We all know the famous fable about the tortoise and the hare and how the tortoise prevails due to his patience and consistency. But how many of us take this slow and steady approach in our own training or when we return to running after an injury or a significant amount of time off?
Slow and Steady
I know I don’t like to — but I learned a couple years back that trying the ramp up my volume and speed too quickly just got me into this endless cycle of injury-recovery-ramp-up-too-fast-injury, which sucked, quite frankly. The issue is that I’m getting older (I turned 45 three months ago), and while I’m not grandpa-Allison yet, I also must concede that I’m not a youthful 25-year-old runner either. So what did I start to do about 24 months ago to kick-start my training without falling to injury yet again? I simply told myself that I needed to start my training out a bit slower and a bit less aggressive than I would have 8-10 years ago. The results thus far: In the past 10 months I have run times I haven’t run in over 8 years (15:36 5K, 33:24 10K (Cross Country Course) and a 4:27 mile).
20 to 30-something Training
Here’s an example of what I would have done say even 6-8 years ago, before I turned 40, if I hadn’t been running consistently for a while:
- Start running 5-8 miles per day + one 10+ mile run on the weekend
- Add speed training or up tempo running maybe after week 1
- Incorporate a strength/core training regimen immediately
- Increase my mileage 10% each week and max out at around 70-80 mi/wk.
By training this way I would go from about 35+ mi/wk to 60+ mi/wk in 7 to 8 weeks with 3-4 moderate to hard runs per week. My body could handle this without any injury setbacks. But the post-40 Dave can’t ramp up that fast. My mind is willing, but my body is telling me “slow down brother, we’ll get there – you just need a bit more patience….”
All throughout 2011 and 2012, I was not listening to the guy inside my head. I was arrogantly saying: I know I can run fast again, and I know how to get myself there. And while I have recently proven I can still run at a pretty high level, my approach, from what I have learned, needs to be at a more “slow and steady” approach.
When I started in mid-2013 I changed my training program to start like this:
- Started running 3+ miles per day
- Added intense speed work, but decreased the amount of intervals
- More easy to moderate runs vs. hard runs
- Incorporating core/strength workouts 2x/week (now up to 4-5x/week)
- Incorporated yoga 1x/week (need to get back to this – have dropped off the last 12 months)
- Mileage increase – only 1-3 miles per week.
So, while it took me several months to even get up to 30 miles per week (a weekly mileage I would have jumped into right away in the past), I started to go from 4 days a week…to 5…to 6…and then to everyday after 6-8 months with my body reacting quite well.
And although I didn’t do very much of 800-1600 meter interval type work in the beginning, I started to do more 100-400 meter interval running — at a higher intensity, but with only a handful of reps per workout. Also, nearly in all my “easy runs” I incorporated 5-10 minutes of 5K or faster pace within the run. This might have been for a straight 5-10 minutes or may be more in a fartlek fashion. What this was doing was slowly building up my endurance to a level I knew it will need to be in order to run fast 800 to 5000 meter races, but still touched upon speed – a component many non-elite runners rarely do, but is the key to running fast personal times.
Months…Not Days and Weeks
If you are older or just out of shape, take your time and build up your endurance and speed over months, not days and weeks. While it’s enticing to “hit it hard!” or “push yourself to your limits!”, this may lead to injury and/or medical complications. If you are just starting cardiovascular activity, make sure you consult a medical professional to see what your training parameters should be. If you give yourself time, you will find that with each week your confidence will grow and your running speed and endurance will increase.
I have lofty running goals for 2015-16, and I have gotten very close to reaching all of them – but I need to keep this steady approach in my training, because while my mind wants me to jump out the gate like the hare with my training, my body knows that the tortoise approach is the way to go…it may not be as sexy, but if the results continue to come, then I’ll happily schlep this training shell on my back.