Consistency, Personal Records, and Community Inspired Training: An Interview with Steve Speirs

Qualifying for Boston by over 20 minutes. Winning a marathon. Writing a book. Creating an iPhone app for athletes. Running over 3,000 miles in a year.

Steve Speirs has done it all – and more.

He was gracious enough to let me interview him on his training, racing, and early running career so that we can all learn how to be better runners. Steve has found a training approach that is letting him run more than ever and run PR’s into his 40’s. Finding what works for you is so valuable because you can continue to find enjoyment in your training as you run faster than ever.

Steve started running as a teenager in the early ‘80’s just to stay fit for soccer and rugby. He soon ran his first half-marathon and was hooked. Now he races everything from 5k to 50k and sprint to Ironman triathlons. His favorite distance is the marathon and has completed 31 marathons over his career. Later this year he will tackle his first 50 Miler at the North Face Endurance Challenge in Washington, DC. You can read more of Steve’s accomplishments on his website, Run Bulldog Run.

His best marathon time is 2:47:14 set at the 2011 P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. He still thinks he can race faster. For Steve, running is not just a way to stay fit and healthy – over the years, it’s taught him so many things about himself that he can’t imagine life without running.

Steve is also the creator of the popular 100 push-ups, 200 sit-ups, and 200 squats websites. In 2009, his first book was published – 7 Weeks to 100 Push-Ups. The book consistently ranks high on Amazon amongst other exercise and fitness books.

On to the interview!

Steve, you’re quite active on Twitter and Dailymile – posting workouts, engaging with other runners, and using social media to connect with runners who share similar goals. How important is it to you to seek out a community of supportive people who can offer encouragement?

To be honest, up until a couple of years ago, it wasn’t important at all. My only source of encouragement back then would be from the running community at local races and the occasional comment on my running blog. Nowadays, the support and motivation comes thick and fast from Twitter, Dailymile and Facebook, and it’s really helped lift me to a whole new level. [Jason’s note: Connect with Steve on Twitter and Steve on Dailymile]

Besides just running, what other types of exercise and training do you do (cross-training, stretching, core work, strength exercises)?

I don’t stretch nearly enough, but in the past year or so I have been pretty disciplined about core and upper body work. I’ll mix in some cycling from time to time, but typically only resort to the bike when I sense an overuse issue developing. I’ve also been rather fanatical about following my 100 push-ups and 200 sit-ups routines, although the focus has not been so much on achieving the 100/200 goal, but more about adding consistent, structured core/strength work to my training regime.

As a follow-up to that last question, do you find that cross-training and diet are more important as you get older for recovery and performance? What steps have you taken to continue to improve, even in your 40’s?

Most definitely. The cross training has certainly helped me stay strong during training cycles, and I’m sure has been a key factor in my ability to recover quickly from tough workouts and races. I also believe that using the body for resistance is more than sufficient for runners; there’s really no need to be spending more time at the gym than out on the road.

Diet is an interesting topic. I’m lucky enough that with the amount of miles I run, I can eat pretty much what I want without gaining extra poundage. Saying that, I don’t splurge too often on fast food, and am pretty good about maintaining a balanced diet, but if I fancy pigging out from time to time, I won’t think twice about it [Jason’s note: This is important. Perfection is for losers]. As most of my online friends already know, I’m also partial to a nightly beer. I don’t go for the cheap stuff, and much prefer to take my time over a quality brew than down 3 or 4 run of the mill beers just for the sake of it.

To run at a level like yours, it’s important to run a variety of workouts that stress different systems. What types of faster workouts do you do? Do you favor certain types of workouts over others? Why?

I was always of the notion that regular track work would make me fast. Not sure if it’s my age or the fact that I would pretty much leave everything on the track, but my body tends to break down fairly quickly if I make track work a regular part of a training cycle. I’d much prefer to head out and run a quality fartlek session, or even a fast-finishing progressive run.

I’m also a fan of running sprints at the local soccer complex – always on grass, and never accurately timed or measured. One other component I’ve recently added into the mix is to include numerous marathon pace miles into my long runs. I used to be more concerned with “time on my feet” for the longer stuff, but logging some quality miles on tired legs really seems to prepare me well come marathon race day.

You posted on your website that you ran over 3,000 miles in 2010. How do you structure your mileage and hard/easy days to be able to run that much? And out of curiosity, what was your highest mileage week?

