Friday, September 4, 2009

The Debate Continues

No major update from me folks. Although I’m done with the fever and chills, I still have paroxysmal coughing spells which makes sleeping through the night and running through a longish run a major hassle. As such, I’m trying to be smart and laying off the feet and laying off the speed as much as possible this past week. Luckily for me, this was a scheduled recovery week anyway so I’ve not been too worried about the layback workouts or the missed miles. I’m fully embracing the essence of the plan and trying to be patient with myself. I won’t lie; coming off August where I ran more miles (245) than I ever did, this sudden decrease in distance and intensity feels completely foreign to me. Some friends have already been whispering things to me in private for some time, but it may now be time for the issue to enter the public light: “Am I addicted to running?”
On second thought, there’s no need to answer that. It’s a rhetorical question. But what isn’t rhetorical are the questions I’ve been asking myself ever since I finished reading the featured article “The Rules Revisited” in the latest (September) edition of Runner’s World. Is less really more? Are there really studies that show “little correlation between weekly mileage and marathon performance, especially for novices?” as is claimed by the authors of the article. Are RW, FIRST and other low-mileage, high-intensity marathon training plans just as good as Pfitz, Higdon, Daniels and other more conventional programs that advocate higher mileage but slower pace training? Has Runner’s World reached new levels of deceit with their manipulation of studies and statistics in order to entice newbie runners who are ignorant of what it really takes to run a 26.2 mile race? I realize I may be opening a whole big can of worms by opening discourse on this subject here, but I really think this is an important topic that affects a lot of marathoners and wannabe marathoners and as such deserves some recognition and discussion from the running community.
So as someone who’ve partied like a rockstar from both camps, I’d like to offer my personal opinions on the matter.
Let me start by saying that I think RW is really doing the regular/veteran runners a disservice with its false propaganda of the benefits of lower-mileage training. I agree with most of the forummites here who vehemently reject the Runner’s World findings. There is no doubt in my mind that running lots and lots of miles is the key to maximizing your marathon performance. After all, you don’t see any elites running less miles and thanking F.I.R.S.T. for their marathon success. Most of them run in excess of 100 mile per week and wish they could recover faster to run more.
Yet, unlike the forummites, I feel as though the lower mileage plans may actually work and be ideal for some select people. I myself have used F.I.R.S.T. in some variation or form for my first few marathons and found pretty good success with it. For the newer runners who are marathon virgins or those who are injured frequently, the emphasis on dedicated cross training and fewer actual miles may be of some benefit.
For the rest of us who do not fall into those categories, I believe the conventional high mileage training is the way to go. Not only do the additional miles increase the endurance capabilities of the athlete, but the higher mileage training is conducive to to faster speeds on the road as well. It is debatable whether this extra training increases the risk for injuries, which is a legitimate concern. As long as you run with correct form, slow down on easy/recovery runs and keep long runs at a comfortable pace, injuries shouldn’t happen which means that if you are getting them at a somewhat consistent basis, the thing to do is to find out what mechanistically and physiologically is wrong and deal with them, rather that make adjustments to running less miles.
So what says you blogosphere? Did Runner’s World go overboard here or am I just over the line? I’m interested to hear.


Running and living said...

I did a post on this as well, a few weeks back. I agree with some of their points, but not with others. Noakes writes in "Lore of Running" that his research shows that runners should first try to run at the lowest mileage possible, and only when they stop improving/PRing, they should increase mileage. We actually don't have the studies to see whether Daniles, Phitz, etc are better than FIRST, or other lower mileage plans (excluding the elites, which none of us are). It comes down to individual differences/life contexts - I LOVE running, but I would get burned out if I ran more than 45 miles/week, which is about what I do now...Ana-Maria

Anonymous said...

first: hope you start to feel 100% soon.

second: i agree with you i think that for those who have been running for a while, there is no real need to follow a "less is more" approach. with more miles you need to be smart and listen to your body so that you don't end up injured, and that's a totally individual thing. but i don't see why, done correctly, the majority of people can't follow a higher mileage plan. i guess it comes down to lifestyle choices.

