Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 20 Feb 2005 09:14:42 -0500

How Much Is Enough?

RUNNING COMMENTARY 559

It's interesting what you can hear while running when you aren't too busy talking and don't have recorded music or news talk plugged into your ears. Here's what I heard one recent morning:

Two runners came up from behind. One did most of the talking, his volume growing as the gap between us shrunk.

The first words I caught were "... new marathon training program." Then "... only run long every other week." And louder, "They only go over 20 miles once, peaking at 21."

They passed me with a small wave from one and a nod from the other. They didn't know me, or I them, or realize that I'd overheard them.

The gap between us grew again. The last words I heard were, "... not enough running."

Says who? Themselves, from their marathon experiences? Another writer whose schedules they've read?

They weren't reading my writing. And their experience doesn't match mine.

They were talking down a program going into practice for the first time locally. I wrote it and am overseeing it for a new store in town called the Eugene Running Company.

The runners whose critique I heard were right in their description of the training. But they were wrong, I have to think, in their conclusion.

Yes, the long runs are every other weekend, going up by two-mile steps from 11. (A pre-training program builds to 10 miles, testing if runners can or want to continue.)

Yes, the distance peaks at 21 miles, the only training run above 20. (A later column will solve the mystery of where the extra miles come from on raceday.)

And yes, these runs are long enough for most runners. (The most common cause of breakdowns in training that I've seen is too many long runs with too little recovery between. We take only six of them, with at least two weeks between.)

These ideas aren't wild guesses at what might work in marathon training. I didn't make any of this up lately just to sell books to thousands of shortcut-seekers.

This type of training has a long history, starting with my own entry into marathoning in 1967. Ten years later, readers first saw an early version of this program. Their reports to me both validated and improved it.

The latest incarnations of the schedule appear in the book Marathon Training. It has sold well enough to go into a second edition.

Someone must be reading the book and following its training plans, but you couldn't tell it by my mail. I hear from very few of its readers, which isn't a bad sign.

You know how we runners are. We don't quietly swallow our disappointments. Anyone who felt led badly astray by Marathon Training would have let me know quickly and vociferously, yet these complaints are rare.

My column in the March-April issue of Marathon & Beyond tells how this approach came about: how I trained for my first marathon with long runs that averaged every other week and peaked at 20 miles... how I took more long runs and longer ones before later marathons and never improved the original time... how my published schedules now read very much like that first one.

The M&B column explains why this training worked well from the start, first for me and later for readers. Once the magazine's subscribers have seen the full column, I'll excerpt its key arguments here. They silently answer the early-morning talkers who concluded, "Not enough."

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