True Life: I used to be a high mileage runner
|July 28, 2011||Posted by Lauren under Marathon Training, Running|
This is a post I’ve been thinking about writing for quite some time. I keep putting it off, though, because I’m never sure the right way to talk about this without sounding preachy…or boring. But when I got this comment from Katie yesterday, I knew it was time to just put my thoughts out there. (Katie, on the other hand, probably has no idea what she unintentionally started with that comment…)
I get on an ego kick and knock out a lot of miles in a week, and realize its way more mileage than what my training guide calls for. This makes me think I need to tone it down a lot, but then I read blogs by far more seasoned runners (such as yours) and I think “well if they are cover 45 miles during week 2 of marathon training, my 26 miles at week 2 is NOTHING!”
So today I want to talk about mileage. Specifically, running a lot of miles during marathon training.
If you had asked me several years ago what I thought was the number one best way to get faster in the marathon, my answer would have been simple: run more miles. After all, the only thing I did between my first and second marathons to take 20 minutes off my time and qualify for Boston was just to run more. Yes, it’s possible that I ran faster in training (but these were prior to my Garmin-wearing, pace-obsessed days, so I can’t be sure), but I didn’t do any speed work or pace runs or anything. I just ran…. a lot.
Because for most of my life, that seemed like the natural thing to do. All the runners I admired ran really high miles. And when I made the switch from high school cross country/track to college cross country/track, one of the big things we did differently was just to run…a whole lot more.
I have to admit, this made me feel pretty awesome. Once you start running upwards of 60 miles/week, you start to feel pretty hardcore. Weekly mileage became a badge of honor, of sorts, and I loved the feeling of going out for “just” a quick 10-mile mid-week run.
The problem was, even though my mind thrived off that schedule, my body did not. Throughout my running career, I spent a lot of time injured. Part of this was probably due to the inexperience of high school coaches and my changing body. But a lot of it was my own fault – jumping in quickly to high mileage, or trying to sustain a much more intense schedule than my body could handle. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to realize this. I’m stubborn, remember? And sometimes I can be a little slow on the uptake.
So, when my senior year of cross country ended and I found myself without any real running goals for the first time in my life, it seemed like the natural next step would be to train for a spring marathon. That winter, I found an intense training plan that focused on running a lot of miles…and dove right in.
From the first week of training, I loved it. I had never cared much for the fast track workouts or pressure of short races, but running long suited me. I felt at peace out there on the roads, running along at a comfortable pace. And I got a thrill from running as many miles in a week as I could.
But, as you can probably guess, my excitement was short-lived. I had jumped in too quickly, and ended up aggravating an old piriformis/sciatic injury, one that had sidelined me for an entire season of winter track in high school. Not wanting to mess around with nerve pain (and not having had the guts to actually register for a marathon at that point) I called the training off.
Fast forward to the next winter. I was living in Boston with two of my best friends from college and we all had decided to train for a spring marathon. My roommates were newer to running than I was, and both decided to follow a basic Hal Higdon plan. Not me, though. No, I was an experienced runner. I couldn’t start off with that low mileage…or run such few days per week. Not if I wanted to do well, anyway. So again, I selected a plan with really high mileage. And I loved it. When I completed my first of many scheduled 20-mile runs, I was on top of the world.
…until I got injured, that is. This time it was a severe case of shin splints, an injury I had struggled with periodically during my entire running career. Being stupid (my experience not listening to my body and my post about how not to avoid injury are for another day), I pushed through it, until it became unbearable to run. I’m pretty sure there must have been at least one stress fracture in there, because after a month straight of cross-training, the pain hadn’t completely disappeared.
My two smart runner friends, on the other hand, successfully completed their training without injury, and toed the lines of the spring marathon in one piece. While I also ended up making it to my own starting line, it was through the use of some slightly controversial methods that I won’t go into at the moment (Nothing illegal – geez!! But you wanna hear the story of my first marathon and how I couldn’t run for months afterward?? Maybe someday I’ll tell you), and even though it was incredibly painful, it remains one of my best memories because I ran the first half with my Dad. …again, a story for another day.
