Training Philosophy: Variety is Key

Early miles of the Pinhoti 100 in November.

Jared posted the other day about training volume, and his three-up-one-down training philosophy.

He stressed that each runner needs to find what works for them, but then to not be afraid of letting that evolve. This got me thinking about how my training — and everything else — has changed over the last couple years.

I used to live in a building that had a fancy pants gym one floor down, so I used to do my weekday runs on a treadmill. All of them.

When the weather was too bad or the morning was too dark — or the sunshine too bright — I’d run inside.

Inside the building and inside my comfort zone.

My default was to head downstairs and zone out on the ‘mill at an always-easy pace. I was unmotivated and constantly looking for an easy route.

You know what else is easy? Doing the same thing over and over. I was in a rut, but not willing to pull myself out yet.

Eighteen months ago I knew it was time to mix things up, so I jumped off the treadmill  — literally and figuratively — and headed outside my comfort zone.

This change made me a stronger runner, and I credit a lot of that to training outside 100% of the time — Hills! Wind! People to chase!

(Also, date a fast boy, run dates = accidental speed work.)

But running outside also led me to running more with friends (WIN!) which inadvertently added a much-needed jolt of variety into my training week.

My training schedule looks a lot different than it used to. I’ve upped the training miles significantly, and I’ve thrown in different types of runs. This has made me faster and stronger.

Following Jared’s three-up-one-down training schedule has helped me add some structure to my training, here’s the breakdown of my typical “up” week:

Monday. Rest day

Respect the rest days. Seriously. Take one now or take them all together when you get injured.

Tuesday: Hills hills hills (Editors Note: “Run to the hills, run for your lives!” everyone loves a little Iron Maiden)

I meet Meg + Leah in DC for eight miles of the hilliest neighborhood you’ll ever see. I’m not kidding. Eight miles near Columbia Heights gets us 600 to 700 feet of gain and burning quads. This is more vert than we used to get running an intentional hill workout. Now it’s just a Tuesday.

Look for different terrain throughout your week. Don’t dread the hills, hills are secret speedwork.

Wednesday: Tempo miles

I telework on Wednesdays, so I run a flat loop around our neighborhood.

In the past, I ran all my miles at the same pace, especially when I was by myself. Once I started low-heart rate training, I realized I was running my easy miles too fast and my fast miles too easy. Now I try to mix up the pace on all my runs.

Hey look, variety.

For my tempo days, I try to keep my heart rate between 150 and 160 BPM — comfortably tough. This puts me under an 8:30-per-mile pace, which used to be my race pace. (LHR FTW!)

Thursday: Comfortable, conversational pace

A coworker and I meet before work for a great nine-mile out-and-back near our office. The route follows the Potomac River then goes across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, giving us a great mix of easy, flat miles and hilly bridge miles.

I love the company, and my friend holds me to a much-needed conversational pace — which for me is less than 135 beats per minute.

When I run alone (especially if I’m listening to music) I tend to blow off my easy-day plan an push the pace.

The trick here is to run all the paces … psssssttt variety.

Jared likes to remind me that we run every pace during an ultra, so not all our training miles need to be blazing fast.

Friday: Bonus day!

I used to only run five days a week, so Friday still feels like a bonus day.

Jared and I have every-other Friday off, so if we can we hit the trails for 7-10 dirt miles. If we’re working, I’ll run my Wednesday loop but at an easier pace.

If I have a tough weekend coming up, of if I just feel like it’s time for a little break, I’ll skip the Friday run and do yoga … or sleep in.

Saturday & Sunday: Unless it’s a rest week (then no long run) the cute boy and I will find all the dirt miles we can.

This nets me anywhere from 50-75 miles each “up” week.

The increased weekly mileage gives me confidence that I can string together four 50ish-mile days when we get to the Tahoe 200 in September.

July and August will be our highest training months leading into the 200, and my weekly mileage will creep up toward (or even above) 80, but I’m trying to eat well and be mindful abut how my body is feeling.

I had assumed upping my mileage would mean upping my ache level, but keeping the pace easy on most of my runs, and working on hills for strength, has keep me feeling pretty good.

Run fast, run slow, run hills, run flat, run dirt, run pavement … just mix it up. (And have lots of fun.)

Happy running, friends.




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