Thursday Running Thoughts: Change of Heart and New Training Methods

At the beginning of this year I alluded to the fact that I had a big goal for my marathon. But, true to form, I am already starting to waffle on it. Not because I don’t want to go after it, but because I’m now thinking of using this training cycle to experiment with a new method of training instead. It’s still way too early to decide on a training plan, but I’ve been flirting lately with the idea of doing something that’s more akin to the FIRST/RLRF plans (for those of you not fluent in Runcroynms, that’s “Run Less Run Faster”, the plan that’s gotten notoriety for the fact that you only run 3 days per week. Most people, FWIW, leave out the fact that you do rigorous cross-training on the other days, so you’re still working out 5-6 days per week).

There are a lot of reasons I feel like I need to shake things up and go in a different direction. As I’ve changed and grown in my priorities over the past year, I’ve become really turned off to the high-volume running lifestyle I used to employ. Sure, I achieved my goals by running 5-6 days a week…but at what cost? I ended up so burnt out on running that I could only train for one race a year and ended up having to take nearly an entire season completely off.

I’ve also started to become more interested in overall fitness than I was before. Fitness was never really the reason I ran – it was just to chase goals. And I still like to work toward goals. But the more I learn about health and fitness, the more I realize that my current approach isn’t necessarily the most healthy and I might be doing myself a disservice with my “run all the miles” approach. I mean, sure, I ran marathon-level mileage in my hey day and that ain’t for the faint of heart…but I also spent the vast majority of the rest of those days just sitting on my butt. How fit and healthy is that, really? What potential could I unlock if I actually committed to my overall fitness – if I biked, and swam, and stretched, and got strong? That thought makes me excited the way breaking new time goals used to make me excited (it still does, to an extent, but not as much as before).

I have also learned that I just enjoy running more when it’s balanced with other things. Running is not “my sanity” or “my release” or anything like that. I love to run, but frankly, I don’t want to do it every day. There, I said it. For me, it is like many other things in life, in that it is simply more enjoyable in moderation.

This may sound like big talk from someone who barely has the discipline to do 10 minutes of strength work in a day. But my realization that I enjoy a little bit less running makes me wonder if I’d actually perform better that way, too. If I did a plan like this it could either be a breakthrough…or a flop. I have no way of knowing and that’s why I will need to hold on loosely to any possible time goals. I always did well on higher mileage and thus wrote off plans like RLRF. The idea of running a marathon on a training plan that has little-to-no aerobic miles scares the crap out of me. But I also know a quite a few people – most of them similar athletes to me – who have used this plan and absolutely crushed their race goals. Most of them will point out that the lynchpin to success with this method is that you cannot slack on the cross-training. That is not lost on me. That said, I still can’t stomach the idea of running a marathon without an aerobic base, so I would likely make some modifications such as doing more of the long runs at an easier pace than recommended and subbing out 1 XT day with a longer easy run each week. I do think that if my 6 months of aerobic base building goes well, it will give me a good foundation to do well on this plan.

Again, this is all premature. It’s still way too early to plan my marathon training, and 4 months is a lot of time to change my mind for someone like me who changes her mind about things practically every damn week. But the reason I’m bringing this up now isn’t so much to talk training strategy as to illustrate a big shift that has occurred in my mindset over the past year. I really believe that both the highs AND lows of my running journey are what have led me to this place of taking more of an interest in my body and my overall health. Having running in my life has showed me how important it is to make better food choices, for example. It’s also opened my eyes to how strong and mighty my body is and the amazing things it can do. But it has also led me to see how much the quest for marathon success leads me to neglect other areas of my body (my first time doing yoga this past summer was particularly eye-opening!) and what consequences this may have, now or later. I’m changing. As a runner, and a person. And right now the main thing those changes are telling me is: I need more. It’s no longer enough to just aim for faster race times and pile on more mileage. I think that the massive plateau I hit last year was trying to tell me something. I am not on the right path anymore. I need to go in a different direction. And if getting slower is the sacrifice I have to make to actually get fitter and healthier overall, well, maybe that’s a sacrifice I’ll just need to learn to be comfortable with.

