Friday, October 19, 2012

How long should your long runs be, if you want to be fast?

This post is an attempt to summarize my training philosophy toward middle distances.

I recently read an interview of Tirunesh Dibaba, three-time Olympic gold medalist (two in the 10,000 and one in the 5,000), in Running Times. The interviewer asked her how long her longest runs were.

Her answer? 90 minutes.

This is a woman who can run 14:11 in the 5,000 and sub-30 in the 10,000, and she never runs longer than an hour and a half. That's a profound thought for anyone who trains over 50 miles a week and can't break 19 in the 5K.

Of course, she has extreme talent, but the fact is, if you want to get fast, you have to run fast consistently.  7-9 hours a week is more than enough if you're looking to maximize your potential in sub-marathon distances, but you need specificity consistently over a long period of time if you want to get fast.  Aerobic fitness is a critical and basic step to developing speed later, but there is a seriously decreasing marginal utility to that kind of training if you've been doing it for a long time. 

Would a six-month Lydiard base period of 15-20 hour weeks help you realize your potential? Of course, but it's not going to make you all that fast unless you do something specific with it later. Period.

I've read lots about Lydiard, Canova, Maffetone and others. But, by far, the biggest influence on my training philosophy toward middle distance is my first running coach, Doug Bell -- badass masters runner and overall great guy.

Doug's philosophy is simple, but it's also profound, and I might say it's particularly meaningful the older you get. Doug does about 8-10 hard workouts a month, including races, and he makes sure to fully recover between those workouts. Once you have a base, the point of training is to maximize the effectiveness of your workouts. Any other stress is simply counterproductive, because it impedes the supercompensation cycle. Even when he was a 14:30 masters 5K guy, you'd rarely see him running much faster than 8-minute pace on his easy days. He does intense workouts consistently, probably 11 months a year, and over the course of many years that has enabled him to become one of the best age group competitors in the world. 

That's it. So, if you're currently an 18:30 5K runner (that's probably where I am right now, if I'm lucky), and you want to get faster, your easy days should be closer to 9-minute miles than 8-minute miles, and they certainly shouldn't be in the 7s. But, that said, you gotta bring it to your workouts.

In conclusion, if you want to get fast, your long runs don't need to be that long. If 80-90 minutes is long enough for a three-time Olympic gold medalist, and 50 miles a week is good enough for one of the world's best age-group competitors, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's long enough for the rest of us, too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

16:59, 35:59, 1:19, 2:49

I've read that publishing your goals publicly improves the likelihood that you'll accomplish them.

So there you go: 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and Marathon goals, respectively, for 2013.

I can't emphasize enough how far from these goals I am right now. I struggled to run 40 miles last week, and I've lost a lot of fitness in the last two and a half months. But I've got 15 months to get there, and, assuming I get healthy between now and December, I plan to do -- consistently -- real workouts throughout 2013 (as opposed to just lots of aerobic running), which is something I haven't done in 16 years. I'm hopeful that this will produce real results.

If anyone is out there on the interwebs and has an interest in joining me for some of these harder-intensity runs, let me know. It'll be a few months yet, but it's always good to have someone pushing you when you're trying to run hard.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Running again/future goals

I haven't posted in awhile, because I've already spilled far too much digital ink over the past 10 months blogging about injuries.  Suffice it to say that after Leadville, I was not able to run. But I was in no particular rush to get back to things, so it wasn't a huge deal. I did some cross training and a whole lot of walking, but the few attempts I made to run, even just a couple of miles, were unsuccessful.

Last week, I ran about 20 miles, which is more than I ran cumulatively between Leadville and last week. It felt good to get out there, even if it's just for a few miles a day around the park.  I do love running.  For the rest of 2012, my only goal is to return to full health and progress back to 60-80 miles a week. I don't plan to do any racing of any distance. Perhaps a fatass or two if I feel good by wintertime, but nothing else.

But, like most runners, once I get back at it, I start to ruminate on potential goals. While I have no intention to return to ultras anytime soon (though I'm sure I will at some stage), I am eager to see what I can do in shorter distances now that I've returned to some level of fitness.

To the extent that I have any talent in running, I think it's in middle distance. I started running when I was 11, and I was a borderline national class miler at 13. But by the time I reached physical maturity, I was already burned out on the sport. I regularly ran low 16s for 5K and low 27s for 8K in high school and in college (DIII), but I was notorious about skipping workouts, drinking the night before meets, and generally not focusing as I should have.

Those days are gone and never to return, but the prospect of getting in shape and hammering the Cherry Creek Sneak and races of that ilk sounds fun to me right now. And since I'm never going to be anything other than a weekend warrior, I figure I might as well do what sounds fun, right?

I don't know if I'll ever recover the speed I had as a young whippersnapper, but I want to try.  I ran low 16s as an 18 year old on 40-50 miles a week with horrible training habits. Is it inconceivable that I could run sub-16 as a 35 year old on 70 miles a week?

I don't know. But I intend to find out.