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The idea of quality over quantity is by no means a new approach to training. However, as I often do, I’m taking it to a bit of an extreme.
How extreme? I am generally running three quality days per week and unless there is a social run, usually with the girls, I don’t run. That’s right, I’m training for distances ranging from the marathon to 100 mile races and I am not running 100 miles per week. I’m lucky to hit 40. But everything I do is focused, fast, and it seems to be working.
Why? While I love running and I’m really into the racing scene, my motivation to be out slogging miles day in and day out is simply not very high. So I asked myself after a solid spring racing season if I really needed those 4+ days per week of easy running and figured it would be worth experimenting with a plan that simply cuts out the slow recovery portion of the training plan and replaces it with yoga, swimming, push ups, pull ups, and good old time off my feet.
I don’t think this is a plan for everyone. I am basing my plan on my experiences with ramping up for getting fit over the past few years and have found that usually within a few weeks of quality speed work, I get back to reasonably competitive form pretty quickly. There is the aerobic component, the muscle endurance, and the anaerobic piece that, if worked properly, can all get online fairly quickly. I think this is the case because I’ve been running for nearly thirty years and my body has been really fit many times throughout those thirty years. My contention is that the benefit I will obtain from running 60 to 70 miles at moderate to slow paces isn’t worth all the hours required to get in those miles. However, a few focused and intense hours per week has historically given me the biggest return on investment.
So I’m testing this out. Upon finishing the CDT and moving to Seattle I put in a few weeks of easy running to get the running muscles back in shape and to avoid common injuries from starting up too fast – IT band in particular. Then in mid-October I started up speed work. I base much of what I do on the Daniel’s approach so I began by doing a time trial to assess my fitness and to determine my VDOT level. From there it was time to build up my machine. I worked my aerobic threshold with tempo runs and I worked my form and efficiency with repeat speed workouts. I’d do 20 minute tempo runs or 5xmile runs with a 200m jog rest at tempo pace. I’d work on form by doing fast 200’s and 400’s with full recoveries. After a few weeks I did another time trial to test my fitness again and found that I was quickly improving.
Long story short is I’m systematically building up my training focusing only on workouts and so far I’m improving rapidly. I figure I’ll give this plan a good 4 to 6 months and see where it takes me before deciding if it’s something to stick with or if I should go back to a more traditional approach.
Some of my concerns are that my upside potential may be limited due to the limited mileage. Maybe my ceiling will not be high enough and if I’m going to get faster, I will simply need to run more. This is one that will be tested over time. Plus, if I’m training for ultras, how will I be prepared for really long distances without doing tons of long distance runs leading up to the races? My thought here is that I plan to race at least once a month on average which gets me a good effort of at least 26 miles a pop. Plus, I’ve run plenty of really long runs in my life. My body, and more importantly, my mind, is familiar with what goes into running for hours on end and I think this component of training may not be as necessary for me currently (I hope I end up being right on this one because I don’t want a horrible 100 mile death march!). Another concern is that I may gain too much weight. Running is often my means for allowing me to eat whatever vegan food I want whenever I want it. My weight has been steadily climbing since the end of the CDT (+6.5 lbs so far) and is now outside of my target racing weight. So in order to keep up the “less is more” running plan, I may actually have to watch what I eat more.
But the pros are totally outweighing the cons right now. I am eager to run my workouts most of the time rather than dreading them. And when I don’t feel like getting out there for my workout, I really have no excuses because I generally will not have run for a couple days between workouts so if I want to skip, it means taking off big chunks of time and I know that doesn’t work. So I get out there and get my work in. This plan is fun too. I like the focused effort of structured workouts because they feel so rewarding when completed. Each one feels important and integral to my success and in the past this has sometimes gotten lost for me amidst the day-in-day-out of racking up miles. Running fast is fun. Also, I’ve stayed fresh and injury free thus far. My legs have a lot of pop and spring in them nearly every time I hit the track and this historically has not always been the case when I’m racking up big miles.
So time will tell if this plan works. My first two races back have been good and the next big one on 2/1 in Texas will be a major indicator. For now though, I’m enjoying training, I’m enjoying racing, and I’m getting faster so it’s full speed ahead with the quality over quantity extreme training!
*For those interested in the specifics of my workouts and training, check out my training blog for the gritty details on each workout that makes up my training plan.