When I was in high school, the Internet did not exist, and I had a limited sense of what the best preps in the country were doing for training. Publications such as The Runner and Boston Running News offered limited insights in this regard, although they did casually note the 100-miles-a-week-and-up regimens of world-class marathoners, something that struck me as otherworldly if not insane at the time. I built up to a high of 65 miles in a week during a summer in which I averaged about 50-55, and that was more than anyone I knew was doing. My teammates thought I was really pushing it, maybe too much.
Had I grown up in the present decade, I would have known that my training was far from unusual—modest, in fact, in comparison to many standouts. Would I have trained more or harder during the summer had I been exposed to such information in my teens? Almost certainly; I never had problems with the workload I did settle on. Would this have helped? I’m inclined to say yes, but this is really open to question.
The point of this anecdote is to illustrate an important point: Just because you have the time, energy, and will to train more doesn’t always mean it’s a good idea. Can and should are as distinct from one another in running as they’re elsewhere.
If your focus is the marathon, then it is well worth your while to push the volume limits. Raw endurance is your greatest ally in this event, and a lot of coaches—myself among them—believe that total workload is far more important than the length of long runs when it comes to success in this event. But if your focus is on races of 10K or shorter—and these days the roads are riddled with 5K “specialists” thanks to the sheer glut of 5K events—you probably don’t have to put in the kind of time you hear about from marathoners or national-class track athletes.
I wish I could offer numerical guidelines here, but unfortunately that would be futile, and this is no cop-out. I have known runners who have staked out territory in the 1 ½-to 2-hours-a day range (about 80 to well over 100 miles a week in most cases) after only a year or two of running, and others who cannot seemingly put in an hour a day without eventual mishap no matter how prudent their approach. And that brings me to my final words on volume—how to implement increases in total workload.
In the final part of this series, Kevin Beck offers strategies for pulling it all together, using the advice given in the first five articles in this series.
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