Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Training - Myths and Misconceptions

I started running road races in 1978 and ran my first marathon in Panama City, Florida in 1979. I loved racing and wanted to get faster as quickly as possible. I subscribed to Runner's World and bought several books including Dr. Sheehan on Running and Marathoning by Bill Rodger's. The books were a great help. Although by then I had been running about 15 years, in reality, I knew nothing at all about how to train, eat or run efficiently.

There was one major problem with all that “how-to-train” stuff back in the late '70s and it is still true today. It all is written assuming you are going to train at least six days each week. Do you have time to run that much? If you do have the time, are you willing to invest that much time working out? If you do, don't bother reading this blog. I have never even known anyone that ran more that three or four times a week and I certainly do not now, and never did. Actually, only in the last 10 years have I been able to run regularly more than once or occasionally twice a week. I have been self employed for 30+ years. For many of those years I worked long hours and just did not have time or energy to run more than once a week. When there was extra time, I spent it with my kids.

When I first started road racing in '78, I worked for a CPA firm in Mobile, Alabama. Most of the year (except during tax season) it was an 8 to 5 (well more like 7 to 6) job but there was still usually time to run three times each week. Occasionally I would squeeze in a 4th run. I would do short and fast runs midweek and a long run on Saturday or Sunday. I was able to increase my speed significantly and during this period ran my fastest 10K, 35:39. I also ran a 2:51:?? at the Panama City Marathon.

About this time I purchased my business and moved to Dallas. That same year I was able to run the Dallas Whiterock Marathon in 2:47:00. It should have been much faster. I ran the first 10 miles in one hour to the second (6:00 pace) the whole time telling myself I had to slow down, but I kept thinking, I can break 2:40. By mile 14 I no longer had to tell myself to slow down, my body took over. Every mile of the last 12 miles was slower than the previous mile. I had intended to go out at 6:15 and finish in about 2:43.

My goal for the next years, 1982 (I think) Whiterock Marathon was to do exactly what I planned for '81. I was going to run a 6:15 pace start to finish. Well, over 1982 the business grew significantly and I started working much longer hours. By the time I started actually training for the marathon, I only had time to train once a week and that was not enough to run my intended pace.  I did start at a 6:15 pace but I could only hold that for a few miles and I began to slow. I do not remember my time but it was the slowest marathon I had run to date and certainly the most miserable and painful running experience I had ever had, and the two are not the same.

I did learn one very important thing from that experience, although it was some months before I even realized it. I learned I could run a pretty fast marathon, (under 3 hours) only training one day each week and that is exactly what I did for the next 20 years. No, I did not get faster running once a week, in fact, I got slower and slower, and at a faster rate than I would have based on age, but I was still be able to run a reasonable pace. In 1998, I was still running only once a week and entered the Blue Angel Marathon in Pensacola, Florida. I was able to run a 3:16:04. Yes it was a lot slower but I was also a lot older. In fact, I was 49 and had been running no more than one a week for about 16 years. One additional note. During the final few months of training for the Blue Angel Marathon, I did start running two, one hour runs during the week. One workout was usually intervals, the other was just a quick 5 mile loop. One big benefit and curse of being self employed is, you can take off a couple of hour when you need to. Then, when you get back, you make up for the time lost by working till midnight. (I was not married at the time, obviously.) If I had not run the additional midweek runs I would have probably finished in about 3:30. That is still not bad considering, and is about what I ran my last two marathons in, (3:36 and 3:35.) If I can run a marathon running once a week, anyone willing to put in the effort can do it too.

So how does this translate to ultrarunning? I said I do not know anyone that runs six days a week. I also have never known of anyone but me, that ran once a week and ran marathons, either. The point is, you do not have to run every day or every other day to be able to run very long distances. If you run one hard run each week and nothing else, you can run a marathon. If you can run a marathon, you can run a 50K, at least a reasonable one.
I ran marathons between 1982 and 1998 while never training any more than once each week with very few exceptions. The marathons were never fast and they were sometimes pretty miserable, but I finished them. The only requirement is that the once-a-week run has to be hard. My theory was, since that will be the only workout for the week, I had to combine three workouts into one. So if you can find time for three runs each week, you certainly can run a 50K. In fact, you will be able to run the Leadville 100 or the Wasatch 100 if you choose to, and never run more than three times a week.

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