When I first began running (again), I just ran. I wanted to get faster, and I thought to do that I had to run more. And sometimes that is true: if you’re a novice runner, often adding mileage will help you run faster. But eventually the newbie gains fall away and you have to try something different. But I didn’t know this. I just knew that, for most runners I knew, running faster meant running more.
Runners, especially new runners, feel a lot of pressure to follow strictly a training plan given by experts in the field. If you can follow the plan and it works for you, that’s great! But a plan that you can’t, don’t, or won’t follow, is actually a terrible plan, no matter how great it may seem, or how much it benefits others. The best training plan is one you will actually stick to, even if most people tell you it’s not optimal. By breaking all the “known” rules for running, I created a training plan that worked for me and this can work for you too.
When I wistfully talked about wanting to get faster, my husband Ben matter-of-factly responded, “You’ll need to train differently.” I didn’t know what he meant and he explained that there were different types of workouts, such as speed work and tempo runs that would help me get faster. My mind was blown.
With those words, he opened up a whole different world of running to me. I eagerly read about different training runs (and giggled at fartlek) and began applying these new concepts into my running.
In the summer of 2012 I devoted myself to chasing down a sub-25 min 5K. Early that summer I got a PR of 27:15 and I desperately yearned to shave off those 2 minutes and 15 seconds. So week after week, I went to the track to do speed work. A 25-min 5K requires that I run an 8:03 pace. I came up with my own speed work that summer, which influenced a large part of my training for the following years.
At that time I couldn’t run an 8-min mile, so I decided to focus on doing that first. While I couldn’t run 4 laps in 8 minutes, I knew I could run one lap in two minutes. Then I did two laps in four minutes. Next three laps in six minutes. Every week I went to the track to do more laps in two minute intervals until I reached my intermediate goal of an 8-min mile. I continued on adding more laps until I was able to consistently run 2.5 miles in 20 minutes. It took a few tries at different 5Ks, but I did break the 25-min barrier that fall and the 2-hr barrier for the half marathon without doing any specific half marathon training, except for a couple long runs.
Because I had such great success with minimal running, I continued training with lots of speed work, a few tempos, and a couple long runs if I had a half in the horizon. I averaged about 10 miles per week and peaked at 20 miles. That’s absolutely nothing in the world of serious runners! In fact, it’s completely the opposite of what some training programs tell you do to. Greg McMillan, one of the most famous coaches for distance running, has long asserted that 70% of your weekly mileage should come from easy runs. According to his training philosophy, you need to run long, easy, and slow most of the time. If you think of training being like a pyramid, the long slow distance is the foundation of the pyramid and speed work is the peak.
I’m not going to argue with McMillan about the merits of his training philosophy, but as I said before the best training program is the one that you actually do and the worst is the one that you don’t do. I run because I love racing, not because I love running, so the thought of running long and slow most of the time was painful to me. I couldn’t see myself going out for a long run when I was tired from a long day at work, but I could always talk myself into going to the gym for speed work. We used to live in a condo building where the gym was around the corner. No matter how tired or busy I was, I always had half an hour to exercise. That was all I needed to change into my running clothes, head to the gym, do my speed work, and be back at home showering. So my training program wound up being mostly speed work and very little else.
While this resulted in low mileage, I couldn’t argue with the results. I got faster at all distances, from 5Ks to half marathons. My friends who run more often than me (which is just about everyone) have tried to talk me into running longer and more frequently. Some claimed I would be even faster if I did. Maybe so, but when I tried to follow a plan created by an expert I wasn’t happy, so I kept finding excuses to skip training. It just wasn’t working for me.
Now that I’m training for a marathon, I know that an increase in mileage is inevitable. Luckily, summer is a slow time for me at work, so it gives me more time to devote to running. After careful consideration of various different training programs, I’ve decided to use the Run Less, Run Faster because their training philosophy jives with my inclination of favoring intensity over volume. Every week I’ll be doing speed work, a tempo run, and a long distance run. I’ll be running three times a week with cross training in between. I’m excited and a bit scared for marathon training during the summer, and crossing my fingers that this all goes well! But as always I won’t be afraid to modify the plan to make it work for me. A training plan is merely a tool and it’s up to you to make good use of it by using it in a way that’s effective for you.
What’s your training philosophy? Have you ever broken a training rule that resulted in a PR?