Most people generally take up running to lose some weight, feel a bit fitter maybe do a charity event etc.
Some are happy to continue just having a jog round the park, some decide they want to challenge themselves to get faster times and/or further distances, others decide they want to be the best they can be and become quite dedicated to it.
The one thing all the above have in common is that they are all ‘Training’ at different levels.
So, to break it down, the person who enjoys a weekly jog round the park is going to be fitter than a sedentary person and maintain a basic level of fitness. The person who wants to get faster/ further will generally improve by doing weekly , a long steady paced run, a faster shorter run or ‘tempo’ and an interval session of some sort, e.g. various paced run or ‘Fartlek’ , Hill reps or shorter faster runs than ‘tempo’ pace. This will lead to reasonable improvement and typically require 3 or 4 hours a week spent training.
This brings us nicely onto the last group, the ‘best they can be’s’ or BTCB group. Traditionally this has been all about mileage, mileage, mileage but as sports science and understanding has evolved, as well as much more data being available to athletes to assess their training, things have got a bit smarter!
Taking the traditional ‘mileage’ method , the hours pounding the pavement are sooner or later going to catch up with the athlete, especially older ones and they will get injured (note, no if’s or maybe’s WILL!). Also people may find family time suffer or have work commitments that make it a struggle to keep the mileage up.
So what is the answer?
Sorry but you still need to do the long runs, the difference is in cutting out the ‘junk’ miles and having targeted session goals. This involves working in ‘zones’ where zone 1 is easy and zone 6 is extremely hard. This is achieved by working out the vo2max of an athlete or to put it simply the maximum aerobic capacity they can sustain for a short period. There are various methods to achieve this, in fact some of the latest training watches do it for you but the important thing is once you know your zones, you are training smarter and as long as you follow a structured plan, you will improve far more than someone who just aimlessly grinds out the miles, with less distance and with much reduced stress on the body.
Don’t get me wrong, you still need to put the training in but approach each session with the question, what is the goal of this session? For example what sounds the best method? Here’s a couple of scenarios: Brendan is training for a marathon, he runs 60 miles a week, he adds up his mileage to keep to his target, if he has a busy week at work, he just does a longer Sunday run to make sure he hits his target. On the other hand Mo is also training for a marathon, he has sat down with his coach and worked out his training zones and a plan that fits around his commitments. He still does a long Sunday run but will also do three other sessions a week working for between 60 -90 minutes in various zones, on Tuesday he ran 40 minutes at zone 3 (moderate tempo) before breakfast and repeated it after work, Wednesday he had a 15 minute warm up followed by 5 sets of running for 5 minutes in zone 4 (mid threshold) with 1 minute recovery between sets followed by a 15 minute warm down, Friday was a 60 minute Fartlek session with 20 minutes in zone 2 followed by 30 minutes of running in zones 3 and 4 for various intervals with time in zone 1 between each effort with 10 minutes warm down, Sunday was an easy 12 mile run keeping in zone s 1 and 2. Overall Mo did 40 miles in the week.
Brendan spent 9 hours training and Mo 6 hours over the week.
So who had the better weeks training? Brendan’s 60 miles or Mo’s 40 miles, you decide!
Remember. You can’t outrun a poor training regime but a smart training regime will generally be more successful long term.