Tag Archives: Training Load

A best practice for very long marathon training runs

sunset men sunrise jogging

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If training for your first marathon, or even if you’re generally not used to regular runs longer than 2 hours… there’s a better way to get in long run mileage than just doing one long uninterrupted run.

Once a single run exceeds 2.5 hours, the physical damage a run does can offset a lot of the training benefits from running long. Many runners may need multiple easy days or days off to recover, which derails some key workouts and disrupts your fitness development more than the long run helped it.

The Galloway Method, aka run/walking your longest workouts, offsets this by building in repeated rest breaks through walking. However, training this way only makes sense if you intend to run/walk the marathon. If so, then Galloway’s approach or any run/walk variation is completely fine.

For those who intend to *run* the entire race, you need to fully run all your long runs. And you need to be mindful on long runs of the 2.5 hour threshold.

Yes, that means your uninterrupted long runs will be well short of many training thresholds like the 20 Mile long run.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t run 14-20+ miles on long run training days. In fact, when new to marathons, you absolutely need to get these long mileage days in.

So how do you do it, if you should only run 2.5 hours max, and you can’t possibly cover the needed distance in 2.5 hours at an easy, sustainable pace?

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Training volume is about more than mileage

One runner does a 12 mile run on the weekend. The only other run he does is a 6 mile run on Wednesday night.

One runner runs 3 miles every day, except for a rest day on Sunday.

One runner does a 5 mile run Tuesday and Thursday, then she does a longer 8 mile run on Saturday.

A sprinter practices 3200 meters of reps plus 2 miles of warmup and cooldown jogging on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday she does an easy 3 mile run. She takes the weekend off.

All of these runners run the exact same mileage every week (18 miles). Would you consider their training equal? Do you think they’ll all develop their running ability the same way?

More importantly, is it accurate to cast a firm judgment on the quality of their training largely based on the fact that they run 18 miles a week?

I would say not. And yet that’s the pedestal on which so many runners and coaches put weekly mileage.

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Orange Theory: Who and what it’s good for

OrangeTheory

Got a few friends, both runners and non-runners, who are really into working out at Orange Theory, a chain of gyms built around a somewhat interactive, competitive series of high intensity aerobic circuit training workout classes.

Long story short, participants aerobically work out hard for about an hour between numerous stations, and the establishment keeps score of your vitals on a big monitor, along with esoteric stats like “splats” (a metric measuring how long you hit their key orange heart-rate level).

As with such gyms, pricing is a bit of an investment for most working class individuals. While OT gyms offer free introductory classes, taking any more after that at a given location requires a membership. They want you to make a commitment up-front, though if you buy a membership you are free to use it at any OT gym available.

Tiered memberships cost from around $60 for 4 classes a month to $150-175 for unlimited classes. The heart rate monitors require an additional $5-10 to rent (and you can outright buy them for around $75-100). Additional classes on limited plans can be purchased for around $20-30 each.

This pricing isn’t relatively outrageous considering yoga, Pilates and other workout studios ask generally the same amount. However, someone looking into a new gym habit probably will be somewhat averse to forking out $60-200 a month just to work out. Of course, while they can either join a gym for $15-50 a month, or go run and do bodyweight exercises on their own for free… the direction of a coach or teacher is a key reason people look to fitness classes in the first place.

… I guess that was a little long to be a long story short. Whoops!


I’m a supporter of group fitness classes. A lot of people could use better fitness, could use some coaching, and these classes provide valuable direction in both. Whether people prefer this, yoga, Pilates, dance technique classes, chic dance variants like Pure Barre, etc…. if you enjoy these group classes, can consistently do it safely, and it gets you to actually work out when you otherwise wouldn’t, then yes: DO IT.

There are certain people who benefit more from it than others, of course. And in the case of runners, it can absolutely benefit some of them. I’ve seen it benefit several I personally know. Likewise, I wouldn’t outright say to certain runners that they should stay away, but there are also some cases where it doesn’t work as well.

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Replacing long runs in extreme weather with multiple runs

My soon to be brother-in-law runs multiple half marathons and shorter races throughout each year. Living in the Las Vegas desert, where temperatures top 100 degrees Fahrenheit through most of the year, long runs are impractical.

You can’t run outside in such extreme heat for more than half an hour, not even in the morning (as temperatures don’t drop below 80 degrees many days, and that’s already rather hot for running). And running 10+ miles on a treadmill, if the gym will even allow it, isn’t psychologically feasible for most.

So how does he train for half marathons? He runs them in the neighborhood of 1:40, so he clearly gets in excellent shape for them. But he attests he certainly doesn’t do long runs. So what does he do?

