we note these things and ACT ON THEM, then we can be pretty close at our desired paces because we know what the effort feels like. Further, when we get in a situation where we aren’t in ideal weather, or doing a workout on a hilly route, we know what the effort feels like. Later on we can correlate what paces lineup so that we know that even though we were 15 seconds slow per mile for that tempo, the right effort was there due to a -10 degree windchill (or whatever factors involved). The key here is to recognize effort to paces in better conditions so we can utilize effort in far less than ideal conditions later.
Ok, so how is performance actually affected by the cold?
For some of us it is that extra Holiday weight we found lying around the cookie plate. However, think about how many layers you are putting on! I would bet there are times I am wearing 5-8 pounds of extra clothing during the winter. We have all heard the adage of every 1 pound of non energy producing weight (usually referring to fat) costs us 2 seconds per mile at race pace! (Insert Ric Flair: WHOOOOO!) That’s a good 15 seconds plus per mile on an easy run! Just think about how that will affect you on that marathon tempo!
Decreased range of motion:
Along those lines, with all those extra layers, especially on the legs, we don’t get the same range of motion which means strides are probably a little shorter and we just aren’t as efficient as we are in shorts.
This one is a given. Poor traction, dodging ice patches, and doing pirouettes along the sidewalk all take their toll on us.
Reduced force of muscle contraction:
Cold weather will reduce the force of our muscle contraction which means it takes a little more work to run at any given pace.
Decrease in lactate threshold:
Because we are physically working harder to run, our lactate threshold will be lower. So, say in normal weather your LT occurs at 75% of your VO2max (which would correlate at say half marathon pace) now occurs at say 65%, which might be slower than marathon pace.
Increase in use of carbohydrate:
Because your LT is lower, you’ll have a higher reliance on carbohydrate. Lactate is a by product carb breakdown, so workouts that normally don’t cause carbohydrate depletion can now put you in the danger zone.
Increased intensity at same pace:
Because of everything we mentioned, all paces become inherently harder. Then when we see we aren’t hitting paces, we tend to try harder. This tends to only set us back further over the coming days and weeks.
I don’t have any scientific stats on this, but winter seems to be a primetime for chronic dehydration. Just look at our skin in the winter. Whether it’s because we don’t think we need fluids in the winter, harder to take in during winter, or what, but chronic dehydration and electrolyte loss seems like it would eventually take its toll on us, as well.
How much do these factors all add up to?
It is hard to put exact numbers. If you want ballpark numbers, you can certainly use our calculator that lets you factor in cold and windchill. This isn’t exact by any means, as you can’t put numbers on some of the factors listed, but it let’s you see how much time really can be affected. When we put it together, we also factored in what you were doing, so easy run paces will be affected less than speed work. You can check out the calculator HERE.
Now, some of you are reading this and thinking that ole coach is blowing smoke, so I wanted to use a case study from this past weekend. HCS Coach Mo Hrezi and I have been running together most of the winter here in Rochester. This winter has been brutal, especially the end of December and into January. December was Michigan’s fourth snowiest in history and we had a couple week stretch where we never got above 10 degrees F for the high. That’s air temperature, not including the wind chill. We have been doing a lot of workouts at Stony Creek Metropark where footing wasn’t the greatest and the temps were tough. The long of the short of it is this- say we were doing 3 miles- 2 Miles- 1 Mile at Stony. Under normal circumstances, we’d do these at about half marathon pace. Mo really wanted to break 1:03 at the Houston Half Marathon, so that would be about 4:48 per mile (ballpark). Mo came close to that for 1 mile, where he had good footing and a wind at his back. All the workouts we did in December and early January amounted to one lousy mile run at his actual goal pace.
Needless to say, Mo ran Houston this past Sunday (1/14/18) and ran… 1:02:11!!!
This was a personal best by nearly two minutes and is the fastest ever run by a Hanson’s ODP member.
The moral of the story is don’t focus only on what the watch is telling you during the winter months. If you keep the faith that you are working hard and putting in the training, that you don’t need to adjust goals (as long as you are racing where weather won’t really be the issue). Take the time throughout the year to know how paces feel and what effort you are putting in to hit those paces. That way, you can have confidence that your fitness is still there and you’ll be ready to fly on race day!
If you have read HMM and thought about the idea of coaching, but aren’t sure you are ready for that kind of investment, then the Facebook Training Room is for you. We know you have specific training questions about your own training. We also know that you have the book and don’t necessarily need a new training plan. However, do you really need to hire a personal coach for the few questions you might have along the way? No, and that’s why I have created the Hanson’s Coaching Training Room.
The HCS Training Room is a closed Facebook group designed for a couple purposes. First, build community among the athletes who trust us with their training. In an online world this helps us put names to faces and learn more about what needs you have as a runner. The second is that we know the plan works- many of you believe that too. However, taking a general plan and tweaking it to fit your specific needs requires a little more than a FAQ page. With this group you have direct access to me, Luke, and I can help you with your specific questions.
The Training Room is perfect for those who don’t have a coach, want to test the waters of having coaches, or just want be around those who are coached individually by HCS. We take your running serious and we know you do too. The HCS Training Room is here to help you maximize your training based on YOU!
Sign up for the Training Room for a sweet low rate of $9.97/month. With that you’ll get:
- Access to Luke with your specific training questions
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- A great group of runners using HCS and the Marathon Method to offer up support and advice.
Recently, an athlete in one of our groups asked a great question, “When do I know that I’m ready to reach my race goal?” I got to thinking about it and I realized a couple things. The first is that, we don’t particularly talk about that much. Sure, you can consult your favorite search engine and find pages of blog posts regarding the workouts we should do. We can read countless paragraphs from our favorite coaches about the importance of choosing the right goal pace to train for. However, when it comes down to it, how do we know when we are really ready to hit that goal pace. That is what I want to discuss in this post.
A few things we are assuming:
- That you have been following the majority of whatever your training plan has laid out for you- say 90% + of the schedule
- That you are generally healthy, not nursing an injury that could easily become a source of unplanned time off.
