High-Volume Marathon Training
Guest Blogger Chris Kovalchick
One of the biggest questions I hear debated amongst marathoners, both newbies and veterans to the sport, is what the appropriate weekly mileage volume should be in a marathon training cycle. Despite all the advantages of the internet and the connectivity it allows, the internet is awful for finding training advice when it comes to running. Why do I say this? Because you can find just about any possible training advice to support any theory that you want. A simple perusal of the phrase ‘marathon, weekly mileage, what is best?’ in Google yields anything from 30 to 100 miles per week. Great.
I used to be a 40 mi./week, 2:58 marathoner. That was until this past June, when I moved up to Portland, OR after spending 5 years in Southern California, a hotbed of endurance sports where there is always someone faster than you. I recall the first time I went out on a Saturday morning long run with a new group up here in Portlandia. Amongst conversation involving my running history, one fellow asked me what my weekly mileage was for my most recent marathon. When I told him never higher than 50 mi./week, he simply said: “you must have a ton of talent to be able to run how you do with so little training.”
Initially, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. At the time, I considered 50 mi./wk. to be pretty substantial training for an amateur runner. However, considering that every guy (and girl, for that matter) in this group own marathon PR’s south of 2:40, I was all ears regarding training advice on getting faster.
The answer? 75-80 mi./wk. minimum. Initially when I heard it, I had no idea how on earth I was going to hit such high volume. Yet ½ a year later, I am just as sold on high mileage as everyone else in the group. My race times plummeted in all distances. I am injury free (knock-on-wood), and have never enjoyed running more than I have since running this kind of mileage.
The key? Well, that’s what I attempt to address in this article. Perhaps the best approach is to examine some of the concerns and hesitations that I initially had when considering ratcheting up the volume, which I feel are representative of many runners.
I don’t have that kind of time to run so many miles in a week.
We as amateur runners have plenty of other life priorities to keep us busy – families, jobs, social obligations. It seems awful hard to think about fitting all those miles in, but there are many ways to do it without even noticing. Consider a goal volume week of 70 miles. This means your average weekday distance will probably be 8-10 miles, which even for a speedy runner means you are running over an hour per day. Hopefully, you have a chunk of time in your daily life to run that much, whether it’s early in the morning, at lunch, or after work. Don’t have that kind of free time? Consider breaking your runs up into two-a-days – say, 4 mi. before work and then 6 mi. at the end of the day. Neither run will take a significant amount of your day, and you’ll be surprised how quickly the miles add up.
From experience, I can tell you that I find running a single 8-10 mile chunk per day to be more efficient and useful. For one, you save time on the ‘administrative’ tasks of changing into running clothes and showering on the other end. You also obtain better overall training and results from doing one single longer run. At the end of the day, you are training to run 26.2 miles, and the longer chunks of miles you run at a time really get your legs used to working for long periods of time. It will absolutely pay off come race day.
If you need extra motivation to get out there after work for longer runs every day, consider hooking up with local running groups and clubs. Get your friends to join you for parts of your runs. Break up your 10-miler by running the 2 miles to your friend’s house to join them for a 6-miler, then run back home. However you do it, try to get in a routine and rhythm that works for you. Remember – running is enjoyable, not a chore!
I will surely get injured.
Not if you are smart about it. Surely, jumping from 30 to 80 miles a week is a recipe for disaster. Gradually increase your volume over a period of weeks until you ultimately arrive at the goal volume. A good rule of thumb is no more than 10-15% increase per week. Take more time to do post-run therapeutic work and preventive maintenance. Stretch thoroughly after your runs and make sure you are refueling yourself within 30 minutes of your workout. An amazing way to keep your legs fresh are ice baths. Yes, word on the street is that they are painful, but after you overcome the initial shock of getting in, it works wonders. I typically do 2-3 ice baths a week for 10-15 minutes.
It is important to have the proper shoes and equipment if you are going to be running tons of miles. I have noticed that rotating between 2 pairs of shoes is a great idea. It not only keeps your legs ‘guessing’, so to speak, making them stronger, but it also gives your shoes more time to recover between runs. This not only makes them feel better between runs, but allows you to ultimately get more miles out of them (thus saving you $$!).
And finally, listen to your body and take a day off here and there. At high volume, you quickly become accustomed to what aches and pains are normal, and which ones are the onset of serious injuries.
By concentrating on volume and staying healthy, I won’t have time for key speed workouts (track, tempo etc.) because I will always be exhausted.
A colleague of mine who happens to be a very accomplished coach in the area puts it very simply: you own your own workout. Just because you are logging higher mileage doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice speed workouts. Spread out your key speed work like tempo and interval runs, and be sure to dial back the pace on your non-speed days. If you are planning on doing a tempo run on Tuesday morning and go out and drill a 10-miler on Monday night, certainly you aren’t doing yourself any favors.
At the same time, make sure that you incorporate speedwork into your plan. If you run 70 miles a week at the same, constant pace, you are simply training to run that one pace. Change it up and take it easy some days. Go hit the trails in your area and leave your watch at home some days. Don’t worry about posting your time for every workout on every social media site out there – the only time that matters is the one you throw down on race day.
There is no need to run ‘junk’ miles. I’ll just keep at my low volume and not waste time.
As I already mentioned, you own your workout. Miles are only ‘junk miles’ if you make them junk miles. Just because you are not pushing the pace every time out doesn’t mean you are wasting time. Use an easy run to work on your form. Pay attention to how your foot is striking the ground. Focus on your core posture – are you tight and hunched over, or relaxed and standing tall, opening up your lungs? How does your stride look? What about your breathing rhythm and arm position? There are numerous ways to make miles worth it. It’s only a waste of time if you view them that way.
In closing, I have found great benefits from increased mileage, and hope that this article will help when considering the benefits of ratcheting up your weekly volume. As long as you are smart, committed, and focused, you will enjoy the process and explore unchartered running territory you may have never before thought possible.
Chris Kovalchick is an engineer by day, runner by morning and night from Portland, Oregon. He returns to the SF Marathon this summer as an Ambassador, the same race he ran as his first full marathon in 2008. He is looking forward to his 3rd consecutive Boston Marathon this year, and is even more hopeful to someday go sub-2:40 and gain respect in the utopia of Portlandia. Find Chris on Twitter @ckovalchick, Dailymile, or check out his Ambassador profile!