After the heady heights of the Kilian’s of this world, we come back down to earth now with a little bit of thought as to training and how much is too much, or indeed too little as well as quality versus quantity.
Not to hark on about the little man from Catalan, but I seem to remember reading that the week before Western States, Kilian knocked off over 30 hours of training with 20,000m of vertical. Wow! So no taper then. It was also reported that he had only ‘trained’ for two weeks prior to the event too. Now you can argue just how much of that is true, because the reality of the situation is that he’s in training all year round being a professional sportsman.
But for the weekend warriors, which is what most of us are, how much training should we or can we do? From a personal perspective, I hold down a good job and work anywhere from 40 to 60 hours a week, depending on workload. I’m also married, so have a wife to keep happy as well as a couple of children on the way which will dramatically change my life, but in a hugely positive way. Considering all of the above, hitting out at 160kms a week would probably be my peak (less when the children come along for sure). Maybe I could squeeze in a 180km week if work was a little lighter, or indeed the missus was away or something, but for me that’s enough.
On the flipside, I know of people knocking off 200km+ weeks, but similarly those who do a fairly minimal amount at around 70-80kms a week. Now, bear in mind we’re talking about ultra running here, so even 70kms a week would be considered a rather large amount by Joe Public. But what is deemed appropriate? When is it too much? When do diminishing returns set in? How much of it is a mental limit we place upon ourselves?
The simple answer is that there is no answer, and a comment from Bryon Powell on an article on this site made another very good point. As runners, we’re never happy with the amount of training we do as we always question if we could have done more, or we could have done it better so to speak. But when can we truly look at ourselves in the mirror and say “You know what, I couldn’t have done anymore.” We don’t like to admit that, because that means we’ve essentially found our peak, and as runners, do we want to admit that we’ve found that peak?
Here’s another example. I train with a group of people, and each Tuesday morning we do a hills session. This is a tough session that not only has some nice steep hills, but it’s effectively a tempo session as we’re working at pretty much full tilt. For the last 6 months or so, my PB on said course has remained at certain level, which means my training had plateaued so to speak. The guys I train with have posted some pretty hot times that are 2-3 minutes quicker than me, and which are times that I thought I’d never actually be able to do. Low and behold, out of nowhere, I smashed that PB by 2.5 mins yesterday with a time that I never thought possible, and is now on a par with them.
So here’s the question(s), was I running to my ability for the last six months and trying hard enough? Was I doing the right training? How come I managed to smash that PB by so much, off what I thought was not great training up until now? I still don’t have that answer at the moment, but it got me thinking about the type and amount of training I’ve been doing i.e. the old argument of quality versus quantity.
Going back to the numbers game, the question of diminishing returns also begs to be asked. When do you reach a point that the training you’re doing is not having any effect at all, and you’re effectively doing junk kms? We’re all guilty of it. For some reason we set round numbers as our goal for the week e.g. 150kms, and if we get to Sunday and we’re 3.5kms short of that goal, how many of us have gone out and run that last 3.5kms to hit the number? To me, that’s just ego telling us to hit the number, rather than making a conscious decision that doing those 3.5kms is completely worthless.
For my training block for the Northburn 100 miler, it was all about distance and logging as many kms as I could. This benefited hugely as far as the distance was concerned, and in a sense the speed looked after itself. I remember a debate just before 6ft track as part of the beer bet, with people banging in about 10km speed work. I dismissed it at the time (for a number of reasons), because I knew my long distance training had taken care of the need for doing any specific speed work (based on what it is we were trying to achieve). Hey presto, I set a new PB at 6ft track. Bizarre, but sometimes it’s difficult to explain these things to be honest.
For this latest training block, I’ve not actually written a detailed plan as I normally would, simply because I don’t want to set limits on the amount of training I should/want to do. But also because I know my training routine inside out now. I know how many kms I want to hit in any given week, but it’s also to ensure I don’t do junk kms, which I think can so often be the case when we map out a plan. Of course there is a flipside to this in that I’m not actually committing to what I’m going to do each day. However I would hope that my own internal motivation to do well would overcome any sandbagging on my behalf.
Anyway, some food for thought for now. This post is not intended to be a scientific one as such, merely to raise some questions and hopefully start some debate. I’d love to hear your thoughts around quality and quantity of training, and hopefully some answers to some of the questions raised above too.