Marci said...

I think there is truth to the article in RW. I got sick twice last summer when my mileage climbed above 50 miles (although not injured), so in that respect it didn't help me. I think I would be better on slightly less mileage, and there may be some runners that will run better on more mileage.

EZEthan said...

Honestly, I believe both schools of though are correct and on top of that they are not necessarily conflicting theories.

Balancing milage and intensity can be delicate. I personally think that it is most important that you perform well on your high intensity days... If your doing so much milage that your sacrificing your intensity then it's probably too much...

On the other hand, I also believe that it is important to do as much milage as you possibly can as long as your not sacrificing too much intensity on your hard days.

Runner's world caters to the "masses"... and the "masses" are not shooting for 3 hour marathon times or putting in 50+ MPWs.... so I think that what they are saying in their "less is more" approach is that it's better do three intense sessions for 20 MPW then to go jog 30 MPW at a low intensity.

However if your body can handle 30 MPW at high intensity and you tack another 30 MPW at low intensity on top of that then it's even better.

EZEthan said...

It's also important to realize that the bodies ability to endure increased milage does not happen over night. I was recently reading an article overviewing Deena Kastor's training over at cool runnings.

It says that when she first started training competitively she was only running 40-50 MPW... it took her 15 months of building to get that up to 70 MPW and an additional 18 months to get it up to 90 MPW.

You can find that article at:

Spike said...

great post! I'm using FIRST now, but have used Hal in the past. I'll let you know how it pans out. But I can say I enjoy the programs with higher miles than I enjoy that strange!?!

glad you are feeling somewhat better.

Brian Morrissey said...

this is a can of worms, lam. my two cents are that, like most things in life, it depends. i don't think novices -- those trying their first marathon, particularly if they don't have long experience running -- need to (or should) run 50-mile weeks. Just so long as they can do three 20s, some would say even fewer, they'll do 26.2 in fine shape using programs that top off at 35 miles. RW is more of a fitness magazine aimed at the large mass of runners, many of whom are novices.

Now the question of quantity gets murkier w what i'll call performance runners, those w experience and ambitious time goals. even here, it depends. some older runners or those battling injuries might benefit from shorter mileage programs. i'm trying one out myself now, mostly because i'm having trouble shaking achilles problems. i'm subbing in cross-training for the miles i'm losing. but i don't expect to run under three hours. to do that, i've found that quantity and quality works best for me to do the fastest marathon time possible.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely about the higher mileage for marathon training. I just don't think that cross training or resting translates to the muscle memory and just as importantly, mental toughness you need to get through those miles.

However: If you are going to run high mileage then you better make sure you are good and ready for it and listen to your coach or program. Easy days easy, hard days hard and if the wheels come off, figure out what's going on and address the issue.

I know the first time I ran a marathon I didn't run nearly enough volume throughout the week. I just didn't have the conditioning you need. I know it sounds jerky, but you just have to put in the miles.

sRod said...

I think most people are lured by the promises of the low-mileage plans. Heck, I followed FIRST on my first attempt at the Marathon (the effort lasted three weeks and I resorted to a Half-Marathon).

I think something that most people overlook is how quick RW is to contradict itself in the name of sharing all the latest information, research, and training techniques. Within the same issue I have definitely read "minimum miles, maximum effort" AND "maximum miles, minimum effort."

RW isn't a coach (except for the somewhat useful training plan calculator on the homepage), it is a news source disseminating information. It is up to us fearless runners to retain what is useful to us (our goals, our body) and edit out what is not. And, fortunately or not, knowing what is right and wrong for your training takes time and experience. But that's all part of the fun, isn't it?

bill carter said...


Ok, I will throw in my 2 cents. I am always a little frustrated with RW and their emphasis on beginning runners. But on the other hand, I realize that running is a growth sport and that they (RW) are trying to educate all these new runners on proper nutrition, training, equipment, etc. I used to read their magazines religiously, but now find myself saying "how much more can they teach me about what socks I should wear?".

