How many miles?

I have become very comfortable doing all of my training runs at an aerobic pace, usually with my heart rate in the 130s.  I don’t worry about how fast I run.  I just cover the distance.

But that begs the question of how much distance, how many miles I should run on a given day or a given week?  Or perhaps the key question isn’t miles/distance but time/minutes/hours running.

Is running 40 miles per week going to better prepare me for a half marathon than running 30 miles per week?

Is running 6 hours per week going to better prepare me for a half marathon than running 5 hours per week?

Should most of this mileage or time be spent on one long run on the weekend or is it better to spread this mileage/time out?

Last week I ran 40 miles total and 15 miles in a single morning.  Both of these distances were longer than I had ever run before.  But is there any benefit for doing this many miles?

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Should an aerobic run include a pickup?

A few months ago I asked athletes over at the McDougall forum to share their thoughts and strategies regarding training for a race.  I asked if heart rate monitors and heart rate zones were part of the training, whether speed or long slow distance was featured in their training.

One response I got was from an ultra-marathon runner, who indicated that she doesn’t obsess over the details.  Perhaps this issue is obsessing over a small detail.  But here goes.

QT2 systems coach Tim Snow would often advise his runners, when doing aerobic runs (they would usually call these z1 runs for Zone 1, designed to be run in a predefined aerobic heart rate zone) to do a pickup after every 30 minutes.  A pickup?  That’s 30 seconds of running at race pace.

I tried this during my last run on Thursday.  I ran 3 miles, which took me a little more than 30 minutes because I go slow when I am trying to keep my heart rate in my aerobic heart rate zone.  Then I ran with the intention of hitting an 8:40 minute per mile pace for 30 seconds.  I ended up running at about a 8:10 minute per mile pace for about 50 seconds.  As I did this, my heart rate climbed from 138 beats per minute to 154 beats per minute by the end of the pickup.

I wonder if the reason QT2 recommends these short pickups is simply to compromise with their runners who are worried that the lack of high intensity running (a.k.a. speed work) will cause them to be slow on race day.  Or maybe QT2 has decided that about 30 minutes of aerobic running balanced by 30 seconds of intense running is the proper balance between those two competing principles in training.

I think that, perhaps, training the muscles to run at race pace for these 30 seconds every so often is just enough practice to reap benefits on race day.  Perhaps with these short pickups, my legs won’t be completely unfamiliar as to how to run at a 8:40 minutes per mile pace (or perhaps 9 min/mile pace) on race day.

This all remains to be seen.  September 22nd can’t come soon enough.

Training pace versus race pace

Sometimes, as one who took up running less than two years ago, I feel like detective Columbo in that famous TV series when he said, “Um, but there’s just one thing that’s bothering me. . . . . . .”

That one thing that is bothering me is the slow pace at which I am training and the somewhat fast pace I hope to run in my next half marathon.  I remember coach. Dean Hebert, an advocate of running significant mileage at race pace in training saying, “Nothing magical is going to happen on race day to make you faster.  If you train at a slow pace, you will race at a slow pace.”  (Or at least that’s how I remember him talking in those videos.)

Now, having tried coach Dean Hebert’s and coach Joe English’s advice on training at race pace, I understand the disadvantages of taking their advice.  You can end up running your best in training and not performing very well on race day.  Sure, you can try to prove to yourself that you can run, say, 9 minute miles for an entire half marathon by attempting this during a 13.1 mile training run.  But if you could do it, why not save that ability for race day, when it counts?

My problem is that I wonder how large the gap should be between my training pace and my goal race pace.  Hey, maybe my goal of running at an average pace of 8:40 minutes per mile in my next half marathon is too aggressive.  I did run a 9:22 average pace in the half marathon race I ran in April.  But I was slightly injured then and I had not developed my aerobic capacity to the degree that I have recently.

Some runners that I run with on weekends will say, you should train at about 90 seconds per minute mile slower than you plan to race.  Hal Higdon says that in his online advice and in his book, “Marathon.”  Well, that would mean I would either have to train much faster, or I would have to be content to run a much slower half marathon race.

So, what is the most common gap between training pace and race pace?  Or is there even a close correlation between the two?

QT2 systems. My views on their coaching and training plans.

Last November I registered for my first half marathon, which at that time was over 5 months in the future. A few days later I received a gift from some relatives. They purchased me an online coaching plan and 23 week custom training plan for the half marathon.

The coaching group is called QT2 systems. They seem to specialize in the training of triathletes. But they have a sister website titled 26.2 at the Url yourmarathontrainingplan dot com.

When I tell other runners about my experience with QT2 systems (or to be more precise, the sister program of 26.2), they can’t tell whether I am endorsing QT2 or criticizing QT2. The reality is that I have both positive and negative views on their coaching execution and their training philosophy.

