Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 21 Jun 1998 09:50:26 -0400

Farther, Faster, Fresher

(from RC 271)

Here I offer some answers to the questions -- posed in this space last week -- of how long, how fast, how easy to make the runs. These formulas may sound simple (and even simplistic). But realize that behind each lies the blood, sweat and tears of their originators -- and 40 years of my testing.

The formulas might not fit you perfectly. But at least they may point you toward solutions to your running imbalances.

RUNNING FRESHER: I switch the order from the title, starting with what NOT to run, because it's the least exciting and perhaps most important. Different formulas apply here to racing and to training.

Racing is exciting to think about and challenging to do. But it's also a taxing act which you can't indulge in too often.

How often? The best advice I ever read came from Jack Foster, a New Zealander who ran a 2:11 marathon at age 41. That time stood as a world masters record for 16 years.

Foster realized that runners don't necessarily slow down by the watch with age, but their recovery rates do slow. He allowed himself one day of recovery for each mile of the race -- a week after a 10-K, for instance, or a month after a marathon.

Recovery doesn't mean total rest, but it does mean no runs longer than one hour, no speedwork and certainly no further racing during that risky post-race period. If you have trouble recovering from race to race, consider the Foster formula... or extend it. I now seem to need at least one easy day per KILOMETER of racing.

And if you have trouble simply recovering from day-to-day runs, consider taking more days off. At least rest one day a week, if not drop to every-other-day running.

George Sheehan became a spokesman for rest in his midlife. At 50 he noticed that his performances were falling off more quickly than aging alone would explain.

Then an everyday runner, he began taking one day a week off. His times improved, so he tried a second rest day. Further improvement, so he adopted every-other-day training (doing more than before on those days) and improved even more.

Sheehan set his marathon PR at age 60, while resting three or even four days each week. Rest, he had discovered, is the key to making the hard work WORK.

RUNNING FARTHER: Olympian-turned-writer Jeff Galloway revolutionized marathon training, and therefore brought this distance within reach of thousands more runners. Galloway's main contributions were two.

First, he took the emphasis away from adding up high mileage each week, which didn't allow runners enough easy or rest days because they feared a loss of miles. Galloway shifted the emphasis to longer long runs, with more recovery time in between than runners had allowed themselves previously.

The longest training runs approached marathon length, but no longer came around weekly. They now fell only every two or three weeks. This allowed taking the most important run eagerly and energetically instead of with a sense of weary dread.

If you have trouble recovering from one long run to the next, consider the Galloway formula of putting more R&R in between. This works for any longer running, not just marathon training.

And if you have trouble just finishing long runs, consider a second innovation that Galloway popularized. That is to insert walking breaks into the long runs.

Jeff adopted and adapted this practice from ultramarathoner Tom Osler. In his Serious Runner's Handbook, Osler says, "You can instantly double the length of your longest non-stop run by adding walking breaks." A common application of this technique is to take a one-minute walk after each mile of running.

RUNNING FASTER: The most common malady among today's runners isn't achilles tendinitis or shin splints. It's the one-pace-runner syndrome.

Runners never suffered this way in the dark ages. Back then, long before running boomed, we ran fast from day one.

This system took a high toll in injuries and burnout. But it did teach us how to run fast, which is a skill like swimming or bicycling. One you learn it, your body never forgets it.

Most of today's runners began differently, which is to say the right way for getting fit sensibly. First they walked or ran slowly, then gradually upped the amount of running.

They developed a low, short, efficient stride. This served them well for covering long distances -- but not well for going fast.

They'd never learned how to shift into a higher gear. So their pace was the same for training and racing, for 5-K and 10-K and half-marathon. One runner complained, "If they dropped me out of an airplane, I would fall at 8-1/2 minutes per mile."

Running faster can be as simple as the 1-1-1 plan put forth by Dick Buerkle. This two-time Olympian and former world indoor record-holder in the mile scaled down his speed training into a simple workout: one mile, one day a week, one minute faster than normal pace.

For instance, a runner stuck at 8:30 per mile would warm up, then run the mile on a track or other flat, measured course in about 7:30. Speeding up once a week this way can lead to improvements of 10 or 20 seconds a mile, and even more, in races.

If you have trouble speeding up, consider this one addition to your plan. The payoff for this one mile a week can be a one-minute improvement, or more, per 10-K.


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