Run Less, Run Faster!

Running efficiency training ideas

Since the marathon boom in the early 1980’s, the accepted paradigm among the middle and long distance coaches has been doing high-mileage training.

Bruce Tulloh believes that cutting back on the miles and really concentrating on the quality of the run will not only be more time-efficient, but will also produce a more superior result for all runners, except for the very elite runners.

No matter what walk of life you are from or in there are trends, even in spite of the claims we make to be open-minded on scientific principles, this also applies to the training theories just like clothes or cars.

Let’s talk about mileage to get started.  Back during the 1950’s, it was perceived that interval training was the only way to be successful.

Then along came Percy Cerutty who coached Herb Elliott.  Herb won the Olympic 1,500m title in a world record time at the early age of 21, while leading most of the way.

For many this was all they needed to switch from what they thought were boring interval training on the track to run up sand hills instead.

Then about the same time came the Lydiard system which was based on running 100 miles a week, which was how the gold medals and world records of Peter Snell and Murray Halberg were successful at.

David Costill, an American physiologist, established the connection of running about 80km a week has a direct impact between mileage per week and the improvement in VO2max, which also has added scientific credibility besides the practical experience.

Since the beginning of the marathon boom during the 1980’s, high mileage has really been the theme for all middle and long distance coaching.  The exceptions are rare, mainly because coaches do not dare go against the trend and also because the professional marathon runners have all day to train, so mileage seems to be the answer.

This really only applies for those who are full-time marathon runners, but does not necessarily applies to those who don’t have the same time to train.

What Costill did not do, because of all the many variables that are involved, was to compare results of the 50km per week of intensive training against those who do 80km of steady running.

The Lore of Running, written by Tim Noakes, is still the bible of the distance coaches sets several basic principles.

One of these principles is to do the minimum amount of training, which is not paradoxical as it may seem.  What he means is:  you should do the minimum amount needed to achieve the goal.  If you don’t reach the goal, you can always do more.

Let’s look at some examples.  Steve Jones has broken the world marathon record in a time of 2.08.05 and later 2.07.13 marathon while only running about 80 miles a week.
European runners haven’t been able to improve much on this time, even though some runners may go to 150 miles a week or more.

When looking at a 5,000 and 10,000m distances when I went and broke the European record for 3 miles, the average mileage I had for the 10 weeks before the race was 28 miles a week, which include warm-ups and races.

Training was hard, but was not one that took much time.  The session were things like 15 x 400m with a 50-second recovery, or 2 x 2,000m fast.

An actual week of training during that summer is shown below:

Mon: warm-up, 2,800m time trial, on grass;
Tues: 6 x 880yd on track, averaging 2mins 10secs;
Wed: 8 x 700m on grass;
Thurs: warm-up, fast strides, 2 x 440yd in 56 and 58 seconds;
Fri: rest;
Sat: warm-up, 2-mile race.
(total miles for the week = 30)

The following three weeks I ran fewer miles while having 10 races, mostly club ones, where I was the leader all the way.

If I am able to run 13 minutes and 12 seconds for 3 miles on a 28 miles a week, while also working full-time, then this is the training is a good one for an athlete trying to break a 30 minute run for 10k and more than adequate for those trying to break the 40 minute mark.

You may say that natural ability has a lot to do with the performances, but all anyone can do is just fulfill the genetic potential.

In my case, I have doubled my mileage during the later years, I really only equaled them, never really improved on them.

A study was published in 2004 that showed a three-day-per-week training program produced a significant gain in aerobic power.

The runners that used this training regime consisted of three carefully structured running workouts every week and results showed a 4.8% improvement in their VO2max.  Then during a follow up trial, 25 runners were put on the three-days-per-week training schedule.

After 16 weeks of the training 21 of the runners who started the race finished the race while 15 had personal bests and 4 of the remaining 6 ran faster than they had in previous marathons.

A trial like this is not scientific evidence because of the small numbers that were used along with the fact that there was no control group.

Several of these runners were first-timers and we had no information about what the participants were aiming for, whether it was sub-three, sub-four or sub-five hours.

Just about any group of runners will show some sort of improvement if they are part of a monitored program, particularly those who are at the slower end.  Also, the fact they showed an average of 8% reduction of body fat would suggest that they were probably not very fit to beg with.

What was significant was that even with the low mileage they were able to run a full marathon.  Based on each of their abilities, they were given schedules that included one endurance session, one tempo session and one speed session every week.

They were also encouraged to include two days of cross training, like cycling or strength training.

The point being the training is going to be specific to the event.  If you want to run a 31-minute 10k you have to be able to efficiently run at that pace.

You can do things like work on your oxygen uptake and even lactate tolerance by running at faster paces, you can even work on your endurance, mental strength and heat tolerance while running longer distances, but speed endurance is what really counts.

Good luck!


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