“Mileage!” And other valuable lessons from April

by Jason Fitzgerald

Recently I asked a running friend of mine, “Quick, gut reaction answer: what is my potential in the marathon in the next three years?”

He answered, “2:33, give or take.”

Then came the qualifier. He added, IF you do some real high volume training, you have the potential to run low 2:30’s.”

It seems that I have work to do.

Cherry Blossoms

This discussion happened with my friend Adam, a 2:25 marathoner who has 7 marathons under his belt. He’s also a New England 10k track champion and cross country All-American. So, I take his advice seriously.

This all builds on an earlier conversation with my college cross country coach. He was telling me about his new mantra for his team: “Mileage!”

You simply can’t be a good distance runner if you’re not putting in a lot of miles. His top runners were peaking at about 90 miles per week (for an 8k cross country race).

I peaked at 88 miles before the Philadelphia Marathon. Now I feel like a slacker.

These two conversations have prompted me to think long and hard about my racing. Have I done everything I want to do before I “retire?” Am I comfortable with my list of personal bests?

Hell no.

To accomplish my personal stretch goals – like running under 2:35 in the marathon – I’m going to have to run a lot more. That gradual process starts now.

As I once heard Jay Johnson say, “To do something you’ve never done before, you have to do something you’ve never done before.” Time to get after it!

Mileage and Workouts: Hello 5k Pace!

April was my highest volume week of 2012 but still not really “high mileage” for me. At 287 miles it’s slightly over my average from 2010 of 251 (my highest mileage year ever with 3,018 miles) but nowhere near the 340’s that I was running before the Philadelphia Marathon.

During the last half of the month I made a conscious decision to start my gradual volume increase that won’t peak until early fall. The last two weeks of April were solid: back to back 75 mile weeks. I was also able to run three good long runs of 18, 18, and 19 miles. I skipped a long run the weekend I was in Cancun for a bachelor party – I’m not going to make the same mistake twice.

Running higher volume at the same time as running increasingly intense workouts was a difficult and somewhat risky move. I kept both increases modest, only increasing each slightly from week to week.

With a sprint duathlon and Warrior Dash coming up in May, I’ve been working on my 5k speed. Let’s take a look at April’s fast workouts:

  • 13 miles with 40′ progressive tempo (MP to Tempo)
  • 6k tempo in 21:06 with 2×1000 @ sub-5k pace (3:08, 3:07)
  • 5k tempo in 17:33 + mile (5:17) and 2×800 (2:30, 2:29)
  • Mile, 1200, 1000, 800, 600, 400 in 5:16, 3:55, 2:12, 2:30, 1:50, 69

There was real consistency here with a hard workout every week. Keep in mind I was also doing plenty of mini-workouts of 15-30 second surges near the end of my runs. These short fartleks help loosen me up after an hour+ of running a constant pace – plus they maintain my speed without a lot of extra effort.

But the inconsistent part of April was my cycling: I only went for one 38 minute ride! Clearly, I’m going to need to step this up if I want to race well in my duathlon this Memorial Day.

Many of the fitness gains you get from running carry over well into cycling but of course some specific work is needed. Time to get to work.

April’s Barefoot Running

Barefoot_Running

Not only was this a great month for overall mileage and workouts but I continued with one of March’s goals: spend more time barefoot!

I have consistently run two sessions of 4-6 barefoot strides every week on a local synthetic turf field. Combined with running all of my workouts in my Nike Streak XC flats, I’m doing more barefoot/minimalist work than I have in the past 6 years!

Of course, safety is a big concern and I’m trying to be careful not to put too much stress on my lower legs. I’m using a gradual approach to slowly get used to minimalist running shoes. Since I’m a weirdo I read my own articles for advice. So far so good!

One of the ways that I’m boosting recovery from all this barefoot work is by using compression socks. I’ve found that wearing them during the day after a long run or hard workout makes my feet and lower legs feel better the next day than if I didn’t wear them. Occasionally I’ll even sleep in them – sleeping with socks is definitely weird (and hot) but I can really tell the difference in the morning.

I’ve been rotating between the Zensah knee-high socks and the Vitalsox compression socks.

Question: Which brand of compression socks do you wear? Have you noticed a significant difference between brands or styles?

Looking Beyond… What’s Next?

For the next month, I’ll be doing more of the same: volume in the high 70’s, a continuation of regular barefoot strides and workouts in racing flats, and moving the intensity of my workouts even higher.

Greg McMillan has an interesting article on Running Times called Go Zone Racing: A Strategy for Better Performance. The premise is simple: if you want to have a racing breakthrough, you need to get uncomfortable and break through your comfort zone.

That’s what I’m doing now with workouts – and what I’ll do this summer with volume.

By jacking up the intensity this April and May, the goal is to have a solid duathlon performance over Memorial Day. While I’m also racing a Warrior Dash, that’s just for fun. You can’t put time goals on a wacky adventure race.

Based on my workouts the last several weeks, I think my fitness is good so I hope to find a local 5k in the DC area on the weekend of May 12-13. Stay tuned!

After May wraps up, the goal is MILEAGE. I’ll switch off the intensity, maintain the barefoot strides, and work on running a few weekly mileage PR’s (my current mileage PR is 90 for one week).

Giddy up!

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