Yesterday afternoon as I headed out the door for my easy 9 mile run, my husband said "why do you have to run so many miles? If you want to get faster, why don't you run lower mileage at higher intensities?"
I'm not really sure what made him question my methods, but he has a valid point. Maybe that was his nice way of saying spend time with me not your running shoes, or maybe he is just sick of sacrificing weekend mornings to get up early and be my cheer squad and paparazzi. Either way his question prompted a lot of thoughts in my mind.
Why do I run such high mileage? While all human bodies have the same bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, organs, etc., they all react and respond to stress differently. Overall my particular body responds positively to exercise stimuli. There are days when I am achy or tired, and sometimes I even have days where I feel unusually sore but when I feel these sensations I make adjustments to my training. I started running at the age of 12 and have spent the past 15 years getting to know what works for MY body. It wasn't always easy for me to run 60+ miles a week and ward off injury, this was something that I had built up over time. For ME to achieve MY goals, MY body needs higher mileage.
Why not just run 45-50 miles per week at higher intensities? Some people thrive off of numerous high intensity workouts, I am sadly not one of these people. In my running experiences I have learned that in order to get the full benefit of the hard workouts, the easy ones need to be really really really easy. The muscles and systems of the body need time to strengthen and heal after high intensity sessions, so piling one on top of the other will not produce much benefit. Instead this will burn out energy stores quicker, and may even lead to injury. The point of tempo runs, repeats, fartleks, etc. is not to simulate race conditions, these workouts are not meant to be an all out race effort. Instead what they should provide is stress on the body that will allow the "quick-twitch" muscles that are not necessarily active during slower runs to active and strengthen. These workouts should feel like they are a higher intensity but should not leave the runner at the end of the workout feeling like they have nothing left in them.
Every runner is different. We all have different goals and motives that put us out on the pavement. My goals are to chase a few PR's this year and to step outside of my racing comfort zone all while enjoying myself before the hubby and I set off to expand our family in the next year or so. I do not base my training on what others are doing and I have become an expert in reading the signals that my own body is telling me, and I encourage other runners to do the same. Yes I could run less mileage and maybe the intensities of my speed workouts could be higher, but my goal is to make it to my starting lines healthy, strong, confident, and ready to kick my own ass.
That being said my advice to every runner would be:
Find out what works best for you. This can be time consuming and take some trial and error.
Listen to what your body is telling you. If your muscles are achy, you are feeling tired, and it is difficult for you to make it through your run this is a red flag that you may need some time off or to cut back your mileage.
Don't compare yourself to other runners. We all have predisposed biological limits that we have no control over and cannot all race like Usain Bolt, Meb, or Deena Kastor. Yes this sucks, but I like to tell myself that running is fun because there will always be people faster to chase down and people slower who want to chase me down.
Fuel your body like you are an elite athlete. Vitamins, minerals, and nutrients are what our cells need to repair themselves after a workout. You only have one body, treasure it and spoil it in nutrient goodness.
Have fun and set your own goals. Enough said.