Have you ever tried a completely new training method? What was your experience?

Have you had success running fewer days per week?

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27 thoughts on “Thursday Running Thoughts: Change of Heart and New Training Methods

  1. I love RLRF! I’ve used it with varying degrees of actually following the plan. In 2013 I used it exactly as layed out in the book – 3 days of running w/2 days of cross training – for my 2nd half and 1st marathon. During marathon training I peaked at 37 miles and averaged 25 miles/week. I definitely faded in the last 6 miles of the marathon, but I contribute that more to going out at an unrealistic pace than to the training plan. I loved the cross training parts of RLRF and I absolutely felt prepared for my marathon. Given how much more of an aerobic base you have to begin with vs. where I was when I started using this plan, I don’t think you need to worry you won’t about that aspect .
    I used it again for my last half & marathon training cycles, although I say that very loosely. Really I used the speed & tempo portions workouts and the long run as the guideline for my weekend mileage, but substituted the 2 days of cross training for easy runs. I don’t think you necessarily need to sub out a XT day for an easy run if you follow this plan, but if mentally you feel better incorporating an easy run then do it.
    Have you read the book? One thing I noticed in the newer version (vs. the one I used in 2013) is the long runs. In the actual plans it might say run 15 miles at GMP + 30 seconds, but in the chapter it gives more options such as start slow but run the last x miles progressively faster, or run X miles at GMP – so that a lot of the miles are actually in the more aerobic zone, but when averaged with the faster miles the overall average pace of the run = GMP +30.

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    1. Thanks Katrina! You are definitely one of the people I had in mind with my comment about knowing people who crushed their goals on this plan! A lot of people do this plan because they’re triathletes, so it’s nice to hear from folks who successfully used this plan to train for a running-only race. I have not read the book but definitely plan to check it out when training gets nearer.

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      1. I hope you end up giving it a shot! I think you would really enjoy the balance of 3 running days and 2 other workout days. I know you mentioned having some type of goal in mind for your marathon, so it can be daunting to switch to something new vs. what you know works, but I also think you have nothing to lose. You know you’re capable of running difficult marathons and/or beating specific times, so you may as well try something new and see if it works even better than for you than what you’ve done before. Just another way of thinking about it. I’ve thought about trying a different training plan, but it seems the move to a different plan would result in either more mileage or more days/week run – neither of which are particularly appealing to me at this point 🙂 Another thing I meant to mention about the long run – I always ran slower than what the plan calls for.

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  2. I have been curious about RLRF! I love swimming and cycling, but like you, I don’t feel like I’m prepared for longer races if I don’t do those long, aerobic runs. I think this type of program would be perfect for me because trying to fit swimming, cycling, and strength training on top of a traditional running plan is exhausting and I’m sure not ideal. I’m curious to see if you decide to do it, and if so, how it works for you! 🙂

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  3. This is VERY timely for me. Do you know that I almost tried to contact you to ask your opinion about this when you were on your blogging hiatus? (I wasn’t sure if that was creepy??) I was considering doing this for this training cycle for Boston. Although the training plan I found was just 3 days of running, xtraining optional.
    https://bridgerridgerun.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/how-to-run-a-3-hour-marathon-a-just-enough-training-approach/
    Ultimately I am modifying it to a 5 day per week plan. I started it, and found that given my “life circumstances” right now, running is absolutely my get-away, stress reducer!! I think this is a great option. All (only 3) marathons have been on lower mileage plans, because my body can’t handle higher mileage (I top out at 48). I have managed to do better with strength training too lately.
    I am excited to read your updates–sounds like the fire is back!!