- This is a planned race and not a situation where you were training for a half marathon and then switching over to a full marathon with 6 weeks to go (or something to that effect).
I put these caveats in here because if you are experiencing one of these scenarios then you really should work with a coach who knows you better than just some internet talking head (me). However, if you are generally healthy and have hit the majority of your training then I can give you an idea of when you, “just know.”
First thing first!
I’ve kinda given you part of the answer already. If you have struggled with training, mainly being consistent, then reaching your goal race pace may be a stretch. This I have learned the hard way. I have had nagging little things where I’ve scaled back on easy days just so I can hit workouts. Ultimately, what I did was simply make sure I was fresh for workouts all the time and I never came close to that feeling of cumulative fatigue. When it got hard in a race I just hadn’t put myself in a situation in training where I dealt with that feeling and it overwhelmed me.
That got me to thinking, I have had some complete disasters when I was crushing every workout and running all the mileage on my schedule.
When did I really have my breakthroughs?
So after thinking about all of my real breakthroughs, I put together a list of precursors leading up to breakthrough races.
Don’t force it
One, I didn’t force workouts. That’s not to say that all the workouts were easy. It’s also not saying that I didn’t have a complete “what the hell was that” workouts either. Basically, I stayed pretty even keeled. I didn’t let my high’s get too high and I didn’t dwell on the lows.
Second, I never got to the point where the race pace completely scared me. Was I still a little intimidated? Of course! However, I wasn’t like, I don’t even know how I am going to run 10 miles at this pace. For instance, I got to point where I thought, “Ok, I can run at least 20 miles at this pace. I’m 100% confident in that. Now, the last 6 are going to be tough, but we will deal with that when we get there.” Let’s use a 10 mile tempo run as an example. We all know that these are occurring at the toughest point in the schedule. The mileage is at the highest. The workouts are the biggest volume, and we’ve got a ton of fatigue in our legs.
If you go through that 10 mile tempo and are noticeably concentrating on what you are doing, but not forcing yourself into goal pace, then I would say that you are pretty darn close to where you want to be.
If you are really grinding and even trying to go faster than goal pace, then I am more concerned. That’s why I put less stock in long slow runs. We know you can run a long ways slowly. Can you do it fast and not miss training before and after that day?
Hard stuff = yes it is!
Third, much like the workouts, I approached the same way- this is going to be hard. It’s going to take my complete focus to accomplish this. Whenever I was over confident, I blew it. Whenever workouts were easy I got over confident and maybe didn’t put as much into the details as I should have. However, whenever I knew I was fit, but completely convinced myself that this was going to be the hardest thing I had ever done, I was much more successful. Maybe that was just mindset, but it made me focus on all the details because I felt if I made mistakes, I was going to have to make it up somewhere. Those were slim margins for error. That’s really not to scare you, but rather, recognize the task you are about to undertake. It deserves respect and most definitely, our full attention.
All about the routine
Lastly, I was not obsessed with the outcome. I never obsessed with running a certain time. I thought about it, for sure. However, I focused more on the process of training and learning to train at a new level much more than training for the certain pace. When I was all about the outcome, I put way too much pressure on myself. If I didn’t hit that pace I was a failure and all that work was for naught. In reality, the hard work we are doing will carry over if things don’t workout immediately. When I was truly proud of running a great race based on race plan execution, the times typically came with that. When I freaked out because I few splits were off in a workout, that carried over to the race and typically ended in extreme disappointment.
To wrap this up
So that’s really about it. I was able to keep a steady approach to training. I didn’t crush everything, but I didn’t have to force myself to hit a workout every single time out. I was able to have consistent training. I wasn’t skipping easy days just so I would be able to do a workout. My big workouts were tough (10 mile tempos, 2×3’s for example) but I found myself settling into the right paces- which is not the same thing as saying it was easy. They were tough, but not forced. I recognized that what I wanted to do would be very hard, but not impossible. All of those things combined really brought me a sense of quiet confidence. This actually helped me relax. It let me focus on the process of training at a level I hadn’t before. I was able to race with racing on my mind, not a set time. More times than not, when I was in this “zone,” the time I was looking for was usually there waiting for me at the finish line.
If you’ve read much of anything that I have put out into the internet universe, you’ll know that my position on heart rate training is one of,
“when they start handing out BQs based on heart rate, I will start training people by heart rate.”
I actually stole that line from a conversation I had with Keith at one point. It still rings true to this day! However, the topic is still brought up, along with new fads- eh hem- power meters, lactate threshold detectors, and activity monitors.
What I mean by that is people already use GPS devices as if it’s the holy grail
It comes down to one of those things where I didn’t like using heart rate because to me it was just another variable in making training more complicated. What I mean by that is people already use GPS devices as if it’s the holy grail. Being a slave to another parameter is just another way to limit yourself in a workout. I don’t want them to now be limited in a workout because of their heart rate monitors telling them they are working to hard.
I’ve written a blog post previously on my stance on relying on heart rate that includes the reasons why I’m not a fan for day to day training. You can find that here.
Many of you still use heart rate, and I’m not going to fight anyone on it anymore. What I am going to do is give you my thoughts on what I would observe and how I would practically approach using heart rate in your training.
A great approach to blending gps/hr/learning feel. I came across a great piece referencing legendary Coach Bobby McGee and his use of blending these variables. You can find the piece in The Runners Edge. Essentially, what he does is allows athletes to go by heart rate in the early buildup of their training. There are a couple nice things about this. For instance, think about when you start training for a fall marathon- it’s in the peak of summer, right! You’re just starting training and it’s hot, humid, and difficult to get a bearing on pace. Coach McGee would have runners run a pretty short run (2-3 miles) at goal marathon pace and see what the corresponding heart rate was. He would then set early season workouts to that heart rate, but begin increasing the length of the workouts By monitoring your heart rate you can go by effort and keep yourself in check (see our 5 early pitfalls of training post)
The trick is to not look at it during your run.
The key with what Coach says is that you transition away from focusing on heart rate. As you get into your meat and taters section of training, you go to what matters most-pace. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to abandon tracking your heart rate completely. The trick is to not look at it during your run. Instead, when you log your data, just observe. Track how you ran for workouts, especially under similar conditions, and the corresponding heart rate. The goal would be that the distance would increase while the pace stayed the same and the heart rate decreased. The key though, is that HR wasn’t looked at until AFTER the workout was over. I think one thing to keep in mind too would to try and keep variables similar- like do your workouts that you are comparing on similar loops. Ideally, the weather would be similar to what you will be racing in the closer you approach the race, as well.
Using Heart Rate to determine over training
Besides monitoring effort during a workout, runners use heart rate to determine if they are recovering, or overtraining. The idea is that one, resting heart rate will lower with fitness and increase with over training. The second is that an athlete who is getting fit will have lower heart rates at the same intensity, while an overtrained athlete may have a higher heart rate at the same intensity.
In the first scenario, that appears to be more and more a myth. Most studies appear to show now differences in resting heart rate between fit and overtrained people. What does seem to be of value is a person’s sleeping heart rate. And with all of the new technology out there, this is probably easier to monitor than ever before. If you monitor your sleep, keep an eye on this parameter. An increasing sleeping HR over a period of time may be a good indicator of your training status.
The second observation point is with training heart rates. Most people think that as they gain fitness, their heart rate for a given workout will decrease. While some studies have shown this, others have not. Using this method to dictate if your fitness is on track just isn’t that clear and might not be a reliable observation.
A couple great sources:
Latest Buzzword: Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the variance in beats of the heart. So, someone with a low HRV might have a heartbeat that goes Beat 1 2 3 Beat 1 2 3 Beat 1 2 3 Beat. Someone with a high HRV might go Beat 1 2 3 Beat 1 2 Beat 1 2 3 4 Beat 1 2 3 Beat 1 2 3 Beat 1 2 and on and on. They don’t have a heartbeat that is like clockwork. I remember in a physiology lab and the student freaked out. They thought I had a messed up heart!
A trend downwards can indicate the approach to becoming overtrained.
The idea though is that a person with a high HRV is very fit and people will use it to monitor their recovery or if they are gaining fitness. This isn’t a measure that is a one and done type of process. In fact, it’s something that you really need a lot of data points to find anything useful with. You’d really monitor several times a week and graph the trends. In general, a trend upwards is good. A trend downwards can indicate the approach to becoming overtrained. The only problem is, that these trends don’t always indicate one or the other.
Monitoring your HRV has been shown to dictate what kind of training will suit you better…
To me it’s simply an observation point that you use to piece together what your entire training looks like and then use all those pieces to help forge a decision in your training. Some information I did find interesting. Monitoring your HRV has been shown to dictate what kind of training will suit you better (high volume or high intensity) A person with a high HRV may be better suited for high intensity training, while a low HRV person may respond well to a high volume training program.
HOWEVER, nothing was said about how much they improved and in what distance. What I mean is, will that work for a 5k through a marathon training plan or just shorter racing distances. Also, does it work with new runners through elite runners, as this study just looked at recreational runners. (Article). It is all interesting, but I think there’s a long way to go. And again, I think it’s something you look at over a long period of time and use it as one piece of information, not the only information.
In the end though, they still only hand out BQ’s based on running a certain pace and not keeping your heart rate in a certain zone.
Measuring your HRV is getting easier and easier as a quick app store search reveals several different applications. I recommend in bed right when you get up. If you monitor your sleep, you might already have that data. To me, that’s even better. While I am still not a heart rate using coach, I am slowly believing there’s a place for both worlds to exist. In the end though, they still only hand out BQ’s based on running a certain pace and not keeping your heart rate in a certain zone.
First off, let me thank the tens of thousands of folks who have utilized the Hansons Marathon Method. One of the greatest compliments I receive is being at a function and someone asks me to sign a copy of a dogeared, note filled, and more than gently used book. While the book is the foundation for everything we do, there is often the question of what to do once you’ve been through the schedules a couple times. This post is for you!
Structuring for the long term?
Many of you have read the book and then simply put the training plan on repeat. While many of you have had success doing that, it certainly doesn’t leave much for variety. While the book is the foundation, I admittedly lack discussing how to grow as a runner after you have completed the advanced training plan. There’s a lot to figuring what’s best for you, so I’ve come up with a list of questions to ask yourself. It’s a little bit of work, but trust me, we take care of the rest!
What are my primary goals for the a) next training segment b) the next year and c) the next 3-5 years?
When a person comes to us for coaching we ask them about what their long term goals are. It gives a glimpse into the big picture but it also helps us organize our priorities. Even if you are new runner, or at least a new marathoner, we should have an idea what our big goals are so that we can create a road map. We can address immediate training problems. Let’s say you want to have a segment where we build your milage and just maintain fitness. Maybe we want to learn how to incorporate some general strength training into a running regimen. No problem, we can give you one of our base programs and then a 6 week strength for runners program. From there we can then go after working getting our overall speed up before going after another marathon or half marathon.
Do I need to follow an 18 week program all the time?
No! That’s the beauty of training at a moderate level. When people first start either the Beginner or Advanced program we are making some general assumptions. We are trying to fit the bulk of the population into a program that will work for everyone. Once we get through that, we can then start helping you get specific. Here’s a great example of moving beyond the classic schedules that we did with folks running Boston:
- Runners started in December training with an 18 week Hanson’s schedule.
- Completed Boston and took about 2 weeks of down time.
Here’s where it got tricky. With a marathon ending in mid April, we now had a ton of time before we needed to worry about a fall marathon. So what do we do? We definitely didn’t want to just sit idly by and watch! We had a couple otions.
Option 1: For those who were really just rocked from Boston or were at a point where they wanted to try and get mileage to a new level. For these folks we gave them a 8-12 week base building plan that allowed them to get their mileage up without a ton of intensity. Some of them started their strength and core routines here (which is a great time to begin). It also opened the door to another marathon, speed, or half marathon segment at the end. Leave the door open!
