Winter can be a tough time to train for a lot of people. The majority of runners I know either had planned down time or forced down time due to a wicked flu season and/or horrendous weather in their region. Any of these things can be a blessing in disguise, as us runners tend to push ourselves very hard year around; we need to train year around, but we also need periods of rest and recovery. We can either voluntarily take the time to recover with a reduction in load, or, our body can force us to take that time through sickness and injury.
However, winter is over! With spring comes new light and new energy! The days are longer, the weather is nicer, the flowers are blooming, and summer is on the horizon. Not only that, but the fire is burning HOT for all of those summer races you signed up for. Now is the time time to see what you’re made of! Now is the time to start your journey towards running or ultrarunning greatness.
As John L. Parker Jr. famously wrote in his novel “Once a Runner” – “You don’t become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many day, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”
Many Coaches quote this line, but how do you safely implement the “Trial of Miles” ? And without setbacks ? Let’s clarify the latter, first: There may be setbacks. It is foolish to think that anyone participating in this high-impact, repetitive sport will come out unscathed. Don’t let Charlatan Coaches or compression gear companies tell you otherwise: eventually you’ll sustain some type of running related injury. We all get hurt. We can do our best to minimize the risks of injury, but we can’t completely prevent it from occurring. And if we get injured? We also heal. And we achieve even greater things by staying positive in the face of adversity and learning from those setbacks.
But hey! Cross that bridge when you get there.
Let’s talk about increasing running volume safely:
One of the most common mistakes I see is people running too fast, too often, which leads to nagging injuries, inconsistent training, and subpar results. Slow down! You literally need to run slower to run faster. Unless you’re a nationally competitive athlete or have been running most of your life, the majority of your mileage should be fairly relaxed. This is especially important when you’re increasing volume to a level you’ve not experienced yet.
Show up. Consistency is key. And it’s easy: you just choose to do it. Don’t skip days. Don’t cut runs short. Don’t make excuses. Consistency leads to better running, less injury, and more speed.
The 10% rule for volume increase is slow, archaic, and nonsensical. However, too much, too soon is the number one leading cause of injury in runners. Instead, try increasing your weekly volume by the the number of days you run per week. If you run 4 days per week, add 4 miles. If you run 5 days per week, add 5 miles. Listen to your body and work with your Coach. After a couple weeks of increasing, stay steady and adapt to that load before adding more mileage.
When you’re increasing your overall volume, it is a big stressor to your body, especially if the volume is in unfamiliar territory. It would be too risky to simultaneously increase the duration and/or speed of demanding workouts. Keep strides in your program, or maybe hill sprints, or a set of light surges or fartlek sessions here and there, and every week or two, complete a long run, but keep extremely demanding workouts to a minimum. You’ll have plenty of time for those once you adapt to the stress of your new training load.
Get up early. Have something to eat. Drink your coffee. Use the restroom. Brush your teeth. Lace up your shoes. GO RUN. Habits become second nature, and in the thick of training, running should be no different.
Acknowledge fear and then say “Kiss my ass!”
Maybe you’ve never run this much volume in a week before. Maybe you’re nervous to increase your weekly mileage because you’ve heard horror stories of “over-training” or “bad knees” or “heart scarring” from publications looking to capitalize off of your fear. Maybe you have a little self doubt; this is all normal, but to be your best, you must overcome your fears. Believe in yourself! You are capable of amazing things.
Have you been running 30 miles per week ? Take the time to increase to 50. Have you been running 50 miles per week ? Take the time to increase to 70. Have you been running 70 miles per week ? Well… you get it. There is a point of diminishing returns as far as volume goes, but I’d bet that 99% of the people (maybe even 100%) who end up reading this, are not near that point.
I’m not saying you should go out and pull an Anton Krupicka; running 200 miles per week until you can no longer run at all, but you have nothing to lose by trying something new, and as easy, for your performance as a mileage increase. So long as you are able to balance the stress of running with the stress of your work and family life; push yourself progressively. Build your volume in your program in a smart and productive way with a long term vision. You can be who you want to be. And there’s no better time to make that transition than in the spring time, when the world feels brand new.
“Much is not dared because it seems hard; much seems hard only because it is not dared.” – Prince Wenzel Anton Von Kaunitz