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    1. Awww you should have emailed me – not creepy at all, I was missing everyone! If I do a plan like this I will probably end up running 4 days a week. 5 days used to be my sweet spot for marathon training but even that started to burn me out after a while. I don’t mind higher mileage, but having to run so many days a week just wears on me after a while. It gets so hard to force myself out the door. I can see myself cutting down on the # of days per week I run but making each of the runs a little longer

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  4. I know a few people that use this training method and it works great for them. Most of the time their cross training isn’t really rigorous either..maybe some yoga or a spinning class. I think it’s great to experiment and I do it all the time! The worst that can happen is you have a bad race, but then you can just try again!

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  5. I’ve never tried a RLRF plan and I’m not sure if it would work for me. I hate cycling and swimming, so running works. I definitely think that if you enjoy doing cross training, you should explore that plan. There’s no reason to push yourself really really hard to run more than you want to. I can’t wait to hear how it goes! Good luck!

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    1. How can you hate cycling?!?!?! LOL I’m just kidding. Luckily I really enjoy it but I’m not much of a swimmer so I will have to find some alternative XT activities. Our gym has rowing machines and I’d love to try those, I hear it’s a great workout!

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  6. Hmmm, very interesting. I immediately thought of thriathletes like you and Katrina discussed. I think you should try it, I’m all for trying things and if it turns out to be a flop, who the h$#@ cares. At least you tried it and can look at something else now. It honestly sounds right up your alley with your current fitness needs. You would get a little bit of everything and still have the fitness to kill some races. I’ll go ahead and chalk it up right now, YOURE DOING IT…lol. Look forwArd to seeing what you decide.

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  7. Ooooh, tell me more about RLRF! That sounds exactly like what I want out of a marathon training plan. I’ve done five marathons since 2013, and I trained for all of them on a totally bastardized version of Hal Higdon, because Hal wanted me to run four days a week and I was like LOLNOPE. Haha. I just don’t trust running more than three days a week (for me). Initially, I worried about getting hurt if I ran more than three days in a week, but after trying to do four days a week this past marathon season and ultimately giving up one month into it and going back to three days a week, I realized my training happy place is three days of running, one day of dance, one day of yoga, one day of some other sort of strength-focused cross training, and one full rest day. Now, granted, I can’t say that I’ve had the kind of success you’re looking for–my marathon PR is 4:52, and frankly, I would say that I’m a terrible marathoner (not based on my marathon times alone but based on my marathon times compared to my times at other distances and based on how I just don’t FEEL like I run marathons well)–but it does, at least, get me to the finish line. Again, probably not what you’re looking for, but you’re also starting from a faster place than I am to begin with, so maybe your results would vary. I start half marathon training on Sunday with a Hal Higdon plan that only calls for three days a week of running, and I’m REALLY excited to try it out and see what happens when I actually stick to a plan instead of taking one and tearing it to pieces to accommodate how I’d prefer to train.

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    1. Well, keep in mind that I haven’t read the RLRF book so I really only have rudimentary knowledge, so take this for what it is, but the thing about the RLRF plan is that yes you only run 3x per week but each of those runs is a HARD workout. The three runs are intervals, tempo (I believe at goal MP but not sure), and the long run, which is faster than the long runs in traditional plans. The long runs are also longer, too: some people I know who did this plan did up to five 20-milers and hit that distance in the first like 4 weeks of the program. The cross training is also supposed to be pretty rigorous – something that is comparable to a run workout like a hard spin class or rowing. It’s supposed to be a good plan for people who need more variety in their training, and people who want to improve their overall speed, since 2/3 of the running you do is speed work. Like any plan there is success and failure – I know people who have gotten injured/burnt out on this plan, but I also know people who have set huge PRs using it (Katrina, above, used it to set a huge half PR this spring and BQ in the fall!). It will make you faster, but since there is basically no easy running, you really have to cross-train well in order to maintain an aerobic base. The creators also say it is critical to have a good fitness base going into this plan and that it’s not a great fit for first-timers, since you essentially dive right in to the hard work.

