Today my sister, brother in law, soon to be sister in law, and I ran out an over-long 12K that was more like 13K. I had considered racing this full out (and not knowing the course was long I’m glad I didn’t), but eventually settled on running this as a marathon-effort run. I had no trouble maintaining the necessary run power over the entire run, and even went a bit harder/faster in the last mile.
After taking it easy on long runs the last couple weeks ahead of this (longer than) 12K, focused instead on maintaining longer midweek runs, I’m now focused solely on Vancouver 2022. I spent the last few weeks looking at how I responded to different combinations of midweek runs, weekend running, long runs against other runs vs rest days, running daily, etc.
Speaking of that last bit, I generally avoid run streaking, having made a point to take more rest days. But after March started, I decided to run every day, doing easier recovery running instead of days off, and seeing how I handled that. The answer: At this point, I actually handle everyday running fairly well, and I’ve run somewhat better doing work break runs or shorter runs instead of a full day off from running.
It actually started because after taking a full day off following my last 16 miler two weeks ago, I could not get to sleep. This was despite having slept much better in the last couple months since starting this training cycle.
As has happened before, my body had gotten so used to daily activity that if I finished a day without exercise I basically had energy “stored up” and I could not easily get to sleep. My body expected to end the day having some sort of exertion to recover from. Without it, my hormones basically sensed no real need to get to sleep.
I had to make sure then to get some sort of demanding exercise every day, even if as simple as going on a long walk or going on my work break walks.
The easy way to ensure this exercise was done was to do some bit of running everyday. It started as an experiment, thinking if I was having a hard time or hurting at any point I would just not run that next day. But that next day hasn’t ever come. Even after tougher, longer runs, I’ve been able to at least take work break runs, and those have gotten easier, faster, stronger.
Runalyze advises me that my rolling estimated VO2max has improved somewhat, and my individual workout VO2max estimates have been quite strong, a product of not just running faster/stronger but with a lower average heart rate and along rolling terrain to boot.
I did have a tough time with a long workout last Sunday, which I cut short after an hour and filled in with an extended walk, followed by strength training. I felt rather good the next day, and after filling that day with work break runs the following longer Tuesday run went quite great.
A common mistake in marathon training is to fixate on the long run, without paying mind to the aerobic quality of the midweek runs. Often a runner will kill themselves on a brutal long run, at the expense of subsequent midweek workouts that get ditched for rest days and recovery from a long run that was overextended.
It would often be a better idea to run at least into the 2 hour range at an easy effort, and if it’s getting to be too much then cut the long run itself short, then chase it with some easy low-impact effort like walking, or if available cross training, to comfortably extend your body aerobically and neuromuscularly. You may not get the full impact of the desired long run, but you still derive some long distance endurance impact from continuing your “workout” in some lower-impact aerobic capacity. It can help set the table for a subsequent long run attempt at the desired longer distance.
But this digresses a bit from another important point, that by stopping short of substantial damage or exhaustion from a long run that’s beyond your capabilities you avoid derailing your ability to complete quality midweek workouts that are just as if not more important to your training for the goal race distance. Your endurance for the long run in no small part depends on the volume and quality of your midweek workouts. And if you’re falling short on those long runs, then the solution lies in improving your ability to nail longer, endurance specific midweek workouts.
This is not to say turn your midweek workouts into 2-3 hour long runs. Unless you have all the time in the world and can comfortably handle that (a la the late Ed Whitlock or the still alive Jonathan Savage aka Fellrnr), this is not practical. However, observing the optimal midweek endurance workout length of 60-90 minutes, you can still substantially improve your endurance by summiting the peak of this endurance bell curve in your midweek runs.
But if you go too hard in your long runs when your body’s telling you you’re not ready and need to stop, this becomes difficult to consistently do.
Yes, eventually a marathoner’s got to power through and max out the long run. But base building remains a valuable phase and component of marathon training. And if struggling to get through 16 miles, you’re often best off becoming more consistent at completing 7-10 miles during midweek. I struggled with my last couple long runs because my ability to complete 8 in midweek still needed improvement.
Now, all of that said, recovery remains important. And one of my issues was that I was cramming too many 8 milers together without providing space for recovery. I either wasn’t doing enough midweek quality volume, or I was doing too much at once. This coupled with my issue of not being active enough on rest days meant that, while I usually shouldn’t run 8 miles the day after an 8 miler or long run, it’s still a good idea to run at least 2-4, whether broken up as work break runs or as a shorter, maybe fast-finish 3-4 miler after work. This way, I’m still building quality endurance volume, even if it’s not a full 8 miles or 90 minutes.
So now I think I have a good weekly training template in place. Of course I want to do a long run on the weekend… probably Sunday, as I find when I try to do it Saturday morning I’m often somewhat tired and could use an easy training day with my day off before attempting a long run. Of course, I want to do multiple 90 minute midweek runs if possible. But instead of doing a bunch back to back, or just doing one between a bunch of shorter running, I can pencil in Tuesday for a 90 minute run, bookend Monday and Friday with work break runs totaling 2-4 miles as recovery days, and then let Wednesday and Thursday be “swing days” where I can go easy (4ish miles) or a full 8 miles if I’m feeling great. If Wednesday is easy, then Thursday will be a full 90 minutes. If I feel feisty and go 90 minutes back to back Tuesday and Wednesday, I can go easy Thursday and Friday, or if it turned out I’m feeling really great in peak training I can go 90 minutes on Thursday too and just take Friday and Saturday easy.
Saturday can be a shorter, easy run, and strength training as needed. Sunday can be the long run day, with Monday once again being an easy day to facilitate active recovery. Plus, as I previously mentioned, I wanted to avoid heavy fatigue on both weekend days from training, and an easy Saturday will minimize fatigue will providing enough training stimulus to avoid sleep problems.
This should make a 16+ miler on long run days more do-able, easing any midweek fatigue as well as buffering Saturday as an easy day to set it up. Fatigue made the last one real difficult (and admittedly it was an impulse decision to run that last one on Saturday).
So now we enter the long final descent into Vancouver 2022, and it’s time for some consistent serious training. Plus, I now have a 12 day run streak, and like Chicago 2018 I think I’ll try and take it all the way into race day.