Marathon Training Basics:
Part 1: Are You Running Enough?
by Kevin Beck
This is part 1 of a four-part series about the basic needs of serious marathoners.
Look closely at that simple question and apply it to an honest assessment of your own running. What’s the highest mileage (or kilometrage) level you have reached and maintained for a three-month period? Got it? Okay, why did you stop “there” instead of at “there plus ten?” Probably because you were bored, wanted to race, tired, or saw no immediate (and therefore no worthwhile) results.
The vast majority of people have never done what the greats suggest and put aside a race-free Lydyardian block of time to gradually and relentlessly build up to 70, 80, 90, and 100 miles a week or more. The incontrovertible truth is that the best runners in the world, even those specializing in the 800 meters and 1500 meters, have reached their competitive station by running an hour to an hour and a half per day – often more – for extended periods preceding sharpening and racing phases. Scads of so-called easy distance is critical, though as Keith alludes to the perfect amount varies from person to person.
At this point, if you’re not sold on the idea, you might say one of three things: “I don’t have time to run more than I do,” “I’ll get injured,” or “But Joe Shlabotnik only does 20 miles a week and he runs a 17:45 5K.”
If it’s the first, well, that’s some people’s reality. No more time to run. What with jobs, spouses, kids, television and the Internet, heck, most of us are lucky to find the time to take bathroom breaks. If that’s the case for you and you don’t have another half-hour to devote to running, my condolences. You’ll never quite get to where you want to be, but such is modern life.
If it’s the second, how do you know? The fact that most people convinced that “X” miles per week will lead to certain injury, breakdown, and perhaps even death have never actually tried running “X” miles in a week is telling. I have known very few people truly unable to survive a gradual, sensible increase in their daily workload (hint: going from 20 miles a week to 40 or 50 for two weeks, feeling a wee run-down and saying “‘Nuff o’ this!” does not qualify as a valid trial.)
If it’s the third, I ask you: So what? The running world and the world at large are filled with people doing more than you with less work. This vexing inequity spans athletic, financial, cosmetic and other realms. You may never beat Joe Shlabotnik…but do you want to be the best runner you can be? Then worry about that and that only.
A special interjection here for marathoners, since, as my event of primary focus and the one that lends itself best to the brute-force credo I actively foment at every opportunity, the marathon is the race I am best qualified to chatter about. If you’re one of those folks seeking the formula for running your best marathon on 35 miles a week, give up and try something else. You might as well ask a broker how to reap the greatest financial returns on an initial investment of one hundred dollars.
The marathon is a 26.2-mile footrace. People want to believe they can logically reconcile limitations on training time – social, occupational, biomechanical, or motivation-related – with this simple truth and somehow arrive at a permutation of all of these variables producing a formula for success. It can’t be done.
You can certainly finish a marathon without adequately preparing for one, and may convince yourself that a succession of PR’s gained on such training stands as proof that “quality over quantity,” walk-running, or the like can actually compensate for ignoring reality. It can’t. If you’re truly concerned with closing the gap between your actual performances and the theoretical maximum of your potential, stick to shorter races. It’s common sense, and no cognitive gymnastics, however earnest, can alter reality.