"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

Personal soapbox

I had a burglar this week. He kicked in the door and decided there was nothing worth stealing, then left. He got nothing (except away) and I have to do some repairs. If he'd asked me for the amount of money I have to spend on the door, I'd've given it to him; I'm one of those guys who gives money to panhandlers - yes, I know it's enabling bad behavior, but they'll get their money one way or another and if it's not given, they rob guys who have little to begin with (like me). I also help people in recovery, so if he was feeding a habit, I could've helped him there, too.


Having discussed training in broad strokes, I'm going to finish my series witha word on how often to run and how often to run hard. I gave guidelines before for race frequency (4-5% of mileage long-term, 8-10% short-term).


Running twice a day is almost always a bad idea. There's no harm in occasionally doubling up one day, if one knows one will skip the next, but two five milers do not equal one ten miler. Those who should run twice a day: 1) Sprinters (they have a low training volume), 2) Olympic and national championship competitors and others who have to race twice in a weekend, 3) Those recovering from injuries with less than three weeks before they have to race and 4) Runners competing in races significantly longer than 12 hours - one of the reasons I've become enamored of 100 mile trail races is that all my "rules" break down.

Days off and easy days

If I miss a day in the summer, it's due to illness or injury; in the winter it's weather related. Only once in 30 years have I gone an entire year without missing a day. A good rule of thumb is that each day off sets one back three days: two days off is no big deal, a week off and one loses "sharpness", six weeks off (bone break or surgery) and it's like one's never run at all.

I try to run every day, with my only planned days off being just before major competitions (usually cinciding with travel). I do think it's important to schedule easy days and I like to have two consecutive 30-minute runs each week to recover from the rest of the week. I find that the short runs speed healing more than days off.

Hard days

Some muscle damage takes days of recovery to repair. This is sometimes called "DOMS" - delayed onset muscle soreness. Muscle aches the day after a hard workout is usually due to increased intensity. Often, one feels fine the day after, but hurts the second day (this always shocks beginners); this is usually due to unusually protracted workouts. Sprints hurt the next day, long runs the day after. Races hurt both days. If one's muscles hurt three days after, there's usually an injury involved.

Because one often doesn't ache the day after a hard run, some have tried back-to-back hard runs. I've always found this leads to overuse injuries, but it makes sense for 100 mile trail runs, as one's racing for more than 24 hours. Again, the rules break down.

2 or 3 times a week?

In the movie "Annie Hall," Alvy's psychiatrist asks him how often he and Annie have sex. He answers, "Hardly ever. Two...maybe three times a week." Annie's psychiatrist asks her the same question and she says, "Constantly! Two or three times a week." If I run hard twice a week, it often seems like I'm not doing enough. If I run hard three times a week, it feels like I never do anything else. I think this is why so many people incorporate cross-training; they think they can squeeze in one more hard workout - I think any training not specific to one's goals detracts from the next specific workout. I'm in a very small minority in this opinion.

Those racing 5K and under can do three hard workouts per week for several weeks, as the total number of hard miles is not great, but I feel others should stick to two: one fast, one long. If one feels one absolutely has to squeeze in one more hard workout, a set of sprints usually doesn't hurt anything.


Extending the easy day/ hard day idea to easy weeks/hard weeks leads to the idea of periodization. Much can be said in favor of this, but it quickly gets out of hand. Most of the ideas of periodization start with an obscure coach named Bompa, who used the terms microcycles, mesocycles and macrocycles - you know them as interval workouts, weeks and seasons.

Some coaches will have runners do nothing but long slow running for a long base period (van Aaken, Henderson, the low heart rate cult), then incorporate just hills (Lydiard, Galloway), then interval workouts, then a racing season, then an off season. The problem with this is that one risks injury by doing too much of one thing and then risks injury when switching to an unfamiliar type of training. It's interesting to note that evryone who advocates periodization abandons it for some runners - Daniels for elite marathoners, for example, which happen to be the only athletes he's coached (beyond the Cortland women's cross-country team).

I think the proper way to periodize is to do all the types of workouts throughout the year, but to emphasize one at a time. If one cuts a long run short during the racing season, it's no big deal, but not during the beginning base period. Conversely, it's okay to skip a speed workout during the base, but not when sharpening for races. A mature competitor learns one can't do all things well all the time.

The one aspect of periodization I completely agree with is tapering for major races, the details of which I may address in the future.

Next: fueling on the run


Joel said...

I'm really interested to see what you write about fueling on the run.

aharmer said...

Could you elaborate on the days off theory? To qualify as a running day that does not set you back at all, what would you consider the minimum volume?

SteveQ said...

Adam, my standard has always been the 30 minute run, but the true minimum is actually 70% effort at any distance (which is one of the reasons low heart rate training is problematic). If you only ran one minute, but all-out, that's not really a day off. The decline between 70% and 65% (or even 60%) is not great.

Kel said...

Tudor Bompa obscure? Depends on your line of work ;)

northwoods bryan said...

Other than trying to do a long-ish run each Saturday and resting each Sunday, I mostly just run what I feel like each day during the week -- which means usually a relaxed "base" pace, and occasionally faster when I am in the mood. I don't think sprinting intervals at a track are going to be that helpful, or possibly counterproductive, for training for a 50k.

And, I am planning on building up my long runs and my running mileage in general until 3 weeks before Chippewa Moraine, then tapering down.

I read somewhere once that as a rule of thumb, you need to run at least 2 miles a day every other day, to keep from backsliding in your fitness level. I think that must assume a sort of normal running schedule in general -- I think a serious runner who normally does 50+ mile weeks will backslide a lot if they do 2 miles per day every other day for more than a couple days.

SteveQ said...

Kel: You're right; Bompa is well-known and respected in his field. I took a potshot because I've read many of his articles and got nothing from them.

Bryan: My point about sprinting was that a third hard workout is counterproductive and sprints are simply the least demanding, so least harmful. The 2 miles (20-30 minutes) every other day is a standard given for minimal fitness, which doesn't apply to athletes in training. Your long runs will get you to the finish line - faster runs would help get you to the finish a little faster.

Runner Brewer said...

I am a big fan of days off. 1-2 per week.

I guess I could be a better runner, some am inconsistent in my discipline.

I did not run for 2 months this summer and "crash trained" for Sup 50... and felt fine. I guess its all in my head.

The low HR training has helped my mentality on this, as I am improving, and am not tired.

I wish I could remember some more Annie Hall quotes so I could be witty here.

I am not sure I would want to be a member of a group who would have me as a member.

northwoods bryan said...


Good point; I have been focusing almost totally on remedial base-building for a long time, and trying to build up longer long runs, but getting to the finish line a little faster would be nice, and making sure I do a serious tempo run each week is something I need to do.