There are 86 days until my goal race, The Richmond Marathon. I’ve kept my mileage in the 50-mile-per-week range over the summer and this will be the first week I’ll hit the 60s since training for Boston. And I’m looking forward to it.
Everyone’s optimal mileage is different. Some people race marathons well running fewer than 50 miles per week. Elites run upwards of 120 miles per week. For the last two marathons, I peaked just over 80 and I think that’s my sweet spot. I’ll spend the next month in the 60s, then 3-4 weeks in the 70s before hitting 80 for one or two weeks.
The majority of those miles are very slow. I run my easy runs 2-3 minutes slower than marathon pace. I truly believe this is what has kept me almost injury-free since I began running (knock on wood). Building the endurance engine happens at any pace, but injury and overuse tends to happen at high speed, so it makes sense to go slow on easy days. I also believe the time on your feet, rather than the amount of miles you run makes a big difference, which is another benefit of slow running. You are simply out there much longer to run the same distance so your body spends more time building up your aerobic system.
Some people get away with running less mileage because they cross-train more, but again it’s the time spent exercising that matters. I cross-train, but mostly strength training and plyometrics (fancy word for jumping exercises). Many of my running friends bike or play another sport that serves the same aerobic purpose as my slow running does for me. I’ll swim for 30 minutes once or twice a month, but that’s about it. I just want to run.
Yesterday, I had a tempo run where I was supposed to hit marathon pace for 5 miles. It was not happening. There were lots of reasons why: it was hot; it was humid; I didn’t have enough sleep; I didn’t eat enough before the run; I had a stressful day at work; and I am still recovering from blood donation last week (that’s the major one). I got within 8-15 seconds of goal pace for four miles and then stopped. I breathed a bit then told myself I would try again and just get through that last mile. After a quarter mile, I peeked at my watch and I was over 30 seconds off and decided just to slow down and call that mile part of my cool down. I’m still pleased that I got in some good miles, but the speed (and all those red blood cells!) is going to take a while to come back.
This weekend’s long run is 18 miles, all easy pace. It’s been months since I’ve run that distance and I’m looking forward to stretching myself again and getting into the meat of marathon training. The nice part of the Long, Slow, Distance run is that there is no pressure other than to keep moving forward. No times to hit, no self-judgment, just keep going. I know not all of my long runs coming up will be so gentle (some will be incredibly hard), so I’m going to simply enjoy it.
Have a great weekend!