My highest mileage week was just over the magic 100 if I remember correctly. Last year I ran a lot of doubles during the week. Some of the runs were just easy recovery miles, but I really think they helped keep things ticking over and prepared me for a higher quality afternoon/evening run. My highest mileage weeks typically contained back to back long runs on the weekend too – another great way to teach the body to keep on running when the legs are tired. Not something I’d recommend though, unless the runner is pretty confident in their ability to recover quickly.

One final thing I’d like to mention: I remember flying back from the UK in August last year, thinking ahead to the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October. I took advantage of the flight time to jot down a rough training plan, which rather ambitiously included a 20 mile long run every week. Somewhat surprisingly, I managed to nail at least a 20 miler each week leading up to MCM, aside from the weekend of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon which took place on a Sunday morning. Again, I truly believe the consistent long runs helped my ability to run well in the latter part of the year where I set personal records in numerous race distances from an 8K all the way up to a 50K trail race.

Let’s switch gears and talk about your early running days. You started running as a teenager in the early ’80’s. Give us a birds-eye view of your running for the first few years. What was your improvement like?

That’s a tough one. In the early days I purely ran to stay fit for football (soccer) and rugby. I ran a half marathon when I was 16, but had no real concept if it was fast, slow or just average. I ran very few races in the early days and most of my “training” runs were watchless, so to be honest, I’m not really sure of any improvements made. Running was definitely fun though and something I knew I’d want to continue into my adult life.

I love hearing your #beerofthenight tweets on Twitter. I’ve been on a real IPA kick the last few months myself. What are you currently drinking? Do you think you can drink 1-2 beers every night and still train effectively?

I’ve been into the IPAs myself lately, but this week have been enjoying several Bavarian Pilsners courtesy of the Beer of the Month Club. I’m always looking to try new brews, and the club provides four different beers each month from both domestic and international breweries. I’m sure some people would disagree, but I don’t believe my nightly beer is detrimental to my running ability. Actually, the quality carbs may have enhanced my running prowess.

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Thanks Steve for an awesome interview! There are a lot of really good lessons here on consistency, avoiding the trap of frequently doing tough interval workouts, and the importance of strength work. Steve makes sure to enjoy his training, and I’m positive that it contributes to his success. Check out his book, 7 Weeks to 100 Push-Ups.

Use this case study to better inform your training decisions to run smarter and have more fun. If you need help, consider a coaching package.

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Comments

  1. Great interview with Steve! I did a Q&A with him last year as well — very motivating guy.

  2. Matt Fisher says:

    Great interview Fitz. I enjoy following Steve on Twitter and DailyMile. He does have an incredible work ethic. Steve is also very willing to give helpful advice. I look forward to seeing what he does in 2011!

    Matt

  3. I loved this interview. It was very encouraging for this 42ish newish runner to read and to hear what he has to say about improving. I also liked what he said about track workouts or lack there of. Could be because I’ve never liked them but I think the other stuff is more fun so it’s good to know others think they are just as beneficial.

    I’ve been wondering about doubles lately too and wondering if older/masters runners did them. What do you think of doubles?

    • Doubles are great! But you need to be very careful implementing them. They’re not for everyone and can be used for different purposes, but all in all I’m a big supporter.

  4. Michael N says:

    Logging quality miles on tired legs instead of just “time on my feet”
    This makes so much sense, yet it never dawned on me!

    Steve is an amazing guy. Not only a great runner, but a very simple and amazing individual. Everyone here in Virginia Beach will tell you so!

    Thank you for a great interview.
    Follow me on twitter @MichaelNic2

    • Thanks for the comment Michael. Steve is spot on about running quality miles when you’re tired – I do this too by running fast at the end of long runs, it’s a great strategy.

  5. Great interview Fitz. I enjoyed it. I agree about the consistent long runs.

  6. I know Steve. I have run when Steve is running. I have been in a van with Steve for over 24 hours. I have shared more than a few beers with Steve. I am fortunate to have done these things. He is a great man. I consider Steve a friend.

  7. Steve is indeed an inspiration to many. What is most inspiring to me is the fact that he has made so much progress at an age that is still a few years beyond my own ;o).

    • There’s still hope for you Greg! Hope all is well, haven’t “seen” you around the last week or so.

      • I was in Asia for 10 days recently so it was tough to keep up with blogs, but during that time I did re-start running and thus far things are holding up pretty well, just going to keep it patient and easy for the next month or more as we re-establish an aerobic base, and then build the race and training plans for the year. Hope your training continues to go well too.