Option 2: Most of the rest of the folks wanted to attack some 5k and 10k races, which I was all on board with. So with theses runners, we gave a small buildup of about 4 weeks post time off. Then we went into a true speed segment where we attacked VO2max pace and true lactate threshold pace. Here it made sense because they already had such a huge aerobic base under their belt from the marathon training. We did that for 8-12 weeks, depending on the goal.
For either option we were able to fit a different training segment that would suit their needs and not put them into a training rut. With Option 1, these folks were at a new mileage level with a good general starting fitness point. With that said, they didn’t need to start over from scratch with the classic 18 week schedule. For whatever race they chose we could now put them into a 12-16 week training plan that wasn’t going to repeat what they had just done. For Option 2, these folks had already gone through several weeks of speed specific training so there was certainly no need to rehash a big block of speed again for a marathon. We could get them into a 12 week marathon specific plan and they’d be in great shape come fall.
As you can see, we can break up and take modified versions of the classic schedules (but still on point with the philosophy) and create a long term approach to fitness building and personal bet running.
Where do I fit a training segment for shorter races in? Or build my base?
A common question, which we began addressing above. I would further say that it depends a little bit on where you are from. We coach a lot of people in the midwest and down south. It might as well be above the arctic circle and at the equator as far as geography. What’s the point? Well, my midwest folks do well with a different running calendar than my friends in say, Florida. Here, while summer is warm, it’s not typically oppressive like it is down south. We can get away with starting our fall marathon training in June or July. Meanwhile, my southern athletes will typically just let summer be a base building period or maybe a shorter race segment. They typically don’t even want to start thinking about training for a marathon until late September.
What if I want to run more? What about less?
Absolutely. While I really want to get you to handle mileage and workouts, we have to be smart about it! We have versions of the classic plans that are written on the philosophy but scaled down to longer segments (up to 24 weeks) with less mileage (about 40 miles per week). We also have extrapolated to shorter segments that are 12-16 weeks long, but with mileage anywhere from 70 to 100+ miles per week at peak.
I really need more recovery between workouts, but want to keep a high level of training; what can I do?
Along the same lines as above, we’ve also created plans that provide more recovery days in between. Right now we have examples of the classic marathon plans that are built around a 9 day training cycle and include one day off. What that means is you have a schedule that looks something like this:
- Day 1: Long run
- Day 2: Easy
- Day 3: Easy
- Day 4: Workout
- Day 5: Off or Easy
- Day 6: Easy
- Day 7: Workout
- Day 8: Easy
- Day 9: Easy, reset the cycle
We are also currently devising plans that will still be on a traditional 7 day cycle, but with 2 SOS days per week, instead of three.
Do you have plans to help me with these?
Heck yes we do! We currently have over 40 training plans that can be downloaded right into a dynamic training plan. These plans notify you nightly of upcoming workouts. Easily move days around to fit your personal schedule with the drag and drop feature. Sync your Garmin to the training log so your training log is always updated. SEARCH THE PLANS
Want to pick the brains of the HCS coaching staff and hear what your running buds are doing with the Hanson’s training methods?
When I started HCS in May of 2006, our goal was to simply be there for the people who were using Kevin and Keith’s marathon training plans..
Check out our Video / Podcast we made from this post!
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From our closed Facebook Community:
Sasha: I would like to know if/how Hansons training addresses different pace work such as VO2Max, etc. The 5k-10k Pace work isn’t fast enough for VO2Max, and I’ve found great adaptions to occur at 3k Pace. Is that something that could be added, and is it added in custom training and/or amongst Hanson’s elite?
This is a question we get a fair amount. It’s also a source of misconception with our naysayers. With that, there’s a number of components that we should look at when answering the main question here.
What population are you working with?
With the majority of people we are working with they are going to get the vast majority of aerobic fitness by the peripheral benefits of easy to moderate running. Even marathon pace is a highly aerobic event. Plus, the majority of people who are using the program are taking their training to a new level and the addition of very fast running will only create an additional stress that they may or may not be able to recover from. As a coach with a program meant for large groups, it’s not a good addition to expect everyone to tolerate. To me, this is something that a coach working with an individual would add.
What is the goal of our training cycle?
The goal of our marathon program isn’t to improve your VO2max. It’s been shown time and time again that VO2max is not a good predictor of race performance, especially the marathon. So, in our case, VO2max will improve as a byproduct of the training, not because we emphasized it. You also have to look at where you fit that type of training. You won’t put it early in the segment as that can cause acidosis. It also doesn’t make sense because the body might not to be able to withstand that intensity, even in short bouts. I’m also not going to put it at the end, when I am trying to be as race specific as possible.
The 3-2 rule revisited
Even after what I just wrote in the last two sections, I do think there is a place for everything. If you have read the book and my posts, you know I don’t like people just racing marathon after marathon. We have what we call the 3-2 rule, which is simply three marathons to every two years. Now that is probably really painful for people to hear, and depending on the person, you may be able to sneak it up to 2 marathons per year. However, this is one of the main reasons why. If we are always in a marathon training mode, we either have to force training that might not be good timing (or force us to miss on the stuff we really need), or we take a dedicated segment every now and then and use it to challenge ourselves in a new way. This could be building our mileage, improving our top end speed, adding strength training. Personally, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s not the same training over and over.
So with that said, would I add? Not in a general setting where I am already making a ton of assumptions about you. However, working on an individual level, we would work all facets of training into your big picture of training when we can put it in the appropriate place!
Check out our Video of this post below!
Watch the video or listen to the podcast below!
Check out our Video / Podcast we made from this post!
Mileage is always a big topic of discussion with runners, almost a badge of honor for some runners. For newer runners, the questions usually revolve around increasing mileage safely but quickly (sometimes just quickly) while with more advanced runners, the questions might be centered more around how much mileage is enough. What I’d like to do is offer up some thoughts on common “rules” and give you some ideas to think about when you start looking at your own training volume.
The most popular method of increasing mileage, by far, is the 10% rule
The most popular method of increasing mileage, by far, is the 10% rule. A quick Google search on “increasing running mileage” will show you numerous articles. This has come under some criticism- just read those above mentioned articles. It certainly is a pretty conservative approach, especially with newbies and general low mileage runners. For instance, if you run 10 miles your first week of running, then this rule says that the most you can add is 1 mile. The practicality of that isn’t necessarily high. You might have a variance of 2-3 miles without even trying.