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  8. I have never researched the RLRF (initially typed ROFL, oops) method before but it sounds really interesting. I love running almost every day, but now that I have a home gym staring me in the face every day, I have a growing deep desire to do a lot more strength training.

    Before I was a runner, I was really serious about lifting. When I found running I became super casual about lifting. I don’t want to do a 180 and go back to lifting as my main thing, but I do want to try and knock out some lifting PRs this year. The only issue is that when I did try lifting heavy + have a strong training cycle my legs were always so sore that I found it impossible to make advances with either. I was a super beginning runner back then so maybe it would be different now. My tolerance for pain is probably higher haha.

    I will look into the RLRF method and see what it’s all about! Thanks Hanna!

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  9. You should definitely look into RLRF! I read the book a while back, before I read and tried Hansons. I was very intrigued by it. The only reason I never tried it is because I don’t like biking or swimming. Pretty much the only cross training I like is yoga and strength training (okay, Zumba too!), and the book specifically says strength training can’t be used as cross training–that it has to be cardio.

    It’s great that you’ve listened to your body over the years and have learned that you’d benefit from more of a variety instead of all the miles. Right now I’m craving more strength training. At my strongest and leanest, I was doing very little cardio and mostly strength training. I’ve definitely gained weight over the time when I let strength go to focus on running. I’d like to have more of a balance.

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    1. That’s so interesting that you were your leanest while strength training and that you gained weight doing more cardio! I will have to use this comment as motivation to keep up with my strength training!

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  10. I’m very interested in seeing how this works for you. I considered it last year, but didn’t. Instead just tried to complete the Hansons plan I was on, and incorporated many rest days and went off plan! I seem to be sore after every run these days, no matter what the distance. I just ordered DVD Yoga for Runners from Runners World. I don’t care much for yoga (my mind wanders too much, and it takes too much time!), but something has to change for me, so I’m trying something new. Time will tell!

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    1. Thank you! Hansons is a really difficult and demanding plan – I’ve never tried it because I just know I would struggle with the aggressive structure and lack of a break from miles, miles, miles. I hope yoga works for you! I’m the same way – my mind wanders a lot – but I’ve gone to some classes and really enjoyed them. I haven’t been back in months but I’m hoping to get back into it soon, even if it’s just every other week or so (classes can get expensive!)

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  11. I meant to comment last week but life distracted me. I read most of RLRF before deciding it is not the approach for me. The cross training element just does not appeal to me. The cross training is also no walk in the park, it should be hour long cardio workouts comparable to an hour long easy run in terms of heart rate and effort (if I recall, it was a few years ago that I read it). So yoga or a leisurely bike ride are not considered cross training (not saying that is what you would do, just offering a little extra perspective on what the plan entails). I don’t think weight lifting is considered an option either, the cross training element is supposed to supply you with the same cardiovascular benefits of running, without the wear and tear on the same muscles used for your running workouts. I think the day to day time commitment for training is about the same.

    For me, I neither swim nor own a bike, so it is just not a feasible plan. Likewise, I’d say about 80% of the time, I want to go for a run. Sure there are those days that I just want to eat cake and watch movies, but I’m pretty good at forcing myself out the door. I think in general even with a variety of activities to choose from, I’m going to have days that I just don’t want to train.

    In terms of the plan itself, I have some skepticism. Running more easy miles has lead to amazing breakthroughs in performance (for me). Sub1:45 half? The year I was running marathon volume. Sub20 5k? Same speed work as the previous year, more easy miles. For me, I already know what works and am continuing to improve year to year. I (mostly) like the high mileage. And, in general, even with higher mileage training I have been able to hit appropriate training paces for hard runs. I don’t think the added fatigue from easy days is causing me any setbacks. So why would I want to change any of that?

