Ask Pete: Can I Run Low Miles and Nonetheless Succeed within the Marathon?

Photograph: 101 Levels West

QUESTION: Can I attain my full marathon potential on decrease mileage and better depth?

ANSWER: Simply as you possibly can’t shortcut a marathon’s 26.2 miles and declare to have gone the gap, you possibly can’t shortcut the coaching it takes to run your finest.

It’s like clockwork. A runner approaches me for teaching. She or he needs to PR at a sure race distance.

I clarify the physiological necessities of the race. I clarify the coaching that may get us there.

The runner sighs, then says, “That sounds good for you, however I hoped to do it on about half that a lot coaching—and in half the time.”

To which I reply, “If I might run much less and run quicker, don’t you assume I’d do it?”

It’s human nature to search for shortcuts. And in recent times, HIIT (high-intensity interval coaching) has appeared to supply that shortcut to endurance athletes. A sequence of high-profile research (Tabata, I’m taking a look at you) have proven large features in cardio vitality manufacturing because of quick, intense repetitions. The marathon is 98–99% fueled by cardio vitality, so this feels like you may get what you want with much less time funding.

However you must learn the small print. First, most of those research evaluate an HIIT routine towards a very ineffective health routine (e.g., consuming pizza whereas using downhill on a bike—okay, I made that up, however you get the purpose), then declare HIIT the winner. Second, these research hardly ever trouble to find out which muscle fibers (i.e., muscle cells) are affected by the coaching. For the reason that marathon depends primarily upon slow-twitch fibers, it wouldn’t do you numerous good to stimulate an enormous improve in solely fast-twitch fibers. After I requested Martin Gibala, one of many world’s prime HIIT researchers, about this, he mentioned, “That’s truly a very good query that I don’t have a full reply [for]. There truly isn’t numerous experimental proof [about that].”

So right here’s the factor: Don’t child your self. Certain, you possibly can run a very good marathon off a low-volume, high-intensity coaching program. Simply as 1000’s of runners do the identical off high-volume, low-intensity coaching. However to achieve your full potential, it’s important to run all of it: quantity and depth.

Listed below are 5 explanation why:

  • Cardio vitality manufacturing: To run a quicker marathon, you want extra of it. To supply extra of it, you’ll want extra capillaries (small blood vessels) to hold extra oxygen to your muscle cells, and extra mitochondria (microscopic, cardio energy-producing factories) inside these cells. You obtain that with lengthy runs and tempo for slow-twitch fibers, and with tempo, 5K-paced reps, and hill reps for quicker fibers.
  • Working economic system: Your economic system is analogous to a automobile’s fuel mileage. Higher economic system means that you can run farther and quicker on the identical quantity of vitality. In different phrases, you turn into extra environment friendly. Greater general mileage results in higher general stride effectivity. Tempo runs enhance marathon tempo effectivity. And hill sprints and hill repeats enhance your nervous system’s skill to recruit all muscle fiber sorts concurrently.
  • Vitality shops: When your muscle fibers’ carbohydrate tanks run dry in a marathon, you hit the wall. Correct coaching can double the scale of those tanks. Do both runs exceeding 90 minutes or double exercises (finest if the day’s second exercise is tempo or intervals).
  • Muscle & connective tissue energy: These take a beating in a marathon. To strengthen each, you’ll want resistance coaching, distance runs, and lengthy tempo runs.
  • Mind coaching: Your mind is a fear wart. It thinks that working too exhausting would possibly kill you. So it limits how far and quick you possibly can run till it’s positive you’ll be protected. Lengthy tempo runs and distance runs that match the projected size, in time, of your marathon ought to persuade your mind that you simply’ll be okay.

Backside line: If you happen to actually wish to run your finest, neglect the run much less, run quicker methodology. As a substitute, run longer, tougher, quicker, slower, up, down, and on and on. Ultimately, after working all of it, you’ll attain your marathon potential.

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