It was mid-November and I was told that Cait Snow, a very talented female triathlete, would be my coach and that she would develop for me a custom 23 week training plan for the half marathon taking place on 5 May 2012. I admit that I was not entirely fired up about having a coach and a custom training plan that I had no part in selecting. I had signed up to do my first half marathon with my own ideas in mind.

I received the 23 week training near the end of November and immediately found a problem with it. It was only 8 weeks long. It showed specified workouts from the last week of November 2011 through the 3rd week of January 2012. The remaining 15 weeks were missing. So, I went to the coach’s forum to ask Tim Snow where the rest of my training plan was.

This was another aspect of QT2 that I didn’t like from the start. I had been told that Cait Snow would be my coach and that she would develop my training plan. But once I received my training plan, I would never hear from Cait Snow again. Any questions I asked on the coach’s forum were answered by Tim Snow, Cait’s husband. I could never figure out if Tim Snow had read my answers to the questions I was asked to answer and provided to Cait Snow or if Tim Snow was familiar with the training plan that Cait Snow had provided to me.

Tim said that my 23 week plan had been developed. It’s just that only 8 weeks of it had been uploaded to the website. The remaining 15 weeks of training would be uploaded “in a week,” Tim said in the coach’s forum. Another week went by and the missing 15 weeks still wasn’t there. So, I asked about it again in one of our free teleconferences. I got the same response again from Tim. “It’ll be uploaded in a week.” Another week later and still the 15 weeks were missing. I decided to wait three additional weeks, the beginning of January 2012, before asking again. At that point, the remaining 15 weeks of the training plan was uploaded the next day.

So, what about that 23 week training plan that I eventually did receive? Let’s break it down month by month.

First, let’s look at the last 3 days of November, which is when the 23 week training period started.

November featured 1 day of running and two days strength training. I admit that I had no real interest in doing strength training. So, I looked at those days as simply “a day with no running.” The run was supposed to last 39 minutes and was to be a Z1 run.

What is Z1? Z1 is the aerobic heart rate zone, which for me was between 131 beats per minute and 141 beats per minute (bpm). The other heart rate zones I was assigned were ZR (Zone Recovery), 106-126 bpm, and Z2, between 141-151 bpm.

Prior to my introduction to QT2, I wore my heart rate monitor on every run.  On most training runs I usually found my heart rate averaging somewhere between 140 and 155 beats per minute. I figured that it would be a challenge to get my heart rate in Z1, between 131 and 141 bpm. And I figured it would be very difficult to get my heart rate down in ZR, between 106-126 bpm.

December was the first complete month of training. It featured 10 days with no running (8 of them included strength training), 8 recovery runs (ZR), 9 aerobic runs (Z1), 3 tempo runs (runs that require running in both Z1 and Z2) and a 5K race.

The recovery runs would turn out to be the deal breaker between myself and QT2. In my opinion, it is inaccurate to call these “recovery runs,” because in order for me to keep my heart rate in the 106-126 heart rate zone, my running became awkward. I had to take very tiny steps and had to avoid lifting my feet too high off the ground in order to stay “in the zone.” While running in the aerobic zone (Z1) was relaxing and non-stressful, running in ZR was unpleasant.

In addition, these 8 recovery runs ranged in duration from 20 to 25 minutes. Does any self-respecting runner actually put on their running shorts, shirt and shoes only to go out an run for 25 minutes?

I tried running in ZR once and brother did I hate it. I felt like QT2 was playing a prank on me. I went on to the coach’s forum and asked if I could replace my ZR runs with Z1 runs. Even if the coach had agreed, this would only have solved half of my complaint. I didn’t like the idea of going out for a run that would last 20 to 25 minutes. I think 35 minutes is pretty much the bare minimum for a run. Nevertheless, Tim Snow said rejected my idea of running my assigned ZR runs in the Z1 heart rate.

As you might have noticed, a majority of the training days featured either no running at all or a 25 minute stumble (that’s because to stay in ZR I would have to stumble instead of run). Wait a minute, I thought running was supposed to be fun!

At this point I’m sure some runners might have said to me, “Just be patient. This early part of the training is the base phase. There will be fewer ZR runs in the months ahead.” In early December I could not have known this because I only had access to the first 8 weeks of the 23 week training plan. But let’s take a look at how many training days were gobbled up by no running at all or a short recovery run in the months of January, February, March and April.

January: 7 days with no running; 8 recovery runs ranging from 15 minutes to 25 minutes in duration.

February: 5 days with no running; 12 recovery runs ranging from 15 to 27 minutes in duration.

March: 5 days with no running; 13 recovery runs ranging from 15 to 31 minutes in duration.