Another theory comes from the ever famous Daniels Running Formula which Dr Daniels writes about adding no more than one mile per run per week. For instance, if you run 4 times per week, then add no more than 4 miles the next week. This proposal is seemingly scalable, as many competitive runners will run 10 plus runs in a week and that would probably be about a 10% increase in mileage. So, for lower mirage runners, the amount you can increase may be more like 15-20%. This makes sense because adding even a small amount of total weekly mileage in low volume runners will tend to be higher than the very conservative 10% rule.
What’s best way to approach? Well, for lower mileage runners the 10% rule is probably to conservative. To be honest, at that rate of increase, you’ll spend all summer just trying to get to a decent weekly volume. For higher mileage runners, there’s probably not going to be much difference between the two philosophies. And, for these folks, your concerns probably lie in other areas- which we will discuss later. The following are things that I would consider when deciding on your approach.
Things to consider when discussing volume/mileage
- Maximize your current level before making a jump. It takes 4-6 weeks for the body to adjust to a new training stress, so don’t jump to another training stress until you’ve gained what you can out of the current training stress. If you can still adapt at a lower training level, then why not? Otherwise, you have the risk of jumping up too much too quickly and getting injured.
One of the most common issues I see with beginning runners or runners trying to make a big jump in training is that they were feeling great and then, BOOM! They got a tendonitis or a stress fracture. What we tend to neglect is that our cardiorespiratory fitness can increase quite rapidly, within a couple weeks. However, things like bone and tendon take much longer to catch up. So, if we jump up too much, despite the increase in fitness, we end up sidelined. That is why I say to not really jump up a little bit every week, rather increase a moderate amount every 4ish weeks and then stay there. It won’t be as slow of a buildup as the 10% rule, but not so fast that the body can’t adjust. Running more mileage is only good if you can do it consistently!
2. Focus on endurance before intensity: In general fitness we look at the acronym FITT which represents frequency of exercise, intensity of exercise, amount of time exercising, and type of exercise. When we begin increasing mileage, we are potentially adjusting all four of these variables. If we add a day to our routine, we automatically are adding more time that we are engaging in a certain type of exercise. As you can see, the odd man out here is intensity. If you try to increase or change all the variables at once, something is going to have to give.
There are times where you will be increasing mileage and doing workouts at the same time. The key here is that you aren’t making major jumps in training when trying to do both. Ultimately this comes back to thoughts on our philosophy where you train at a moderate level of mileage most of the time, which minimizes big swings in training stress for extended periods of time. I believe it also goes back appropriate paces. If we start cheating paces down because we feel good, we ultimately run ourselves down and become, at the least, overtrained, but at the most, sick and injured. Lastly, it makes it crucial to not get caught up in cycle after cycle of training for the same distance. While the traditional base period may be falling out of favor, it’s a perfect time to give yourself a block of 6-8 weeks to focus solely on building to new mileage. By making some type of compromise I believe the road to your eventual goal will ultimately shorten.
- Use cross training as a transition, not a replacement. Many people look at the training plans in Hansons Marathon Method and Hansons Half Marathon Method and view us as anti cross training. This is simply not the case, rather I truly feel that in the case of increasing mileage, cross training should be supplementary and not a replacement for running.
For example, let’s say you are following a program that has you running three days per week, what are you doing the other four days? Your first step should be to make sure you are cross training at least a few of the other days. From there, you start replacing a cross training day with a running day (we’ll talk about days over adding to current runs later).
Personally, if you are using our training philosophy, I’d like to see you build to at least five running days per week. If you are more of a 5k to 10k runner, you can probably do alright with 3-5 days, but once you start getting to that half marathon distance and up, you really should try to build up to more than 5 days of running per week. I have gotten plenty of backlash over that, which is fine, but this isn’t the place for an argument. I would just encourage you to look at our posts on philosophy and training components to see where our theory comes from. I will just say, that if you are low mileage, allow yourself even more time to prepare for a race so that you can still get all the work you’ll need to in order to be ready.
- Do I add to my current runs or add days to my week? This is a question we will get a lot. My basic thought is that a run should be at least 30 minutes in length. So for most people we work with, that’s a 3-5 mile run. Adding about 5 miles per week is pretty common under the systems we have talked about, but the duration of that 5 miles is what will be the differential. So, if you are running about 10 minute pace, you might be better off adding a 3 mile run and then 1-2 miles onto another run or across two runs. Or, maybe you aren’t currently at 30 minute runs? Spread the mileage across the week to get those runs up to that 30 minute mark. Also, when I am adding mileage, I am talking about adding easy mileage before adding mileage to workouts and long runs. Using this, I’d follow the process until getting to the desired days per week you want to run. After that, you can start adjusting other variables within your harder efforts.
- Give yourself enough time at a training level. We touched on this a little bit, but allowing yourself adequate time to fully adjust to a new training level. Now, if you are following the 10% rule, then you can go a few weeks in a row of increasing your mileage, but on that third week, you may want to consider staying put for a couple weeks before making another jump.
With really small jumps it’s probably OK to make continual jumps- to a point. What I personally don’t like is that you now have to guess when a you’ve made a big enough jump. That’s why I like to keep it clean and clear cut- make a moderate jump, then stay put. This allows your body to completely adjust to the mileage. As we mentioned, your cardiovascular system will adapt pretty quick and you’ll have the urge to make another jump, but I urge you to fight that urge if you are venturing into new mileage territory. Give your bones, tendons, and musculature plenty of time to adapt to the increased stress.
Non-beginner situations: so far, we have really just discussed ideas for runners who are trying to get their mileage up to a point where the need to be, in order to compete at the level they want. There are other scenarios where we discuss building back to a previous level and most of that is when we are coming back from being sick or injured. We have discussed that in pretty decent detail in our Dealing with Injury and Illness video, so I won’t go back into it now. For me there are two scenarios where we can discuss mileage in a setting where the goal isn’t to establsh a higher training baseline.
