Non-medically sound approach to running, part 1

Categories: training   Uncategorized

As I mentioned in a recent post, a doctor put me an a non-running regime for a little while while I let my hip rest. Will sitting around, I wanted to look into the advice that’s usually given:

  • Never increase your mileage by more than 10% per week.

I thought I’d look at my own running history as a starting point. Bear with me as I stroll down memory lane for a moment.

Years ago, when I first started running again after a sedentary life, that advise seemed reasonable. I looked at the plan, and thought about it for a few weeks as I got started. Then I realized, it didn’t make any sense.

My very first run, after I stupidly decided to run the Seattle marathon, was running to the corner on the block I lived on. Total distance: less than a quarter mile. And as I recall, I was completely wiped out. (From there, I walked about 2 miles at a very leisurely pace, assuming that was a step in the right direction.)  A couple days later, I tried again, and got around the corner and a little way up the block.  I almost doubled my distance. Oops.

Over the next couple weeks, my endurance rapidly improved, and I was eventually able to go a mile. My training partner mentioned Jeff Galloway’s run/walk method, which sounded like the wisdom of Solomon. I took this to heart, and eventually worked up to running 8 minutes, walking 2. (I played with various combination of times that added up to 10, since it makes keeping track of them much easier.) 8 months later, I completed my first marathon.

Obviously, I must have increased more than 10% per week in order to do it. I just used common sense and let my body tell me how it felt. Sure, I had a training plan that said how many miles to run every day of the week, but I let my legs and lungs tell me whether I was going to fast and slow. It took months to dial it in, but in the end, it worked fine. Besides blisters, there were no injuries.

Since them, five years, a few marathons and thousands of miles ultra later, I’ve pretty much continued following the same pattern. I think it’s summed up well by John Bingham:

"...as an adult-onset athlete, as I was, we can’t train with the intensity as someone starting earlier in their lives. I have ALWAYS used a run/walk strategy. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Run until you’re tired. Walk until you’re bored. Repeat until your finished."

This works better for me than my original 8/2 plan. When I was on that, I realized that if I ran for 8:30, then I was wiped out. My endurance ended at 8 minutes and about 10 seconds.  So I gradually shifted over to running until I felt the need to stop, walk, repeat. Some days the period is short, say 10 minutes. But other days, it’s longer, 25-30 minutes. The best thing about this approach is, it’s all about being flexible.

Now, I’ve never been a speedster*, but I can see how if I ran all out every time I ran, I would not want to increase too much each week. Of course, I never see myself doing this. If I were to only train for shorter races, such as a 5K, then I can see doing this. But that’s not where my interests lie.

Now, the other thing Mr. Bingham recommends is taking adequate rest breaks. In generally, I agree with this. Until recently, when I decided to start a running streak, I rested a couple days a week. Now that the streak is over, I can go back to taking time off.

Next up, I want to take a look around the internet, and figure out what wisdom is out there and see what other people think about this topic. What do any of you other long distance runners out there think?

(And as note to anyone doing a run/walk plan:  Please show some courtesy when stopping during a race. Glance behind you to make sure no one is directly behind you before you stop. Move over to the side while walking.)

*Well, that’s not quite true . At one point while in the army, I was running with the fast group during PT. Still not sure how I ended up there, but I had a good time trying to keep up. My best time for 2 miles was 13:45 (give or take a couple seconds), which put me under 7 minutes per mile. Whew!)

Written on November 25, 2008