Conventional wisdom says to keep changing your workouts. It says that if you do the same workout week-after-week, your body will adapt and stop improving. In contrast, I believe doing similar workouts allows you to accurately compare workouts from one week to the next, and from one year to the next. It gives you a way to check-in and see how you are improving. You don’t have to run the same workout for every week, but by frequently repeating the same workout, you can see how your training is improving and make the necessary adjustments.
For example, over the past 2 weeks, I’ve used an 8 mile time trial to see how much I’ve been improving. I was able to improve my pace by 11 seconds from one week to the next.
“No rigid protocol. Only guidelines. Too much protocol can be suffocating and become an end in itself. Each day is special. Each day is different.” – Bernd Heinrich, Why We Run (p. 225)
Instead of following an arbitrary training schedule, let your body tell you when it is ready for your next key workout. Sometimes, you’ll be ready after a few days, other times you will need a week to 10 days to fully recover. This is especially true if your key workouts are getting longer, like when training for a marathon.
It is important to use intuition to guide your training; not a rigid schedule. Listen to the signals your body sends you. Not just how your muscles and tendons feel, but also your motivation to train hard.
You should enjoy testing yourself on the road or trail. If you are feeling blasé about your training, take a few days easy. Your body will let you know if you are ready for another key workout, or whether to take a rest day.
Ask yourself, “Am I excited about this workout?”. If the answer is “no”, then take the day easy or skip running altogether.
“I have been astounded at times by how little training I need once I reach a peak. On occasion I have limited my entire running program to one race a week. I have gone as long as a month on such a schedule and noticed no change in my racing times.” – George Sheehan, Training: More or Less
One option to consider when using a low-mileage approach is to simply race your way into shape. Every weekend, run a race. During the week, run easy.
Racing has a lot of advantages over training alone. You get to run with other people. This can be a huge psychological boon. Whenever you have people watching you run, you tend to run faster. Even by uploading your run data to online services like Strava or Garmin Connect, you will run faster because you know people will be able to see your run.
Another benefit to racing is that it takes the guesswork out of creating workouts. It couldn’t be more simple. Get to the starting line and run. Racing trains your body for the specific stress of running faster over a given distance. Racing also helps you flex your mental muscle by forcing yourself to run fast when you don’t feel like it.
If you are training for a marathon, racing your way into shape is especially helpful because the race course will have aid stations along the way with water and sports drinks. No need to carry anything with you, or plant water bottles along your route, let the race director take care of that for you.
When training for a marathon, include progressively longer races and plug your times into an online marathon race predictor such as runningforfitness.org, to give you and idea of where you are at in your training.
With low-mileage running, the goal is not to follow a particular program, or schedule, but to optimize performance by maximizing adaptations to specific stress. Listen your body, and focus on running workouts that are specific to your race.
Low-mileage running is a way of running based around key workouts, rather than building high weekly mileage. You’ll be exploiting your body’s recovery and adaptation mechanisms by running s specific key workout, then allowing your body to recover.
Running injuries are the result from cumulative, repetitive stress on the body. They aren’t the result of one-off hard efforts. By running key workouts just 1–2 times per week, you capture the benefits that come with hard training, while keeping your risk of injury low.
If you stress your body appropriately through hard training, then give it time to recover, you’ll get faster.
Too many runners focus just on the hard training and ignore recovery. They make the mistake of not allowing for adequate recovery between workouts.
You’ll only get faster if you allow your body to properly recover between workouts.
Key workouts give you the biggest bang for your buck. Structure training around key workouts to help your body adapt to specific paces.
If you’re training for a marathon, your most important key workout is your 15–20 mile long-run. For a half-marathon, it’s your 8–10 mile fast paced run. For the 10k it is a mix sustained efforts of 3–6 miles and interval work. For the 5k it’s short time trials and fast intervals.
- Key workouts give the necessary stimulus to support your racing, they help you get faster
- All other running outside of key workouts is done at an easy pace with occasional 10 – 20 second sprints mixed in
- Track key workouts closely so you can do an apples-to-apples comparison over time
“Who every records that exceptional runners like Walter George and Alf Shrubb achieved quite remarkable performances on very low mileage? George ran a mile in 4:10 and 10 miles in 49:49 on little more than 3km of training per day. Even Paavo Nurmi, the most medaled Olympic runner of all times, trained pathetically little but performed exceptionally, even by today’s standards.”
- Tim Noakes (Lore of Running p.292)
If you want to stay injury free while getting faster, it is essential to find the minimum effective dose of training to get your desired results. If your goal is to run a sub 5 min mile, and you can achieve this by running 20 miles per week, why run more?
Running more miles than necessary will only increase your chance of injury and burnout.
Find the minimum amount of running necessary to achieve your goals.
“It is clear that genetic ability has more to do with why great athletes beat us than their hard training, and there is no earthly way in which training can reverse the physiological realities and thus reduce the chasm that divides us from them. Unfortunately, too many runners believe that they must train hard to run well and end up doing too much to try to compensate for their genetic deficits”
– Tim Noakes (Lore of Running p.291)
I learned from my experience with low-mileage running that 80% of the benefits you get from training come from just 20 percent of the training.
By pairing your training down to the bare essentials, you can get 80 percent of the benefits with just a fraction of the running.
By focusing on what’s important, you can cut back on your weekly mileage, helping to reduce injuries while maximizing your results.
Through my experience with a low-mileage approach, I’ve come to believe that many runners spend too much time slogging away endless slow miles, that have limited value.