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

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Long Road Home - Empirical Evidence

I learned a lesson or two recently, after 40 years of running, but I think it will take a few posts to explain.

The first data available for what runners actually did came from the world record holders who were asked how they trained. Fred Wilt (who I was lucky enough to meet) compiled a lot of this into three books called "How They Train" - long out of print, but some reprinted in Tim Noakes' "Lore of Running." The first volume, covering up to about World War II, showed a wide variety of training methods; by the third volume, it all started to look the same. Some would say that, as times lowered to a theoretical limit, that training also edged toward a singular best method. I think that the spread of information just got people to do what had worked for others.

The next empirical data I got came when a survey was sent to finishers of the 1974 Portland Marathon. Instead of just the most talented runners, this gave a spread from 2:20 to about 5:00. They found that those who had finished a marathon previously ran 15-20 minutes faster than those who hadn't and posited that the experience caused them to run faster. Instead, I think that those who ran well at a marathon ran another, while those who had a terrible time (I mean that two ways) decided not to run another. For the record, my first 5 finishes were 3:20, 3:19, 3:05, 3:41, 2:42.

In the 1980's, I was beating 2:30 marathoners in short races, but couldn't break 2:40 (except once, on a short course). Allan Lawrence published three training manuals then - again, long out of print - the first one covering the marathon, with what athletes he coached did, with finishes spaced every 10 minutes from 2:20 to 4:00. I couldn't do any of the workouts in the 2:30 schedule, or the 2:40. I could only do the easy runs in the 2:50. I could do all the runs in the 3:00, but not as frequently as his runners; for example, in the first week of marathon-specific training, he had a sub-3 marathoner run the following week:

M 16x200in 38- 200
T 10 miles in 70
W 3x1600 in 6:00 - 800
Th 6
F  10 in 70
Sa 1/2 marathon race in 1:25:15
S 18

I could do the 200's in 31 or 32 and the miles in 5-5:10, but 10 miles at marathon pace meant at least four days of recovery for me. Running almost a half marathon at race pace every other day, PLUS a long run PLUS speedwork? No way.

I could do all of the 3:10 schedule. His runner had run 3:12 previously and finished in 3:06, which to me just means an easier course or better weather. Remember, I ran under 2:45 on this training. Was coaching just finding runners who underperformed by a minute per mile?

Now we have all kinds of data available online. Strava compiled data and found that the average runner using Strava that broke 3:00 in the marathon ran an average of 50-55 miles per week, almost all at 7:30 per mile. Lawrence, typical of coaches in the 1980's, would have them run 60-70 miles per week at 8 minutes per mile (for the longer runs and recovery runs).

I never ran what I considered a great marathon, because, simply, I'm not a marathoner, but a short distance runner. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and my weakness is being unable to hold a moderately fast pace for a long time - in other words, marathoning. But I ran my best short races when training for a marathon and that's got me thinking...

No comments: