Posts

Increasing Training Mileage: How to and when to stop!

PlayPlay

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

General Theory

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

  1. 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!

Increasing Training Mileage: How to and when to stop!

Increasing Training Mileage: How to and when to stop!

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Beginner Competitive Elite
5k 20-30 40-50 90+
Marathon 40-50 60-70 110+

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!

HCS and Periodization: How we structure training

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

  1. How long do racing segments really need to be?
  2. What do I need each training block to consist of?
  3. What happens when I race the same distance continuously?
  4. Is it realistic to expect high levels of performance all the time?
  5. 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!

Warm Ups: A little science and a little art

This post originated from my athletes asking questions and then realizing that I didn’t really know some of the answers. At first, this might not seem like a good situation to be in, but I disagree. I love being able to help, love becoming a more knowledgable coach, and love having new things to look into. It Kees you on your toes! So, I sat down and thought about what we should know. Here’s the questions I want answered:

  • What is the purpose of a warm up?
  • What does a warmup actually do?
  • When should I warm up? Does it need to be the same routine for every type of run?
  • What do I need to do for a proper warm up?

 The purpose of the warmup?

Luckily, this one is pretty straight forward. The purpose of the warmup is to prepare the body for harder running. If we are talking about easy running, then the purpose is simply to get the body ready to run. The warmup is really bridging the gap from doing nothing to being expected to perform at some intensity harder than sitting. This is all fairly vague, I know, so what it’s telling us is that that level of expected intensity is going to dictate what our warmup needs to consist of.

What does a warmup actually do?

  1. It elevates our muscle temperature. This allows faster neural impulses and increases muscular force-velocity relationships.
  2. It raises our baseline VO2. There appears to be a sweet spot of 65-70% VO2max where following performances are best. This is a light to moderate run for most people. The key is to warm up but not get fatigued before the race.
  3. It improves our active range of motion. Dynamic stretching can improve your active range of motion which can improve stride mechanics. This could make you more economical, earlier in the race.
  4. Increased motor neuron firing. The more fibers you have firing at the start means less time you have to wait once the race has started.

 When should I warm up?

Truth be told, I think there’s room for some sort of warmup for most days. I’m not saying you need 45 minutes to get ready for your morning easy run, but give me a few minutes. You might thank me later!

Easy days:

As I mentioned, I just need a few minutes. We don’t really need to worry about really finding that sweet spot with the VO2 since our easy runs are going to be in that range anyway. Also, we aren’t really looking to have all neurons firing. Really, if you are over the age of 30, you just don’t want to feel like complete garbage for the first 10 minutes of the run. My suggestion is to take 3-5 minutes and do a quick and dirty dynamic stretching routine. Here’s ours If you want some other variations, I encourage you to visit www.coachjayjohnson.com He’s got some great stuff too. The fringe benefits of doing this will include being able to settle into your desired pace sooner and feeling smoother earlier. Also, if you do this on a regular basis, then you can help preserve hip mobility and strength. If you are really tight in your hips, then you will probably actually improve it. Why does this matter? Hip mobility and strength is crucial in allowing those big levers that we call legs, to do their job- making you faster, more economical, and fight the breakdown of form that occurs in endurance running.

SOS Days/Race Days

(5k, 10k, maybe ½ marathon)

Here is where you’ll need the most time, since we are making the most drastic transition from being at rest to high intensity efforts. The nice thing here though, is that we can get some double benefit here. One, it’s going to help our weekly mileage. Two, it’s going to be an easy way to get strides in during the week (I’ll have to write another post on strides). Since we are running fast we need to make sure that we are incorporating all the aspects of the warm up- muscle temp, VO2, range of motion, and neuron firing.

A sample warm up:

Start with dynamic stretching to loosen hips up

  1. 15-20 minutes of easy running. I typically want 20 minutes, but I know many of you are time crunched.
  2. *Optional* Form Drills. If you are really crunched for time, I understand, but these will take really about 5 minutes to do. Form Drills
  3. Strides: Do 4×10 seconds, or so. This should be fast about 95-98% of your max effort. The key is to keep them short. Recover fully before doing the next one.

~Note: Last stride should be done about 10 minutes before the start of the race. Do whatever you plan on doing for a race before your workouts. Be consistent. For half marathoners, if you are looking to run over 2:00:00 for the race, I recommend doing the marathon warm up below.

Read more

Early 2014 Clinics and Group Training Options

We now have our early 2014 clinic and group training options up on the site! Look under “clinics” to see all the options. We have everything from “couch to 5k” for beginners all the way up to Boston Marathon training groups. There’s something for everyone and all are welcome! Hope to see many of you out here at the lab!

One project down…

For over a year, I have been attempting to finish a major project. For those of you who know me, I know what you are thinking- “Which one?” I know, it seems like I have a long To-Do list for the coaching site. Well, I can now say that I have one thing checked off! The semi-custom schedules are done! I know have available for use- 5k-marathon schedules that are based on different skill level. We have from a Just Finish program in the 5k to an elite level marathon schedule. We also have the classic Hanson’s Marathon schedules- yes the one’s with a 16 mile long run. These include the day to day details, workout details, and pace charts. Any schedule is $14.95, immediately available for download after purchase, AND include a 12 month subscription to the members only content on the site. A pretty good deal! Hopefully, anyone who wants a good schedule or coaching can now find an option that fits their needs. To access these programs, follow this link.