Monday, June 13, 2016

Pushing the Mileage

On Saturday I did a 3 hour run. On Sunday I did another 3 hour workout: 1 hour of swimming, 1 hour of biking, and 1 hour of running. You would think I'd be totally fried today. But this morning I got up at 6am like usual and did 6 sets of deadlifts. And I feel good right now.

When I trained for my first "real" marathon (not counting my first disastrous experience as being "real"), I was worried about the long runs. And when considering whether or not I would want to get into triathlons, I was worried about the volume of training for that too. But this past weekend made me realize that my body can handle long workouts, and they don't even kill me.

Of course there are some triathletes and ultra-marathoners who regularly do 5 hour workouts. One of those events can take 12 hours to complete. A 100 mile ultra can take 24 hours.

When I first started running, it was a challenge just to finish a mile. It was no problem for my 3 month old husky, who would leap and pounce through snow deeper than her head. At the time, I could not have believed that I would one day measure my training in hours rather than minutes.
Don't let the cuteness fool you.
She's an expert pouncer.

I've had several folks ask me how to push the mileage on their runs. They are able to run a certain distance, but are frustrated to find that they can't go any farther than that. They feel comfortable on the runs they do now, and don't understand why they can't add miles. How do I run farther? They ask. The answer is always the same.

Slow down.

It sounds simple, but for a lot of people it's anything but obvious. They start running at a certain pace. They can run 3 or 4 miles and feel good. But then when they try to add miles, they can't. The reason is because they're still running at the same pace. These folks believe that the longer they run for, the farther they'll be able to run at the same pace. And it's simply not true.

If you want to run farther, you have to run slower. And the same goes for any kind of training. That's why there exists the concept of a "training pace", not to be confused with "race pace".

Most of my runs are slow. If you look at my running stats, you would expect me to run a half marathon in over two hours. I can run a half marathon in a hair over an hour and a half. I have some friends who do all of their runs fast (I call them genetic freaks). And it surprises them when they see the huge difference between my training speeds and my race speeds.

"Slow" used to be the only setting for my chubby ass.

Training is about time spent on your feet. Every single run improves your strength and endurance. Every run strengthens your bones, joints and muscles. Every run strengthens your heart and cardiovascular system. Every run helps fine tune your central nervous system and your brain's ability to optimally utilize your body. Every run psychologically pushes you to run farther and faster. Every run helps turn you into an expert in pain tolerance.

That's not to say I never do speed workouts. Speed workouts are necessary if you want to be able to run faster, and not just farther. But a speed workout isn't just about running as fast as you can as far as you can. It has structure. For example with an interval run, you alternate between running fast and running slow.

The hardest interval run I've done was at the peak of my marathon training last year. It was ten intervals of half miles at about my 5K pace. So that was a total of 5 miles at nearly my fastest possible pace. But it wasn't all at once! I alternated between a half mile of super fast running, and a half mile at barely a jog. This allowed my body enough time to recover in between each sprint. The workout was much more effective in this way because I spent more total time running hard.

The point is that even when you do run fast and hard, you have to do so intelligently. And you should only have about two speed workouts per week. The rest of your runs should be long and slow. And that's how you push both your speed and your endurance.

I do want to add one more thing. I don't want to turn into the type of guy who says, "drinking is bad." I had a ton of great experiences while drinking. But, I've found that it's become a lot easier to get up early on the weekends and to do a long workout now that I've quit. I hadn't realized how much strength drinking had sapped. I wrote a post not that long ago titled, "Sobriety Makes me Slow." I realize now that it's total bullshit. I was sick most of the winter, and that's likely the real reason why that month sucked.

And some experiences I don't remember at all...

Back to the topic. If you do push your mileage, make sure you do so gradually. If you're reading this post and it gives you a sudden epiphany (if only my words had so much power!) then take care of your newfound power. You should only increase your mileage by about 10% per week. Any more and you risk injuring yourself, no matter how slow you go. 3 hours on your feet is still 3 hours on your feet. That's a lot of stress to put on your body, and you have to work up to it carefully.

Getting better and stronger requires constantly pushing yourself. You may be reading this and thinking, "I will never run that far." But you can, if you want to. Do you really want it? Because if you do, your body will be able to handle it.

Of course posting super vain selfies is a bonus

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