Wednesday, October 17, 2018

It's All About The Miles

Time and again I get asked for training advice.  Time and again it comes down to one simple answer.  You've got to run the miles.  Just before my 30th birthday I decided I wanted to run a decent marathon.  When I sat down with Tom Dowling, a private coach with an amazing record of producing great runners, he kept it pretty simple.  He wanted me to do a weekly long run, a couple of medium long runs and at least one up tempo run a week that could be from two to six miles.

I came to him with a marathon PR of 2:57:14.  I told him I wanted to break 2:40.  I figured it could be done on 40 miles a week with a lot of intervals and a hard ten mile run once a week.  I lived in a world of folly.

When I first looked at his calendar that stretched out over six months I laughed in his face.  It had me going from 15 to 20 miles a week up to 50 plus miles a week.  The long run would gradually increase from six to 18 and then as he explained, eventually 21.  Impossible I responded, my life simply won't allow it.    But I looked around at the dozens of other runners Tom coached, many of them married with kids, with jobs far more demanding than mine.  Many of them were running 60 to 80 miles a week.

Starting in December of 1985 I tried to follow the calendar laid out before me as closely as possible.  By May I was cheating and joining the big group in the 21 mile Sunday long run.  It seemed as if overnight  I was running 60 miles a week.  Those 10 mile mid-week runs felt like three.  Intervals were expressly forbidden, although I cheated on occasion and usually paid a price for it. 

By October of 86 I talked Coach Dowling into letting me run a marathon and he said okay, as long as I made it a training run.  For 23 miles it was one of the easiest runs of my life.  The last two were hell but that three hour training run turned into a big PR of 2:49:24 on an extremely hilly course.

2:51 marathon at Grandma's in 1987.  My plans of a 2:45 were short-circuited by food poisoning
It took another four years to get to my goal of a sub-2:40 but I learned a lot of lessons of how not to train and the importance of just putting in the miles.  I ran a lot of what would be called junk miles.  I would guess out of a typical 200 mile month I would do three long runs, four tempo runs, six medium long runs from 10 to 15 miles and a lot of easy three to five mile runs.  About 40 percent of my runs were slower than 7:30 pace.  My long runs were rarely faster than 7:30 pace though the "books" out there with marathon training programs suggest I should have been running under 7 minute pace.

The point of all this is if you want to run a marathon and not suffer in complete agony you've got to put in miles and most of all you have to do a LOT of long runs.  I ran eight marathons while Tom was still alive, most following my own calendar while adhering to his tenants.  Even in races were I encountered tough issues like heat or being short on overall mileage, those long runs saved my ass.  I was so toughened that I could adjust and still run a reasonable marathon.

So when you come into my store and complain about how hard it is to run 30 miles a week I will shake my head.  Yes, it's hot in Southwest Florida.  But I point out that Ron Tabb ran 120 plus miles a week training in Houston, Texas in weather that is just as awful.  Heck, when I first moved to Fort Myers I was running 40 to 50 miles a week and I was in my mid-40's.  With discipline and dedication you can find the time to get the miles in.  You can build your long run into something that will truly benefit you.

Three month training programs that have to building a long run from six miles to 20 in that amount of time is pure folly.  If you want to tackle the marathon, take your time, give yourself six or seven months of serious training with a long, gradual buildup in miles.  Before Dowling I had run a 3:11 marathon in May of 1985 on 20 miles a week.  Ten months after meeting Tom I had 22 minutes faster and it hurt a hell of a lot less.  It's all about the miles with a long run front and center.

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