Training Update: Balancing and Building Quality Days

Dances With Dirt - Devil's Lake trail near Baraboo, WI
Dances With Dirt – Devil’s Lake trail near Baraboo, WI

Some simple training talk … After some well-deserved time off in November and December (5 weeks of zero running) I’m in the process of rebuilding a good base and starting to feel good again with a regular running workload.  Building from 12 miles/week to my latest of 65 miles last week in 5 runs with a successful pair of 16mi and 20mi back-to-back long runs on Friday-Saturday.  I’ve found myself taking additional days off sometimes due to business but also “mileage management” as I balance quality days with rest days throughout the past few weeks.

Effective endurance training follows the model of quality training followed by rest and recovery … repeat over and over.  Quality can take the form of high intensity (i.e. 5 x 1000m at 5k race pace), stamina (4 x 2mi at half marathon pace), strength (8-12 miles “hard”), or even just time under your feet (long runs).  Recovery can take the form of easy running, days off, cross training, etc.  Doing what it takes to race some of the distances and terrain of the ultra races / runs I have planned (like the 80-100km of long trail climbing / descending in my solo Grand Canyon Rim-Rim-Rim run or one of the most rugged and challenging Midwest ultras at Dances with Dirt – Devils Lake in the humid bluffs) requires extending my long runs and simply putting more time on my feet.  I’m excited to do this as my long runs are the highlight of my week … my personality and self-reflection in a busy work / family life yields a desire to get lost in the trails / roads every once in a while.

But this comes at a price … more miles, more quality, more time on my feet – what’s the trade off?  MORE REST!  When training for a 5k, 10k, or half marathon I often extend my long run to ~2 hours (18-20 miles) … marathon training I get up to 2.5 hours … but now I’m looking at getting 3+ hours or running 4-6 hours over the course of two days.  Sure it’s tempting to just keep everything the same and run more on the long run(s) but doing this will lead to breakdown.  Over the years, I’ve found my mileage “sweet spot” – where I train most effectively while maintaining a balanced lifestyle (kids, wife, job, etc) is ~80-90 miles per week.  I’ve gone above this and simply break down and/or don’t perform well.  I’m taking this experience into the world of ultra running … stress on the body is stress on the body … I’m not all of a sudden going to be able to handle more just because there is a different race of a longer distance in the future.  I’m sticking to the same overall mileage and extending my longer days to be longer which means my shorter restful days get to be shorter!  This actually seems more and more appealing to me and more manageable on a weekly basis.  Getting up earlier for long runs might be necessary but a short and restful 5 – 8 miler is easier to sneak in during the week than plodding 7 – 12 easy miles to recover.

While building, I still take the liberty to have another mid-week quality day depending how I feel.  Usually Tuesday or Wednesday I’ll run hard on feel (progression run), hills, or just get out for a medium long run (14-16ish miles).  For now, that’s it … still building mileage, building longer long run(s), keep a mid-week quality day, but keeping my rest days restful and short – same overall workload.  Running tons and tons of miles only to feel burned out is not fun – trust me, I’ve been there … running smart and having successful quality days gives me more confidence each week!

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