    I think you would be a much better candidate for this type of training that I am. I struggle with building endurance and speed comes a bit easier for me. On the other hand, your endurance is much stronger while you struggle more with speed. I think a plan like this would help save your legs so you can maximize your hard runs, while maintaining/building your endurance through cross training. For me, I think I need the easy miles and the cumulative fatigue to build endurance, and don’t mind if it means a slightly slower tempo that week. And while I’d like to improve my general health, deep down I know that I still have a serious interest in long term running goals. As your goals are starting to shift, it makes sense that your training philosophy will shift as well.

    I don’t want to conflate how I feel about running with how you are feeling about running, but I suspect that some of your desire to de-emphasize running and focus on cross training might stem from dissatisfaction with having lost your running fitness and the struggle to rebuild it [I know I am struggling with struggling with running, lol. Which makes yoga a much more enjoyable endeavor as there is no basis for comparison.] It seems like now might be a good time to experiment with adding different workouts to your routine, then you can judge how well they translate into improved running over the next few months. Then when it does become time to really pick a training plan, you’ll have an idea of what does/doesn’t work.

    Sorry for the book 🙂

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Heather. And I don’t mind the book, haha. Your skepticism of the plan is well-taken, and shared by many. The idea of giving up easy miles certainly gives me pause. But at the same time, you never know unless you try. As others pointed out in comments above, I’m at a place in my running where I really have nothing to lose. If I can’t experiment with new methods now, when can I?

      I’m not sure I agree with your theory on why I have a desire to to de-emphasize running, though. It might have been true in my off season last year, but it’s not anymore. I meant what I said in my post in that I’m taking more of an interest in getting fitter overall and realizing that just running all the time is really not the best way for a person to be fit. And while I have a good deal of impatience and boredom with my current running fitness level, I’m not really “struggling” with running – just bored with it. Remember, this is supposed to be fun. Running 8 bazillion easy miles and forcing myself out the door 5-6 times a week to run is just not fun for me – not anymore, and I’m not sure it ever really was. It’s just hard to take the sport so seriously anymore, I guess – I really lack the motivation I used to have to get fast and hit arbitrary and ultimately meaningless time goals. It’s still there, of course, but I no longer feel like it’s enough to be “just” a runner. I could be so much fitter overall if I took a new approach. I’m not sold on RLRF yet, but I really do want to try something new.

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  12. You should go for it – training is sort of an experiment of one and searching for what works best for you! Now would be the perfect time to try it out, since you’re not training specifically for Chicago yet and since it’s on your mind to experiment. Life goes in ebbs and flows and so does running – you don’t always have to train in the same way.
    I train some of my runners on a 3 days per week model – different training methods work for different runners. Some do two quality plus one long per week, as others do one quality, one long, and one moderate/easy run per week. RLRF has a lot of high intensity workouts (even the long runs are at a moderately hard pace/pretty darn near race pace) and requires that cross-training, but there are other 3 runs per week models such as those Brad Hudson’s book that balance in more easy running. Being fit in a well-rounded sense and becoming a better athlete is part of becoming a better runner.

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  13. I’ve read the RLRF book – and love the concept, since I already only run 3 days per week, but I haven’t had a training cycle where I felt like I was ready to commit to the rigorousness of the runs required.

    I do feel like I’m trying something totally new this training plan. I am using a Kara Goucher half plan, but modifying to to run 3 days per week, with 2 days of cross training. I also plan to switch my speed workout to the evening & see how that works. My body is usually not awake enough in the morning to hit the paces I need, so I wonder if switching it to the evening will help. The first few may be a struggle with my nutrition during the day, but I am interested to see how this plays out.

    I will say, my last HM PR was just after I finished training for a tri. I did tons of biking & swimming, kept my running miles the same, and cruised to a new PR. I definitely attribute it to the cross training – I would also often bike 5-10 miles & then run, running on tired legs really seemed to help me.

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