Coming back from planned downtime. This is pretty common- especially if you use our training. For the marathon, we prescribe pretty lengthy downtimes, usually 10 days to 2 weeks. For shorter races, generally, you can expect less down time depending on the runners situation. Here’s how I would handle building back:
For 5-7 days of planned downtime (still healthy)
- First week: 50-60% of peak mileage, spread over several days, but giving yourself 1-2 off days during the week. All easy mileage.
- Second week: 70-80% of peak mileage, but keeping it easy, with 1 (maybe 2) off days and a longer run.
- 3rd week: 80-90% of peak goal mileage with a long run and one light workout- usually a progression run (or cutdown run, depending on your terminology)
- 4th week: 90% of peak goal mileage and a light track workout (8-12×400’s for example) and a long run.
- 5th week: resume normal training.
For 10-14 days of planned downtime (still healthy)
- First week: Every other day of 30-45 minutes easy running
- 2nd week: Five days of 45-60 minutes easy running
- 3rd week: 5-7 days of running, making sure at 60-70% of average mileage, including a longer run
- 4th week: 5-7 days of easy running, totaling 80% of usual volume including a longer run and either light 400’s on the track or a cutdown, followed by a weekend longer run
- 5th week: Same as the 4th week, just alternating what workout I did the previous week. Volume may be 80-90% of goal volume
- 6th week: Begin training for next event.
How much is enough mileage? This isn’t something I see discussed a ton, but it is an important topic. A couple of recent examples on our Facebook group and local runners that got me thinking more about this.
First, let’s preface this with a case studies of a runner who has followed a common path that started with simply following the Advanced Marathon Plan in the book. Our first athlete, Dave, came to me when he was in his early 40’s. He ran in high school but hadn’t run in decades. He followed the basic plan and ran his first marathon. If I recall correctly, he was right around 3 hours, a little north of three. From there, we’ve been gradually increasing his mileage and tweaking his training. Now, a few years later, David averages about 75 miles per week when training for a marathon and run 2:45 in the marathon. In a perfect world, David would run more, but he’s a crazy busy business man, husband, and father of teenagers. Every time we try to do more, David breaks down or gets sick. His schedule just doesn’t allow it. Instead, we try to focus more on details like strides, stretching, some strength, and diet. We’ve maxed out the mileage and turned towards the other facets of training.
Now, there’s another runner who is a local guy. I don’t coach him, but have watched him train for a number of years through our local group runs and workouts. He’s a couple years older and trains a lot more than David. I know this runner will hit 100 mile weeks on a regular basis during the marathon training blocks. I watch this runner and it almost hurts me. He is hunched over with a very weak core and his stride is very short and quick with no hip extension. I’m not trying to pick on this runner, but this is what got me thinking. In his particular case, the 100 mile weeks aren’t improving his ability anymore. Personally, what I would do is back off the mileage, take a block of time and focus on strengthening his core and improve his form through fixing muscle imbalances.
What’s the point of this comparison?
It’s really to show you that early on, we will improve just by running more mileage. However, eventually we will get to a point where more mileage isn’t going to yield results (the idea of diminishing returns). Now, don’t take this as contraindication to running moderate to high mileage, rather your body, your work and your family schedule will reach a breaking point. You probably can’t do much about the last two, but you can work on body weaknesses.
With that said, there is no perfect answer for mileage. In the books we lay out some guidelines for runners to gauge their ability to what their level of expertise is.
There’s a couple ways to look at this. The first being that if you want to run to compete in age groups, win local races, etc, then you’ll probably have to run more than 30 miles per week. You can use it as a guide to build to. On the other hand if you are cranking out a ton of mileage and aren’t performing at the level you’d like to, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate your approach. Obviously this is an extremely simplified way to look at things, but at least can be a starting point for you. It also goes back to what we discussed earlier- maximize where you are at first before making a big jump. This can include those supplemental components, as well.
So there you have it, some general thoughts on increasing your mileage safely, but not taking forever to get to a desired weekly volume. Hopefully, this will guide you as you think about where you are and where you want to take your running.
Check out our Video of this post below!
I’ve read a lot of books about training and everyone talks about “periodization.” For those that don’t know the term, it’s essentially a roadmap to your goal race. It is usually blocked off in chunks of training labeled base, precompetitive, and then competitive. The basic premise is that you build mileage and then insert intensity. As you begin to approach the race, or racing season, the volume decreases and the intensity decreases.
The general problem I’ve always thought about was that when I read about periodization, it’s typically centered around high school or college athlete…
The general problem I’ve always thought about was that when I read about periodization, it’s typically centered around high school or college athlete who typically has 2 or 3 set seasons. Summer is cross country prep, with fall being cross country season. Then winter serves as a base building segment and track prep, with spring and early summer being track seasons. These are typically great and for a long time would even work for athletes training for marathons. However, now there are races all the time, so does a traditional periodization method work? And does it work those running races like the marathon and half marathon?
The Linear Periodization model is typically what we see in athletes. This ok for those racing shorter distances because their races are intense, so the work that they are doing is race specific. For those racing longer distances, we don’t necessarily want more intense work when our race may not even be approaching our lactate threshold. What do we do then?
Above is the idea of a funnel periodization and I like the idea of this much better for all race distances because we are removing the idea of simply doing more intense work and replacing it with race specific speed and endurance. In this chart, the dashed line is the volume and that’s what the High and Low is referring to on the right, not high General Speed and low General Endurance. It took me a second, too! Essentially, the top line for speed starts out as general and works towards specific, while endurance starts at general endurance and works towards specific. When you look at our training plans, you’ll see that this is the general model that we follow.
Traditionally, training segments were designed for 2 or 3 major races (or racing blocks for shorter races). For instance it might be regionals and state final in cross country, and then state finals for indoor and/or outdoor track. Where many adults run into problems is they want to race at a high level several times per year. I think for many of us we should address several issues with periodization and racing in a practical sense
- How long do racing segments really need to be?
- What do I need each training block to consist of?
- What happens when I race the same distance continuously?
