Friday, April 13, 2012

Balance for Runners

I have been blogging for close to a year now (not all here) about my adventures running. In that year I have learned and unlearned a lot of things. And I am sure that will continue as long as I follow this passion. Yesterday I was doing some research on heart rate monitoring and running ultras and came across this a rather lengthy page with all you need to know about ultras. And in that was a key little nugget that caused an "ah-ha" moment for me (though I sort of suspected this all along):

"Researchers who studied the effects of high training mileage found that there were no significant improvements in endurance in runners who trained more than 70 miles/week–not even in runners who were training up to 230 miles/week."

What? Could that possibly be? Why do so many runners strive to run 80 - 100 miles per week (or more)? So I researched a little further and found an article summarizing Noakes' research. A couple of really good take aways:
  • The breaking point of how much is enough may be a function of time, not miles
  • The exact mileage at which this plateau occurs depends on the individual, but beyond about 60 to 70 miles per week, there’s not much change taking place
  • A person with a lot of talent will almost always outperform a person with little talent and a lot of training.
  • Regardless of how much you run, genetics plays a large role in your performance. 
  • High mileage reduces body weight, which further reduces the oxygen cost (why not just eat better?)
  • It’s likely that genetically gifted runners who have high a VO2 max are capable of running more miles and faster races.
Wow, I could go on and on about my thoughts on this. But the main takeaway for me is that I know so many runners, myself included at times, that strive too hard to achieve high mileage. But the expense of high mileage is often at the expense of cross training, can induce injury, and can induce overtraining.

The purpose of training is to hit as many high quality training runs as possible in preparation for a race. The rest of the time the goal is to keep you healthy and recovering as fully and quickly as possible for the next run.

My recommendation for anyone hoping to hit a high target of running ability would be the following:
  1. Moderately high volume (50 - 70 miles per week).  I like to hit 70 half a dozen times as I peak in cycle, but not every week.
  2. Good diet and other recovery habits
  3. Overall body balance and cross training
  4. Mixing and matching the above to find the sweet spot for you
If you are a talented runner and dedicated, then your fitness will show through on race day. Don't push yourself beyond your limits in an attempt to compare an artificial number like miles run. Focus on quality workouts, total time training (including cross training), and doing a superior job of taking care of your body during recovery (eat well, rest, stretch, physical therapy, etc...)

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