Not all runners are created equal, but patience and time can go a long way.
“What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials. How could they be expected to understand that?” — Quentin Cassidy, Once a Runner
As a former elite runner, I get asked all the time about my training, my diet, and what my workouts were. Inevitably, I reveal that I regularly logged 140-mile weeks as part of my marathon preparation. Of course, this immediately elicits a reaction and usually the response of, “Wow, I don’t even drive that far.”
The next question is always, “How did you run that much?” It’s a fair question and while I admit that 140 mile weeks were not what I ran every week for the entire year and admittedly a bit excessive, the answer isn’t as glamorous as it may seem. I am no super human and there was no super secret workout, type of shoe, or special diet.
The answer: patience and time.
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It’s A Long Story
When I first started running, I averaged 20 to 30 miles per week. I ran 3 to 5 miles a few times per week. A workout here and there, a race once in a while, and to be truthful, I didn’t really enjoy it. I started like most beginners do, slow and as a means to an end — getting in shape. The difference? I was 14 years old.
I was a freshman in high school and I ran track during the winter because I was cut from the basketball team — not because I liked it. Luckily, I had a great coach who made practice fun and convinced me to stick with it for the rest of the year.
I went out for cross-country that next fall and with the experience of my freshman year behind me, I upped my mileage to 25 to 35 miles per week. A moderate increase, probably less than many of you reading this upped your mileage from your first to second year of running.
By the end of my sophomore year, I was starting to get pretty fast and that motivated me to train even harder for the next year. So, I upped my mileage and averaged 40 to 45 miles per week. Again, only a slight increase, but I was getting stronger physically and aerobically.
This modest, yet gradual increase in training mileage continued. Senior year I ran 50 to 55 miles per week. My first year of college I ran 60 to 70 miles per week. Each year I added 10 to 15 percent to my average weekly miles. Looking back, it wasn’t explicitly planned this way. It just seemed like the next logical step. Luckily, I had good coaching.
This continued for five more years. I ran throughout college and by the time I had graduated, I was running 100 to 110 miles per week. Each year, I saw a modest 10 percent or roughly 10 miles per week increase in average volume.
After college, I continued training and continued adding miles until 110 to 120 became the normal and throwing in a brief stint at 140 was only an extra 10 to 20 percent for a few weeks — common during marathon training segments when I was training with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project.
All told, it took me 8-9 years to reach a level where 120 miles per week and occasional stints at 140 felt doable.
Do you think you could add just 5 or 10 miles to your average weekly mileage next year? I am willing to bet most runners reading this article could do so. An average of 5 miles per week over the course of 52 weeks is not a lot. It equates to adding 1 mile per week every two months.
The secret, and the most difficult part of it, is being patient enough to do this for the next 8-10 years.
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What’s The Lesson?
Of course, getting your mileage to 120 to 140 miles per week is not necessary and maybe not even advised. Moreover, I did have my fair share of injuries and I am biologically talented. I’m not suggesting you should mimic my training. That should not be the takeaway from this article.
Instead, the lesson should be about patience in your training.
Every once in a while, step away from the immediate goal or the next marathon and take a look at the bigger picture. Temper the need to want everything instantly. This is what leads to overtraining, injuries, and stagnant results. Your next race won’t likely be your last, so there’s no need to treat it as such.
Be patient enough to understand how much just a tiny increase, even one as small as one mile per week every two months, could have on your training over the course of 8-10 years. Once you learn and fully appreciate this secret, the sky is the limit.
A lot of people ask me what a 140-mile week might look like. Here is a sample from my marathon training segment before the 2007 Twin Cities Marathon.
Also, I get a lot of questions about what I ate to fuel that many miles. Here is a look at my typical marathon segment diet.
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