Running a 100 mile week has been one of the short-term goals on my running agenda for a while but no matter what I did, I couldn’t break through a 50-60 mile week without developing some type of injury.  Since many of the elite distance runners regularly log this type of mileage, it seemed like a logical stepping stone and an accessible goal but also remained frustratingly out of reach.  After a few years on the roads, I’m happy to report that I achieved the 100 mile week with a 7-day total mileage of 102.2 a few weeks ago and I’ve discovered a few things along the way that have helped.

It’s In The Shoes

shoesI’ve always believed that the majority of injuries are caused by worn or improper footwear but still couldn’t understand how, just as I started to hit 60 miles per week, I’d end up with some weird or perverse injury that would bring my mileage back down to the 20’s.  I typically used 1 model of shoe that I put the bulk of my weekly running mileage on and would sometimes have an extra pair in reserve.  I was wearing the same pair of shoes regularly until they started breaking down and causing sore spots, and using that as an indicator that it was time for a new pair of shoes.  By that time it was too late and the timing was always such that just as I had built up to 60 miles per week, I’d also hit the maximum mileage in the shoe.  The answer?  I now have several pairs of shoes “active” at the same time.  I make sure to never wear the same pair of shoes for more than one run in a row and include in my shoe arsenal several different types.  For my particular wear pattern, I include a stability shoe, a cushioned trainer, a lightweight trainer, a cheapo beater, and a racing flat.  Now if that seems a little excessive, don’t forget that I’m still using shoes at the same rate, getting the same mileage from the model as I would have had I been wearing it exclusively and, apart from the initial expense, since the various models wear at different rates, I only need to rotate in a new type of shoe as its counterpart wears out.  The benefit from this method is the fact that each pair of shoes recruits your muscles in a slightly different fashion and therefore, repetitive motion injuries (RMI’s) which account for the majority of running related injuries, virtually disappear.  If you do get an RMI, the most likely cause is now overtraining rather than worn out shoes and confirmation of overtraining can easily be drawn from a correlation with a marked elevation in resting heart rate.  The causes of the bulk of my injuries now consist primarily of tripping over toys and falling over on my bike.

Variety

Just as alterations in footwear change muscle recruitment patterns, changing your training from day to day achieves a similar yet less dramatic effect.  Change surfaces, speeds, and elevations from day to day rather than always running the same course on the same pavement day after day and if you have access to a treadmill, throw it in the mix now and then too.  In the table below, you’ll see that I’ve included the track, some very hilly easy days, some trails, and some pavement.  While I increased my average daily run to an hour from 30-40 minutes, the wear and tear on my muscles shifted from day to day as I changed the workload.  In addition, the inclusion of hills, trails and other terrain increases strength and stimulates the proprioreceptive response in your muscles.

Date Course Terrain Time Distance Cumulative 7 Day Distance
5/10 Nickerson Park Long Loop Mixed: road, paved trail, 1/2 mile of dirt trail … hills 58:56 8.2 8.2
5/11 Freeman Road + Trails Mixed: road, dirt road, single track forest trail … hills 65:16 9.2 17.4
5/12 Punkhorn Long Run Mixed: road, dirt road 163:29 23.25 40.65
5/13 Nickerson Park Loop 2 Mixed: road, paved trail, 1/2 mile of dirt trail … hills 65:20 9 49.65
5/13 Work Loop Road 38:14 5.25 54.9
5/14 Nickerson Hills Mixed: road, paved trail, 3 miles of twisting wooded trails, 12 hill repeats on grassy hill 63:45 9.1 64
5/15 Harwich Bike Path Mixed: road, paved trail, dirt road … flat with a few hills 90:38 13.5 77.5
5/15 Track – 6 x 400 x 400 Track … hopefully flat 47:11 7 84.5
5/16 Orleans Bike Path Road, paved trail … flat 71:22 10.5 95
5/17 Nickerson Park Long Loop Mixed: road, paved trail, 1/2 mile of dirt trail … hills 58:36 8.2 95
5/17 Sesuit Harbor Loop Road 43:57 6.4 101.4
5/18 Short Harwich Bike Path Mixed: road, paved trail, dirt road … flat with a few hills 71:01 10 102.2

 

Slow Down

Prior to embarking on my 100 mile quest, I took the opportunity to strap on a heart rate monitor (HRM) and discovered that my heart rate on my “easy” days was far above where all the on-line calculators and magazine articles said it should be.  Easy days should be run at a heart rate between 50 and 60% of your maximum heart rate (MaxHR) and shouldn’t exceed 70%.  I discovered that I was running most of my easy days in the “Gray Zone”, that nether region where you reap neither the benefits of aerobic conditioning nor of anaerobic strength and speed.  Instead, you just burn all the life out of your muscles and eventually develop an injury or strain.  Slowing down on the easy days left me ready for the demands of a long run, a track workout, or a double.