- Is it realistic to expect high levels of performance all the time?
- Racing during times of non-peak fitness- should I?
Length of race segments
There’s a lot to deciding on a race segment, regardless of race distance. If you have read any of our work on philosophy then you know that we talk a lot about moderate mileage and balance in training. This is for more than just punishing my athletes! Rather, if we are in relatively good shape the majority of the time, the we drastically reduce the time we need to prepare specifically for any race distance. Now, on the other hand, when we are habitually low mileage and/or focus on one aspect of training for too long, then you’ll need a much longer time to shift gears to sufficiently prepare for a race. Now, there’s nothing wrong if that’s your style, but it simply affects how you can prepare for a different race. I will say this, though, that if you train for marathons then your time needed to come down for a 5k will be much shorter than if it’s the other way around.
|5k/10k Training||low mileage/single focused||moderate/balanced|
|beginner||12-14 weeks||12 weeks|
|recreational||10-12 weeks||10-12 weeks|
|competitive||10-12 weeks||8-10 weeks|
|Half Marathon Training||Low mileage/single focused||Moderate/balanced|
|Beginner||18+ Weeks||14-18 weeks|
|Recreational||16-18 Weeks||12-14 weeks|
|Competitive||12-14 Weeks||10-12 Weeks|
|Marathon Training||Low Mileage/Single Focused||Moderate/Balanced|
|Beginner||18-24 weeks||18 Weeks|
|Recreational||16-18 Weeks||14-18 Weeks|
|Competitive||14-16 Weeks||12-14 Weeks|
What should my training block consist of?
With our marathoners, we’ve discussed in depth the pillars of our training: balance, consistency, moderate to high mileage, appropriate paces, and active recovery. Without one of these the whole philosophy begins to crumble. These pillars are not just for the marathoners but are applicable to all racing events.
The point is that no matter the race distance, balance is key- meaning that speed, strength, tempo, long runs and easy days are all important. Now, these may be tweaked in terms of placement and race specific intensities, but no single component should be neglected during training. I feel this is especially true for anyone not in a specialization setting (high school or college track team for example).
What happens when I race the same distance continuously?
For starters, refer above to what we just discussed. What happens when a person races the same distance over and over is that they will often become stagnant and plateau. The reasoning is because many times they simply lose balance in training and certain components become ignored for months on end. For example, if all you do is 5k races, chances are you’ll avoid doing any work at marathon pace or anything really between an easy pace and lactate threshold. The problem is that you really aren’t providing any stress at a “high aerobic” level and limit the growth of your aerobic foundation. Instead, you may be trying to pull your fitness up by only trying to improve your VO2max and top end speed. As you will hear me preach, both of those (the peak of your fitness house) will ultimately be limited by the aerobic foundation of your fitness house. The opposite can be said for folks who only run marathons. If you find yourself doing this it may be time to consider what you are lacking and break your typical training with a segment that works on those weaknesses. Then, in the future, make sure you incorporate that balance and avoid having to fall into that situation again.
Is it realistic to expect high levels of performance all the time?
In short, no. I mean that in the nicest way, too. What I will see is athletes put way too much pressure on themselves to be at peak form at all times. That’s just a tough spot to put yourself in when trying to commit to being the best runner possible. If you are segmenting your training right you just won’t be in a position to run Personal bests all the time.
So then you’ll need to ask yourself the question, “why am I running this race?” Then you’ll need to follow that with “Am I ok if the results aren’t what I’m accustomed to?” If your big picture goal is, let’s say, qualify for Boston, then is running this race going to help or hinder that? If the answer is hinder, then I’d probably pass on it. As for the question about results, I am all for doing a test run, but if I am training for a marathon then I shouldn’t expect to run a great 5k when I’m knee deep in marathon pace training. Just like our training, our races should have purpose- at least when a bigger goal is in mind.
Should I race during my non-peak fitness?
There are sometimes when racing is just not a good idea and others when it can be beneficial. When coming back from a big goal race you want to make sure you are recovered (time off) and have given yourself several weeks to return to not only running, but also workouts.
When looking at the funnel style of periodization, that leaves the middle to the later portions of the training to race. Your weekly volume and the race that you are training for will determine what races should be appropriate.
For instance, let’s say you are brand new to running and want to run a marathon. I wouldn’t recommend just training for the marathon without any race experience. So, while building your general fitness it wouldn’t be a bad idea to run progressively longer races spread out over several months of your goal marathon buildup. In this situation our goal isn’t to necessarily run fast but rather have checkpoints along the way. This way your first race experience won’t be a 26.2 mile crash course in racing.
As for shorter races, there’s a number of things to consider. For those racing the 5k and 10k distances, a race can fit in nicely as a tune up or even a workout. During general fitness building, let’s say 6-8 weeks out from your peak race, a 10k might be good race because it will allow for a tempo (Lactate Threshold) workout and will also give you a chance to see where your fitness is currently at.
From there, if you are planning on going after a 10k peak race, I would consider a 5k race 2-3 weeks before your first big attempt. When you go after that peak 10k effort, you will probably really have about two good chances in the 3-4 weeks of tapering. Some people might be able to sneak that out to six weeks, but after that you really run the risk of getting burnt out, stale, and seeing decreases in performances. As for the 5k, it’s a little tougher but a 1 mile or 2 mile effort would be great about 2-3 weeks before your peak effort. Then you can follow similar guidelines as we just discussed for the 10k, just replace 10k races with 5k races.
For races like the half marathon, a 10k effort 3-4 weeks out will serve as a good test. Running at faster than goal half marathon pace should make your goal half marathon pace feel a little more comfortable. Leading up to the half marathon, you’ll probably be doing plenty of threshold runs, so races that will take you 15-30 minutes of hard running can be inserted into training during the buildup to replace the redundancy of workouts.
There’s a couple points to consider when planning all this out:
The first is that only do the races if you are ok with not being in peak form. Understand what the goal is for each race you are doing. These should aid in building confidence, not deflating it. The second is that you really have to be careful with racing too much during the segment. For me, the main reason is that if you start replacing all your workouts with 5k races on the weekend then you start the practice of surviving the week to get the race. At that point you stop building fitness and end up just holding on until the end of the segment- if you make it that long without getting injured.
