It looks like spring is finally here. After a particularly brutal winter, you’re probably going a bit overboard on the mileage. Like always, I’ll counsel you to rein in your wild enthusiasm to avoid injury. The 10% rule is still a good one to follow: don’t add more than ten percent of your previous week’s mileage each week. If you ran 20 miles last week, then your goal for the current week should be 22 miles. If you simply missed some miles during the past week due to work or family stuff, you’re probably ok to do a little more and if you’re coming back from injury, maybe a little less. Listen to your body.
You might ask how this relates to this month’s running tip: “Run more, rest more.” I’m just getting the main caveat out of the way: Always listen to your body and don’t increase your mileage in ridiculous ways. I have to hang that out there because I’m about to urge you to build up your mileage like it’s the early 1980s –– when LSD (long slow distance) was king.
Why do I want you to do this? I want you to take advantage of all the dynamic performance changes that can happen when you run more. Famed New Zealand Coach Arthur Lydiard came up with the idea of running long and slow to establish an endurance base but also (paradoxically) to increase speed. It turns out that there is a strong correlation between training volume and success for elite runners who qualified for past U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathons (http://running.competitor.com/2013/10/training/are-you-running-enough-miles_35813#q4hyDjouHBuRHUvp.99). According to coach and endurance sports journalist Matt Fitzgerald, “to get the best race results, you need to train almost as much as you physically can.”
How does more running improve your running? First, to avoid reaching that “running as much as you physically can” too soon, you need to go more slowly. Longer runs at an easier, conversational pace will increase your capillary and mitochondrial density, as well as your red blood cell and hemoglobin levels. This physiological development allows your body to be more effective at transporting oxygen to your muscles and this allows you to both run further and faster. Increasing mileage also trains your muscles to store more glycogen –– the fuel that your muscles need to function. Ultimately, high mileage is all about your body achieving greater efficiencies.
When it comes to endurance, improved aerobic capacity peaks at around 60-70 miles per week, yet running efficiency and neuromuscular adaptation continues to improve with increased mileage beyond this high threshold. Very simply, if your body spends more time running, it will get better at it. This is one of the things that make elite runners elite. The problem, of course, is that more time equals more volume and this can lead to injury and breakdown.
So, if you want the aerobic and neuromuscular efficiencies associated with higher mileage, there are two mandates that have to be followed:
1) Take your time. Run your long runs slowly. These aren’t about speed; they’re all about adaptation –– building capillary and mitochondrial density. Your speed will improve because you’ll be getting in your groove.
2) Rest. No, seriously, I mean it. Running extra mileage will require more rest and it is this rest, combined with slower pacing that will prevent you from getting injured. Elite runners run a lot, but they also rest a lot. Running and resting is their job. While most of us don’t get paid to take naps, you should schedule your rest –– and by rest, I mean sleep –– as you would schedule your runs.
More of this… and more of this
By taking a more strategic approach to rest, you will be able to tolerate more mileage at an easier pace. Then you will build up your endurance and efficiency so that you can reach your running goals. Take this mantra to heart: Run more, rest more.