Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Optimal training for busy, chaotic lives

ante-script: I've made some corrections to my original post.

My long run post sparked some spirited discussion and Danielle's comment raised the issue in my mind of: what is the optimal training for someone running 20 miles per week? or 30? or 40? I guess that depends if optimal is defined by general fitness, or not getting injured, or setting PRs (and if this, what distance race 5K or 100 miles?).

Chuck mentioned something about FIRST training recently, which is designed around maximizing performance with minimal running. Here is an example of a 3-day a week marathon schedule. All the key workouts are there: speed, tempo, and long. And that's it! None of the regular old runs that we throw in between the speed, tempo, and long runs. Instead, the authors suggest that you cross train on two other days of the week (and rest the other two). The point of the cross training is to maintain cardiovascular fitness without the added "pounding" of running.

All of the FIRST runs are hard, if properly done.
1) The 400 meter reps are 15s faster than mile pace. The 1600 m reps are 20-25s faster than 5K pace - and these are the slowest of the interval runs. I find speedwork like this very hard on my body, but maybe that's because I don't do them very often (any anything done intermittently is hard on the body.
2) The Tempo runs are run at 10K (short tempo runs) up to a little faster than 1/2M pace (for long tempo runs). This is a pretty typical Daniels T pace (or Pfitzinger). But many good coaches advocate a little slower (and longer) tempo runs - something in between 1/2MP and MP.
3) The Long run is about 30-45s above MP. 45s is right at the fast end of my easy (E) pace according to Daniels, and the range (30-45s above MP) is generally considered by many coaches to be the pace that one should generally run the least. Regardless, a weekly long run at this pace is a hard workout.

Notice that the interval runs are very fast for marathon training, the long run is very fast for marathon training (although maybe averages out to a 10 mile slow + 10 mile at MP run) and NONE of these runs are at goal pace.

Does cross-training twice per week increase race speed above simply resting those days? Does cross-training reduce injury risk relative to running those days? Yes to both questions seems intuitively obvious, but lots of things that seem to be obvious turn out to be wrong (e.g. Newton's first law). I have no dogs in these fights but I could mount a number of criticisms of what might seem the obvious answers.

The "study" done by the Furman professors is laughable (at least as reported in the RW article). It really is. They took a heterogenous group of recreational runners and gave them a training plan and we learn that some physiological measures correlated with race speed improved. No duh! What kind of training were the participants doing before FIRST? Where was a control group?

FIRST is an interesting approach if you have a very busy chaotic life. But I'm not sure I'd want my only runs to be hard if I had a very busy chaotic life. I guess my modification would be:

1) fun & fast - fartlek on a trail, or hill repeats, or intervals on a trail, or a race, whatevs!
2) a "run to the barn" tempo run - not at a Jack Daniel's tempo pace (as in FIRST) but at something between 1/2MP and MP (whatevs, right?). Nothing fast here. If you're out for a 7 mile run and you're feeling good then "run to the barn" over the last 3 miles. What's more fun than that?
3) a long, very easy, run

That and $2 will get you a small cup of coffee at Starbucks.


  1. The major downside to that is you only three days a week. I'd go nuts.

  2. An equally insane-inducing downside would be having to miss the relaxed and chatty pace at the TMR TNR @ TB or TMR SMR : (

  3. I noticed in reading the whole article that they advocate two additional days of "hard" crosstraining in addition to the 3 days of running. To me, that defeats the purpose of a supposed 3-day running schedule. I think I could much more easily fit in another one or two days of running than I could two sessions of crosstraining, which seems like they would take much longer and be less fun (for me) than more running.

    I do think the plan makes a good point for doing some speedwork and faster tempo runs, but while I might incorporate some of those elements into my training, I doubt I'd follow their plan exactly.

  4. Danielle - your comment made made me go back and read the RW article in more detail so I've modified my post accordingly. Yeh I'd rather run than xt too!