Fast forward another year or so. I had finally gotten over the pain of my first marathon and was determined to give it another try. A BQ was taunting me by only 5 minutes, and this time I was bound and determined to get it. Being the dense, slow-to-learn runner that I was, I pulled out that “trusty” high mileage plan again. I swore this time it’d be different. This time I was going to be smarter about recovery, get more sleep, and make it to the starting line uninjured. So away I went. I stuck to that plan like glue. I ran 6 days a week without fail. Got excited when I started hitting 60+ miles.
All the while my body was breaking down around me, no matter how hard I tried to prevent it. I got really sick, I struggled with hip problems. And I toed the line of my second marathon feeling worn down and burnt out.
This is what one looks like after finishing a marathon. Awesome.
Don’t get me wrong. My strategy wasn’t entirely unsuccessful. The second marathon ended up going well, and this is the marathon where I achieved that PR that didn’t fall until last spring. But my body was broken down, and I started thinking that there had to be a better way.
To make a long story (slightly) shorter, it took a few more marathons to really take a step back, reassess, and start letting go of my high mileage-loving ways. Last winter I started training for the National Marathon with a new approach. I incorporated regular cross training, more rest days, more quality runs, and lower mileage. Although my schedule said I peaked at 50 miles, the truth is those weeks included a day of cross training, so there was never actually 50 miles of running in one week. Sometimes I still ran 6 days a week, but some weeks I let myself drop down to 5…or even 4.
It was hard at first, to get used to this new style of training. To not feel like I was slacking off when I watched many other runners bang out 50, 60+ mile weeks. To not feel like I just didn’t stack up as a distance runner.
But I couldn’t deny that things felt different. For the first time, I was able to incorporate a bunch of races into my training schedule without feeling burnt out. And though I didn’t completely escape injury during those months (due to my own clumsiness), I made it to the end without being sidelined by training related injuries.
And before those of you who read my National Marathon recap and remember that during the race, I was struggling with hip pain call me out, that pain came on because I got too excited by racing, and did too many training races within a short period of time. What can I say…I’m slow to learn.
That’s great, LB, but would you get to the point?
The point is, that last spring I ran the best marathon of my life, after having run less days and less overall mileage than I ever had during any training cycle. Instead of focusing on getting in as many miles as I could, I focused on making each mile count. I ran speed work, I practiced my marathon goal pace, I let myself take it easy with recovery runs, and I trained by running local races. All of those things had a much greater positive affect on my training than whether I ran 40 miles that week or 60.
I realize that low(er) mileage training is not for everyone. There are some great runners who are able to run 60 miles a week without blinking. It doesn’t wear them down and they feel great doing it. But others of us are just not built for it. It’s not a cop-out, it’s the truth. My mom and I suffer from the exact same injuries when we start running higher mileage. Our bodies just don’t like it, and are quick to let us know.
I also realize that to some of you reading this, my mileage may seem high. I do still like to run 5 or 6 days a week when I can. And I know that there are many of you that only run every other day. But what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t feel like less of a runner if you do so. And you shouldn’t feel pressure to force yourself into running more miles than is really healthy for your body.
What I’m saying is - it is possible to train for a marathon without running really high weekly mileage. And it’s possible to be a successful marathoner without even running everyday.
You still need to put in the effort – to do your long runs and safely build up your base to make sure your body can handle the stress of a marathon. But running a lot, all the time, is not the only way to train.
Okay so, this picture doesn’t exactly relate to the post, but it’s my new shirt and I’m in love (especially because it perfectly matches these shoes.)
…for most of us…anyway. It’s true that once you start hitting a certain status in marathon running and want to start competing, you’re probably going to have to start putting in some major miles. It’s the only way to keep up when you’re at that level. But something tells me that most of us are running marathons for personal glory, not prize money. And in that case, it’s way more important to get in quality training runs that will build up your strength without leaving you burnt out than to get in a high quantity of runs.
True life: I used to be a high mileage runner. And I still miss it, sometimes. There’s a little piece of me that wishes I could go out and run as much as many of the other runners I admire. But I have to keep reminding myself (and I hope you will too), that less miles per week doesn’t make you less of a runner. And ultimately, getting to that starting line feeling strong, without suffering from nagging injuries or burn out, is the most important thing.