If, like me, you read books and magazines about running, it seems just about the most universally-accepted truism of training is “THE WEEKLY LONG RUN!” to gradually stretch your time and distance.
Always the eager student, I hopped right on board that strategy – shorter workouts during the week which each focus on speed or tempo or intervals or something, then a long relatively slow run (usually on the weekend because those of us who have lives outside our running shoes only have the time then…) – and agree it works, but with an important caveat that I suspect may apply to lots of other MPRs:
A couple of years ago I decided to try for a particular time in an October marathon. Being an MPR, I was looking at a high level of effort for quite a few hours, and so set out to follow the plans I’d read; gradually lengthening my long runs about ten percent each week, and it did work – up to a point.
But once that long run got around three hours, I found myself hitting the wall every week. Instead of feeling my endurance build, I just found the runs getting harder and harder, and my pace in the latter part of each one dropping farther and farther. It was painful and disheartening, as I imagined that goal time slipping out of reach.
That discouragement may be why, when family commitments made it difficult to fit a long run in one weekend, I let my commitment slide and skipped it, despite the conviction that I’d lose even more of whatever little edge I’d managed to build. To my surprise (though maybe not yours…) when I did my next biggie at a two week interval, I found not only had I not lost the conditioning I’d worked so hard to build, but that long run felt better than any of the other recent ones.
In hindsight it’s clear what was going on: for this particular MPR, at that age and level of effort, one week was simply not sufficient time for biological recovery from an extended effort. I had been going into each weekly run still tired and depleted from the last one, and paying the price.
From then on I began alternating weekly long runs with more moderate ones, though since I was doing a two week cycle but still living in a 52 wk. year, I further departed from what I’d read. Instead of 10% pushes, the difference between one long run and the progressively longer one two weeks later was more like half an hour (or three miles).
So am I recommending that two week cycle for anyone else? Not really, just offering it as an example of how to use all running advice.
Read, talk, hear what the experts have to say. Then try it out – carefully and gradually, and if it doesn’t seem to work for you, try something different. (As a matter of fact, I’ve recently moved even farther from the big weekly, but more about that another time).
Make your running your own; no one is else is just like you, so your running life may not be just like anyone else’s, and that itself is actually one more of the many things I love about this sport – it can help each of us become even more our own particular (or maybe peculiar?) self.
And that is a goal worth training for!