Hopefully, this has shed a little light on our training systems throughout the racing distances and what makes the wheels upstairs turn a little bit!
How many times have we put ourselves, or even worse- has our coach, through a tough workout that left our poor muscles just shredded? If you’re like I used to be, then you may have been reaching for a couple of the over-the-counter anti inflammatory capsules. Was that the best thing for us?
Researchers from Norway, New Zealand, and Australia teamed up to look at blood markers of inflammation and muscle damage post exercise. They also looked at the effects of white blood cell infiltration after taking traditional oral ibuprofen. In the following 24 hours after exercise there was no effect on any of these measures, including the subjects own perception of soreness.
The take-away: We’ve talked before about the body needing to be put under stress in order to adapt to that stress. It appears that ibuprofen may not do much in terms of the acute damage, but you also want to avoid just taking even over the counter pills. Save the medications for when you really need them.
What you can do instead: While taking a couple pills is easy, there’s still some pretty simple things you can do to encourage proper recovery without wasting an opportunity to promote precious fitness adaptations.
- Refuel: Have snacks prepared for post workouts. Carbohydrate will replenish depleted stores and protein will halt current muscle breakdown and promote muscle growth and repair over the long term.
- Rehydrate: Begin rehydrating almost immediately and continue drinking regularly throughout the day. This can be water with electrolytes, or even small amounts of sports drinks for right after your workout. I don’t recommend sports drinks all day, but right after a workout is a perfect time.
- Rest: This one is tough for most people. If you can’t sneak a nap in, wear compression garments for a few hours post workout. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep, though.
One of the criticisms I have seen against the Hansons Marathon Method is that the speed work is in beginning of the training segment because speedwork causes what is known as acidosis. I addressed the question a little bit in the second edition of Hansons Marathon Method. In that discussion, I argued that the speedwork that we are talking about is speed, relative to the marathon. What I mean is that us doing speedwork at 10k pace is fast, when compared to marathon pace. If we were training for a 5k, then no, that same speedwork would actually resemble threshold work. I also argued that doing it early allows us to put the primary focus on marathon pace as the last several weeks approach, a time where the effort needs to be as race specific as possible. In short, I don’t think that the speed work that we are performing creates acidosis at all.
- Benefits of Sprinting!
So why bring this up again? I hadn’t planned on it until I came across some articles as I was researching another topic for an athlete. And, since I think it’s always good to have a complete argument, I figured it’s a good time to add to this discussion- even if it’s just me talking to the wind!
Ok, acidosis has been traditionally thought to hurt aerobic development because of things like lowering the blood pH, which would hinder aerobic adaptations. In this case we are talking about peripheral adaptations- enzyme activity, mitochondrial development, etc. However, what we know is that acidosis is only truly a threat if a) you are running above 100% [email protected] and b) spending a lot of time during a session/week at paces of VO2max. This is the basis of my argument. However, what if we did spend time above VO2max? Would it hurt our aerobic development? This is where the articles I re-discovered come into play.
First, let’s discuss what we are essentially talking about: sprinting, simple as that. Some people will call it High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT, which is… sprinting. More specifically, I am referring to repeated bouts of 30 seconds of sprinting in bouts of 4-6 efforts with near full recovery between each and done 2-3 times per week. This is important, because if you are training for a 5k, you might see workouts like 8×600 meters or 8×800 meters at mile pace (or faster) and these are very fast and for 60-90 seconds for fast runners, longer for slower runners. Those are workouts and the 4-6 reps of 30 seconds is a supplement to a run. Extended strides, per say. I think that is key to the whole argument.
So, where’s the proof? I linked a couple of good reads at the bottom of this and you should check them out. These both include references to several studies of interest. The end result is this- In a pretty short amount of time (6-10 weeks) runners of varying abilities performed 4-6 reps of 30 second strides over 2-3 times per week. They found significant improvements in VO2max via peripheral components (with no significant change in central adaptations like heart rate). These are the very same adaptations that we thought would be the victim of acidosis if we engaged in sprinting activities! If we control the length of time and the number of times per week, we not only will avoid hurting our aerobic development, we can:
- improve neuromuscular connectivity
- improve strength
- improve general endurance
- improve VO2max
- improve overall speed
As I mentioned, the 30 seconds is key. The 2-3 times per week is key here too. You won’t see the Hansons Marathon Method convert to a HIIT model anytime soon, but there are some serious practical applications for this.
The marathon/half marathon:
- If you already do strides, try bumping the duration up to 30 seconds from 10-15 currently.
- Try only once per week to start. This in combination of other SOS workouts is a significant amount of work.
- If you don’t do strides, start with short 10 second strides and build to 30 seconds over several weeks.
- I view this as a long term and continual process, so at first it might take longer to see results, but give them time.
- Here, you might actually do more sprints in the beginning and trail off as you progress in your season
- With these races, you will actually start training at slower paces and build your actual workouts to a slightly less volume, but greater intensity as you close in on the goal race. This would reduce the need for doing longer sprints more often as workouts, so no need to go beyond 1-2x per week.
- Lower mileage athletes may benefit greatly from being able to incorporate sprints into their week.
- Another scenario is having a shortened training segment. Let’s say you had something where you took enough time off to lose a little fitness. You are healthy now, but the calendar isn’t cooperating. If you have been doing sprints, you can begin again, and maybe shorten that window needed to regain most of your fitness. I only think this is a safe option if it’s something you’ve done. I don’t condone starting your sprints fresh off a running injury…
- Start with 1-2x per week and build to 2-3x per week when you aren’t in full training mode.
- As your workload increases, I would recommend backing down to once per week of 4-6 30 second reps with full recovery. Otherwise, I think a good thing can be overdone.
- Personally, I would do on a second easy day. So, if you do SOS on Tuesday and Thursday, then I’d do on Saturday before the Sunday long run. Expect to be sore when you first start as you may be finding muscles that have been MIA for awhile.