I will admit that I have a huge problem with the idea of running less and achieving better results. I think this could/ would work for someone who is new to running, has modest time goals, or is prone to injury. For someone who is really trying to achieve a difficult goal (sub 2:55 marathon as a masters runner which is my own) I have to work harder to get better. I certainly realize this is not for everybody, but for RW to make it sound like I could achieve better results running less is ridiculous.

Thanks for the great post and best of luck getting healthier.

runner26 said...

first, i hope you're feeling better!

second, that article was not my fave. I was generally annoyed at how they contradicted everything they have ever said. And now for my two cents--I think it takes HARD work (ie lots of mileage) to really run a good marathon. The low mileage plans (IMO) are for those who simply want to finish.

Irish Cream said...

I don't think the point of the article was to claim one school of thought is superior to the other. It seemed like it was more just to point out the fact that these alternative ideas have been growing in popularity, and seem to have some evidence to support them. But the article also mentions that there's obviously loads of evidence to support the idea that higher mileage will yield better results. I don't think that reporting about "new developments" in the sport of running is crossing the line at all, but maybe that's just me?

All this being said, ultimately, it's up to each individual runner how he/she wants to proceed. I've said this many times, but to each his/her own in the sport of running--and especially running marathons. There are so many factors that go into determining one's success in training for the marathon, it's impossible to say that one method is THE way to train. I, for instance, used to work a billion emotionally draining and exhausting hours a week; that, combined with the fact that my body took a HUGE beating as an elite soccer player during my youth, made it so that I never would have made it to the start line with a high-mileage plan.

At the same time, I am really excited to see what I am capable of mileage-wise now that my circumstances have changed a bit.

In sum, I think you should keep doing whatever is working for you ;)

Irish Cream said...

Also, not trying to lash out at anyone in particular--this is a general theme I see in some of the running blogs/articles/etc. I read--but I don't think it's fair to talk about running a marathon "just to finish" like it's a dirty word or something. I think it's great that some people have time to really train hard and earn shiny new PRs . . . but for the rest of us who happen to train under crazy circumstances (jobs, families, other obligations, etc.), and don't have as much time to dedicate to the sport, I think it should be just as impressive that we are out there finishing marathons, getting it done without the promise of a brag-worthy time at the end. Finishing a marathon is, in and of itself, a great feat; and I'm not sure why some people are looked down upon because they didn't run quite as many miles to get there.

joyRuN said...

It's going to completely depend on the runner. Some have the time & aptitude for high mileage, others don't.

I started off this training cycle with FIRST, but I didn't like the intensity nor was I comfortable with the low mileage. So I'm back to 4 days/week, but also still including a lot of cross-training - I can't handle 50+ weeks. We'll see how it pays off in November.

I'd be more disciplined about training plans if I was trying to BQ or get some huge PR.

matpedw said...

I suppose I fall into the "it depends camp" as well.
To me it comes down to an argument of "physical potential" vs. "actual performance". I do believe that many people strive to reach their "physical potential" by running high miles. Some people can handle it and it serves them well. Others cannot handle it because it's physically and/or mentally too demanding on their lives. These are the people who should back off in order to attain their best "actual performance" I know if I upped my mileage from 30-40mpw to the >70mpw I would run a slower marathon because it would be too demanding on the rest of my life and eventually crumble my ability to run fast. There does seem to be a notion that if you let the rest of your life keep you from training to your "physical potential" then you are either uncommitted or weak minded. To me this is nonsense. Life pressures are REAL and can't be separated or overcome from training. I believe they are best considered and blended into training in order to reach the best outcome. That may result in a 70 mpw plan for some and a 30 mpw plan for others. "Physical potential" is only theoretical but "actual performance" is real and trumps it IMO. High mileage is probably better, but only if one can handle ALL that comes with it.

With all that said, I do think the RW was written in a mis-leading fashion and did not fairly represent the potential benifits of high mileage training.

X-Country2 said...

