Learn how you can run fewer miles without sacrificing speed.
When Meghan Kennihan, a personal trainer for more than 10 years and USATF and RRCA-certified distance running coach, attempted to lower her marathon PR by seven minutes to earn an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, she suffered from a stress fracture. It’s an all too recognizable story—Kennihan, who peaked around 70 or so miles when she won the inaugural Illinois Marathon, attempted to log 100-mile weeks to obtain the qualifier, and her body couldn’t sustain the new stress.
“Obviously my body can’t handle that type of mileage,” Kennihan said. “For the most part now, I’m in the 35 to 40-mile weekly range, but peak out at 48 or so, but I run just as fast doing what I do now than when I was running 60 to 70 miles a week.”
To recover from her injury and maintain sanity, Kennihan took up triathlon. The multi-sport discipline not only helped her overuse injury, but also increased her cardiovascular fitness without the pounding of additional miles. To build a more balanced musculature, Kennihan performs strength training exercises four or five times a week. She teaches a weight-bearing strength class called Strong in the Chicago area that’s not for weenies: students complete multiple repetitions of a dynamic exercise—five minutes of squats while holding weights, for example—and perform plyometric drills between exercises with the only rest coming from switching to different weights. When she’s not taxing students with her militant demands, Kennihan lifts weights and performs kettlebell workouts.
When Kennihan does run, it’s always with a purpose. Her runs are composed of quality miles that include some element of faster running—intervals, tempo, fast finish, etc.—and she’s ditched recovery miles for the elliptical, swimming or cycling.
The performance-enhancing secret here: cardiovascular strength training. Getting the heart rate up by executing exercises that work several muscles groups at once for several minutes or multiple repetitions with proper form is the key.
“Those new to strength work should perform these types of workouts using only their body weight once or twice a week. Intermediate and advanced can do two to three times a week with weights,” Kennihan advised. “It also depends on where a runner is in the training cycle—during a build-up to a race, strength work two or three times a week is ideal. During race week, no strength workouts. And the strength work vary: one day they’ll do legs, one day upper body, one day plyometric stuff. When I say build muscle for runners, they shouldn’t be completing five or six reps with heavier weights, but toning for endurance.”