Here’s how he outlined it for me (and I’m describing this some in my words rather than his):

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Chops: A personal statistic for tracking training volume

Chops

A snapshot of my Google Docs training log, which outlines mileage, time spent in “hard running”, time spent doing hard exercise or similar labor, estimated walking distance, lifetime training miles since 2016, and my personal stat “Chops”, described below.

I keep a Google Doc spreadsheet log of all my training sessions: Mileage, any speedwork mileage, time spent in strength training plus other active/intentional physical effort, and estimated distance walking.

I also track known lifetime training mileage, and a self-created stat called Chops.

Chops is named after the musician term chops, which describes a performer’s current musical skill. Similarly, my Chops number provides an estimate of how many miles I can comfortably run at full strength over the following week.

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The best Way to Run the Year 2019

chair scenery summer abandon
Photo by Zino Bang on Pexels.com

One project some hardcore runners are into is Running the Year, aka running during the course of a year a number of miles at least equal to that particular year. People may or may not join the linked project to attempt it.

Once you get into the math of what running the year 2019 takes, you realize it’s not an easy feat. To run the year 2019, you have to average about 5.53 miles per day, or 38.8 miles a week. And to be honest, most runners probably could not run that much all 365 days, or 52 weeks, in 2019.

A hardcore marathoner or ultra runner putting in 80-120 miles a week probably reaches 2019 miles in 2019 without trying too hard (… or at least harder than they usually do while training). Many of them probably can reach 2019 miles before the end of May, whether or not they’re training for a goal race.

For most other runners, this is very difficult. I myself peaked last year in 2017 at about 1495 miles, and despite training for two marathons I’m actually behind last year’s pace by about 50 miles.

Granted, this year I took extended breaks, whereas I didn’t really in 2017, and at this time last year I was peaking for the 2017 Las Vegas Rock N Roll Half Marathon whereas today I’m taking two weeks off following a marathon.

Still, if a seemingly compulsive runner like me struggles to get to just 1500 miles, then logging 2019 miles next year probably won’t be a slam dunk if it’s uncharted territory for you.

Plus, let’s be real: You’re probably not going to run every single day, or every single week. Life happens. So banking on running 5.53 miles every day or 38.8 miles every week won’t cut it.


If you want to run the year 2019, and you don’t already run 50+ miles in a typical week, you need a more robust training plan.

It may not be enough to simply train for one or two marathons or ultras. Oddly, training for a marathon or an ultra can hinder your ability to pile up the needed miles.

  • You need to cut substantial miles for a taper in the weeks leading up to the race.
  • You probably need to take time off from running after the race.
  • That’s a month or more where your running is absent or heavily curtailed… which offsets the chunk of mileage you get running 26.2 (or more) miles on race day.

In fact, racing in general can limit your ability to pile up the needed miles. Even in shorter races you’ll need to taper in the few days beforehand, and then you’ll need to take it easy for some days afterward.

Plus, most of the races themselves are a lesser mileage than you may need to keep pace with 2019: 3.11 miles for a 5K, 6.21 for a 10K. You’re often not getting a ton of mileage bang for your buck on race day, plus you’re paying for it by needing to taper or rest surrounding the race.


Now, this doesn’t mean you need to abandon all fun and stick to just long, easy distance running every day for a year to hit the benchmark.

It can be possible, and possibly healthy while maximizing your chances at success, to run the year 2019 while peaking for races, and then taking extended time off during the year.

The key to running the year 2019: You need to run enough volume while actively training to bank enough miles that you can take time off without losing ground.

What is that volume? I’m gonna go out on a limb and set the benchmark at 45 miles per week. You need to be comfortable logging 45 miles per week in whatever way allows you to safely, reliably do so.

  • This can be one speedwork session, one long run, and then nothing but a bunch of longer easy paced runs the rest of the way, each week you run.
  • It can be three 90+ minute runs with a longer long run on the weekend each week, taking a day off between most of the runs.
  • It can be a daily run in the morning, then a run in the evening, every day if you wanted to.

However you do it, you want to make sure you can comfortably bank 45 miles per week pretty much every week you run.

The reason for this is because you will anticipate taking weeks off at a time throughout the year, plus anticipate that you will need to take incidental or unplanned days off throughout the year. If you run 45 miles a week, you can hit 2019 miles in 2019 while taking a bit over 7 total weeks off from running. It creates a substantial margin for error, while allowing you to build breaks into your training plans.

The human body can only handle a maximum of about 24 weeks of uninterrupted training before the law of diminishing returns kicks in and you start to lose more value and fitness from continuing than you gain. If your training doesn’t feature a regular break from training, you’ll want to train in 12-18 week cycles that are bookended by a week or more off from running.