It's not exactly the same thing, but it reminds me of that walk/climber thing they sell on tv. "Running is hard, but walking is easy!" Duh running is hard. That's why runners look like they do. The American obsession with diet pills and getting results with minimal work makes me crazy.

Robert James Reese said...

First off, sorry to hear that you're feeling sick. Hope you recover soon.

Like you, I've gone back and forth with my opinion on this issue. The conclusion I've come too is that the higher mileage is necessary for elite times, but that that's not necessarily a possibility for all runners. I'll never be able to run 100 miles a week. I know that. But, I am trying to get as close as my body/life will allow. The steady climb in mileage (190 last month for me, hoping for 200+ this month) is definitely taking a toll on me, but I feel that it will be worthwhile in the end. I imagine you'll find the same. What's the saying -- "If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got..." We never got sub-3 hour marathons before, so we probably have to give a little more to get there.

Jamie said...

Now that I'm throwing my hat into the ring I hope you are now feeling better.

For all my previous races I have used either Hal or RW programs. I finished but I also feel like that had a lot to do with low goals and me being much younger. Now that I have started following Pftiz, even just the 55 mile plan, I have felt stronger/better on nearly all my runs. The difference from training for my May marathon (RW) to training for my Oct. marathon (Pfitz) is absolutely incredible.
In saying that I think the training program is a personal one and the lesser mileage programs gave me some great PRs and races. If one haves the time and is smart/listens to how their body is reacting to the training I feel the higher mileage training is the way to go.

J said...

Of course it depends on the person, but I think that the more mileage you run the better you will be. For smaller races like 5k and 10k that may not be the case. Runners world has run out of things to write about years ago - they just keep writing the same thing over again in a different way.

Katie said...

Lam, I agree with you. If you can do the high mileage without getting injured, then that's probably the best method of training. In college, I was running 50-60 miles a week and I was only training for the 5K. That's also when I was running my fastest. Now, I can't do much more than 30 miles a week without issues. I've had to transition much of my training to cross-training. I'm amazed that I'm running as fast as I am without high mileage, so I do believe you can run successful marathons with lower mileage. In the end, it really depends on the runner's circumstances.

NY Wolve said...

A very interesting post. I have been in both camps -- mileage and currently doing a FIRST program.

My thoughts are that it depends on 1) available time and 2) personal goals. A FIRST program will probably not produce elite class athletes and really strong (sub 3:00) performances. Why? Because those athletes are already performing at a high level, and they are doing intense workouts and the miles to obtain the endurance benefits .. that is why they are at 3:00 and not 3:30.

On the other hand are people (such as myself) who truly cannot or will not dedicate the time to run 50-70 miles per week. For people like me, I think a FIRST program will produce a better result than a traditional miles/miles/recovery/miles program. Why? Because it makes me run the hard workouts to improve, and draws on the endurance base I already have, but I don't think it increases that endurance base.

For a beginner, I would suggest, first, develop that base. Get used to running 5 days a week. The beginner is not likely to persist with FIRST, IMO, because it is too intense and really is not a lot of "fun." My FIRST workouts are hard, draining and just plain difficult. I really miss just lacing up the shoes, putting on my iPod and going out. In fact, that may be my biggest FIRST complaint -- workouts are just that -- work.

But does FIRST work, i.e., produce results better than Pfitz et al.? I don't know yet. I am about 8 weeks into the cycle, and haven;t run a race. But I am not injured, (knock on wood), and that is a huge plus. And, on one level, it doesn't make a difference -- my training time is what it is, so I simply couldn't morph into 50+ miles per week. Thus FIRST greatly increases the intensity for my training, which I have to think is good.

B.o.B. said...

I am glad I read this Lam. I think that people who are prone to injuries and novices should obviously ease their way into mileage. I am suffering my first injury right now and can see how I may have added too much too fast. (I am with you on being frustrated with resting!)

However, as you pointed out, Elites and speedys such as yourself need the mileage to get better. It the same with any sport. The better you are the harder you must train to get past plateaus. Look at any pro athlete.

Good post. Very thought provoking as usualy. Hope you feel better soon!

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