April: 4 days with no running; 11 recovery runs ranging from 15 to 35 minutes in duration.

May: 2 days with no running; 1 15 minute recovery run. May 5th was half marathon race day.

Now, if you look at that data above, you can see that how a runner feels about recovery runs is going to have a huge impact on how that runner views this training plan. Perhaps my recovery heart rate zone of 106 to 126 beats per minute was set too low by the coaches of QT2. I have talked to relatives of mine who really like the QT2 system. They look forward to their recovery runs. For them, recovery runs are neither a struggle nor a stumble, but relaxing. That’s sort of how I view a Z1 run.  A Z1 run is a relaxing run for me.  Perhaps this is what a ZR run should feel like.

What’s interesting is that QT2 offers free full marathon training plans on their yourmarathontrainingplan dot com website. If you look at the couch to marathon training plan, you will see that this plan features more than twice as many Z1 runs as my custom half marathon training plan. To be fair, the couch to marathon training plan is a 30 week plan, not a 23 week week plan. Still, even if you were to take this into consideration, you would have to conclude that the free plan focuses more on aerobic conditioning and less on recovery than my custom plan.

So, what happened once I gave up on my custom training plan? For a while I loosely followed Hal Higdon’s training plans. I looked at his half marathon training plans and his full marathon training plans. I tried to run a reasonable number of miles, tried to do some long runs and tried to run at a slow to moderate pace. While doing this I was influenced by the Z1 heart rate zone assigned by QT2.

Then in early February I watched some online videos featuring two running coaches, coach Dean Hebert and coach Joe English. They placed an emphasis on anaerobic workouts instead of on aerobic conditioning. I decided to try to follow their advice as best as I could understand it.

I ended up getting injured in early April, during a 15K training race. My left IT band and left knee were causing me pain as a ran. I first noticed this injury in early February, before I adopted the ideas of Hebert and English. But the injury seemed to go away after a short rest. It reappeared after weeks of trying to increase my intensity level. Was my injury due to my focus on intensity? I tend to think so, despite the fact that the injury first presented itself before I adopted these methods.

So, when I look back, I think that the principles of QT2, specifically their emphasis on aerobic conditioning, are correct. Perhaps they provided me heart rate zones that were incorrect or perhaps they assigned me a custom training plan that included too many recovery runs and too few aerobic runs. Still, when I do my training runs, I still aim for getting my heart rate to stay within the 131-141 range. That’s why I can neither completely recommend nor completely reject the coaching style of QT2.

Five weeks at higher mileage

For five consecutive weeks I have maintained at least 30 miles per week of running mileage.

On June 10th, I began running 5 to 6 days per week.  For the week of June 10th through June 16th I ran a total of 30 miles.  The following two weeks I ran 31 miles.  During the first two weeks of July I increased my mileage to 35 miles and 34 miles.

I have been able to run more frequently and have been able to complete longer runs on consecutive days, on weekend mornings, because I have been keeping my heart rate under 140 beats per minute on almost all of my runs.  In fact, in some of my runs my heart rate has averaged under 130 beats per minute.

In order to keep my heart rate this low while running, I have been running much slower, often at a 11 minute per mile pace.  I do wonder if on race day, and my next race is a half marathon on September 22nd, I will be capable of putting my running into a faster gear.  But there’s only one way to find out.  I will continue to pile up the miles at these low heart rates and test out this heart rate training in a few months.

Up Tempo Run

I ran my standard 4 miles this afternoon.  Same distance and same course as yesterday.  The weather conditions were almost identical.  But they weren’t identical runs.  Today I decided to elevate my heart rate by running a little faster.  

Here is the heart rate and pace data from yesterday’s 4 mile run.  AHR means average heart rate.  MHR mean maximum heart rate.  Times are in minutes:seconds format.

Mile 1-11:22-AHR 122-MHR 132     Mile 2-11:51-AHR 128-MHR 135

Mile 3-11:16-AHR 128-MHR 132     Mile 4-11:50-AHR 129-MHR 135

And here is today’s data.  A faster pace purchased at the cost of a higher heart rate.

Mile 1-10:43-AHR 122-MHR 133     Mile 2-10:30-AHR 132-MHR 141

Mile 3- 9:41-AHR 139-MHR 145     Mile 4- 9:53-AHR 142-MHR 149

Yesterday’s overall average pace and heart rate was 11:35 and 127.

Today’s overall average pace and heart rate was 10:11 and 133.  

So, it looks like I purchased about 84 seconds per mile at the cost of 6 heart beats per minute.  Now, this was only for a distance of 4 miles.  My heart rate was climbing at the end of today’s run.  If I were to compare two 6 mile runs, my guess is that the cost of that quicker pace would have been an even higher average heart rate difference.