This is no problem if you plan to run a marathon in 2019. But even if you’re not, it will do you good to take a break every few months, if not after any other races you do. Most runners need no coaxing to do this, but hardcore runners sometimes need the reminder. As runaholic as I can be, I realize I should take days off and extended breaks every so often.

This also better allows you to book some races in 2019 if you desire, without doing the aforementioned damage to your Run the Year 2019 goal. By logging more mileage than you technically need, you bank enough time to taper, take breaks, recover, etc, with peace of mind that you’re still ahead of the game.

So, if you’re gonna run the year 2019 this coming year, start by getting comfortable with about 45 miles a week. From there, hitting the benchmark will still take a lot of work, but will be within reach.

 

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The conflict between running and testosterone

Men face a potential problem if they train as dedicated runners: The risk of diminished testosterone levels.

The sustained stress of endurance running is enough to have grown a movement cutting down distance running and other aerobic exercise (typically lumped together under the term “cardio”) as detrimental to adults’ health, especially to men’s health. Many recommend that men restrict their running and other “cardio” to more brief, high-intensity, interval training.

It’s not just the Manosphere who has taken issue with running. Former US-marathon record holder Ryan Hall retired at 33, and cited low testosterone levels as a prime motivator for his retirement.

Personally, I haven’t worried about it as much: I had practiced a less than stellar diet and lifestyle in previous adult years, and that would probably hurt my T levels more than running 30-50 miles a week as a healthier adult has today.

And of course my health, strength, vitality(, and yes, libido) have honestly gotten better as I’ve continued my training. Whenever I have felt… let’s say, diminished in a fashion typical with low T levels… it’s often a combination of particular heavy training, and some other stressor like my work situation, a lack of sleep, bad diet, or a number of other things that themselves would be T problems whether or not I was running.


There are a lot of reasons distance running contributes to lower testosterone, and I believe a lot of them are preventable.

First of all, many people do most of their running harder than they should. This is slightly counter-intuitive, as manhood is often associated with doing things strong, hard, fast. It makes sense that they would gravitate to sprints and other Tabata workouts over longer runs.

The conventional Man Approach to exercise (hard/fast/strong) works just fine with the most conventional form of male exercise: Weightlifting. All your work is done in very brief, high intensity bursts. Literally no aerobic capacity is required to successfully push weight, whether or not you choose to incorporate extra aerobic or anaerobic effort.

However, when you bring that modus operandi to running where hard, fast, high-exertion running is all you ever do when running, it doesn’t work as well.

While higher intensity running can be successfully done one to three times per week, most of your running should be easier, dialed back to where every step is strong, yet comfortable. A lot of men, however, run too hard on their regular, easy runs.

Often, form is a key reason men run too hard too often. If you’re straining to reach your legs forward, you are pushing too hard. And pushing too hard too often leads to a sustained overdose of cortisol, the stress hormone that is the bane of testosterone. That, not the running in itself, is what’s reducing T levels in men who run a lot.

Slow down on your regular runs. Jog at a pace where you feel in full control of every inch you move, where you know you have the strength and control to stop on a dime if necessary, where you know you can run like that for another hour, tall and strong, not hunched forward squeezing out extra effort. Save that effort for your speed intervals… though to be honest you should be tall and strong and in control for those too.

Running can and should be a strength exercise, whether you do it for 45 seconds in a rep or 60 minutes in a 6-7 mile run. The power of your glutes and core muscles should be carrying your every step, without undue strain to your tendons, bones and ligaments.

Secondly, the classically slight body of a typical runner is in some part a function of actively minimizing weight to maximize pace. I certainly am not slight at 5’10”, 162 pounds, and while I always look to shed a bit of fat here and there, I also value maintaining my muscle… especially having reached 40 years of age.

But a lot of it is also the conventional diet habits of a runner. Many don’t take in anywhere close to enough protein to maintain their muscle. Despite their emphasis on carbs, many don’t eat enough carbs before or after most workouts, underestimating how much glycogen they burn.

The end result is muscle gets broken down over time. While that helps get them leaner, it also can compromise not just overall strength and health… but for men, their T levels. The hormones respond in kind to the incredible shrinking distance runner’s body, and decrease overall production of various hormones including testosterone.

It can be counter-intuitive for a runner to try and preserve mass. But muscle does aid in performance, not to mention represent a key component of overall health. A greater emphasis on protein intake and muscle preservation can help counteract other elements of training that can compromise T levels. There are other ways to burn extra fat without sacrificing valuable muscle.

I’m not going to go as far as to say running’s negative relationship to testosterone is a myth. There are true factors that can contribute to diminished T level over time.

But distance running should not be considered a death sentence for manhood. By changing a few paradigms of how men approach training and lifestyle, men can easily maintain healthy T levels and enjoy the better health and rewards that running can bring.

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