Like many, for years I ran with the mindset that faster was better. If you want to race fast, you’ve got to train fast – an extension of the no pain, no gain philosophy. For me, that worked pretty well. Have never been a high mileage runner – more than 40 MPW on five days a week seemed to invite injury. But most of it was pretty fast paced – usually between just 45 and 60 seconds/mile slower than 10K race pace.
I‘ve been racing for 38 years and thankfully spent very little time on the DL – until three years ago. For the first 35 years, I was out of action an average of about 2-3 weeks a year. I attributed this, in part, to taking the approach of not running through injuries. If something cropped up, I hit the pool and Stairmaster until things felt solid. And then it was immediately back to the fast-paced stuff. The two exceptions were a 3-month outage due to a torn piriformis (which I hadn’t even known existed!) and a two-month layoff due to patella tendonitis, for which 15 years later I still preventively tape.
So along I went on my merry way. Averaged 1,930 miles from 2008 to 2011. And was half convinced I could ward off Father Time. Then things started to happen! Calf pulls and hip strains became ongoing occurrences keeping me off the roads for weeks at a time. Though I dutifully pool ran and StairMastered and kept up with strength training, my average mileage between 2012 and 2014 dipped to 1,287/year – a 33% drop. And my race times reflected that. I realized that to achieve my best times, even age-graded, required more than 25 mpw of running. How could I get back to 40 mpw without nagging injuries? Though a creature of habit, I was willing to try something new.
In his book, Build Your Running Body, Pete Magill, a California-based coach and national caliber masters runner, talks about the importance of recovery from races, hard workouts (which by his description was most of mine!) and other stresses. Coach and author Greg McMillan suggests running these at a 7-hour (yes hour!) marathon pace, a shade faster than walking. Yikes – who of us is going to road test that? Kenyans are known to run 9 min/mi recovery runs, though this may be their second run of the day. So there’s a spectrum of possibilities but the midrange for recreational runners seems to fall in the 2-3 minutes/mile slower-than-10K race pace, something I considered snail’s pace!
I decided several months ago to test out this recovery stuff. I planned out a training schedule that gradually built me back to 40 mpw. I have now been there for three weeks. I am running five to six days a week but two of the days are strictly recovery runs, generally shorter — 5 to 6 miles, at 2:15 – 2:30 per mile slower than my target 10K pace. This has not been easy to do. I’ve had to hold back while focusing to retain my normal cadence and bounce. But I now find myself looking forward to these runs, largely because they leave me feeling looser the day after or the day before a tough effort. I’ve even allowed this “snailing” to creep into my long runs, where I have moved from targeting ~75 seconds over 10K pace to 90+. Rather than feeling washed, I’m more invigorated after these runs. The side benefit is that when I do hard efforts, there is no excuse to keep from digging deep. I’m not saving anything for tomorrow’s run.
Not enough time has passed to see the effect on race times. But so far I’m optimistic the higher mileage and more focused hard workouts will show results. We are all an Experiment of One. I’ll have a lab report after the fall races!