Do The Double

Without doing a week’s worth of 20 mile runs, the only sensible way of achieving high mileage is to double up a few of your workouts.  By doing one run in the morning and one in the early to mid-afternoon, you give your body a chance to rest and repair some of the damage from the previous run.  It’s wise to not do the second run too late in the day or you’ll be stale and heavy the following morning.  It’s also important to rehydrate fully between runs, consume adequate calories in the break, stretch as needed, and vary the runs.  If the morning consisted of hills or intervals, the afternoon should be an easy run.  Likewise, if the morning run was relatively easy, the afternoon run can be a little bit harder.  My double days in this period consisted of Easy-Easy, Tempo-Hard, Easy-Easy combinations.  Certainly, make sure that the morning after a double is either easy or makes a significant change in muscle recruitment.  With my current job condition, which involves a majority of sitting in front of a computer for the day, the afternoon run comes as a welcome respite and a chance to loosen up the muscles.

Stay Healthy

One of the body’s systems put under the heaviest stress by increased mileage is your immune system.  Many marathoners have been frustrated in their quests by that sickness that plagues them just after they wind up their last long run and begin their taper weeks before the big day.  It’s important to get adequate sleep, hydration, nutrition, and caloric intake when undertaking a high mileage period.  On one of my first high mileage attempts, I was maintaining 95 miles in a 7 day period for several days when I decided to back off due to a few nagging muscles.  That weekend was filled with two hard 5 mile races and insufficient sleep and by the following Tuesday, I had been attacked by a head cold that didn’t let go for over a week.  Listen to your body carefully and pay attention to small pains, sleepy eyes, and scratchy throats.  If some muscle starts to twinge, lay back on the mileage for a few days or even take a few days completely off and it should go away.

Why?

So why do we need to do all this mileage anyway?

  • Increase your aerobic capacity and performance.  Championed by Arthur Lydiard in the 1950’s and adopted and enhanced by many successful runners and coaches since, the single most influential factor in increasing performance is aerobic capacity.  Once aerobic capacity has been maximized, strength and anaerobic training phases can be layered on top for additional performance.  The best way to maximize your aerobic capacity is to run long distance while staying aerobic.  This doesn’t necessarily imply running long ‘slow’ distance; the core of the base building period should consist of runs which are just below your lactate threshold, that point where some muscles start becoming anaerobic.  In my case, 4-6 weeks of running between 80 and 100 miles per week have translated into an increase in performance of approximately 10 seconds per mile for a 5 mile race.

  • You get out of the house more.  For some this may be a benefit, for others a deterrent.  You’ll have to decide whether or not your lifestyle can afford this kind of mileage.  To fit in the additional mileage, take advantage of opportunities like group runs in the evenings, go for a run while you wait for the kids at baseball practice or gymnastics, or run during lunch break at work.

  • You are an experiment of one.  It is our nature to find our boundaries and push beyond them.  Piling on the mileage is an attempt to discover just how much your body can tolerate before breaking down and to increase that threshold.

  • It’s fun.  There’s an element of freedom in just popping out anytime for a run or being able to say “Sure!” anytime someone asks if you’d like to go out for a few miles.  And with the right variation of running routes, you’ll see more of the world.

  • Decrease injuries.  The more you run, the more your body adapts to the rigors of running.  As you increase mileage, you increase strength, stay looser, and decrease your susceptibility to injury.

The End

So now that I’ve put in a few solid miles and built a strong aerobic foundation, I’m into the strength and anaerobic sessions.  Perhaps a few tidbits on speed tuning and leg turnover will pop up in a column soon.  For now, I hope I’ve given you a little incentive and some ideas for getting more out of your aerobic training.  But before you head out the door for your 100 mile week, remember that I was running average weeks of 40 to 60 miles with a long run of 16-20 miles.  If you’re starting from a lower base, the same principles apply but you need to increase your mileage more slowly.  Don’t increase your mileage by more than 10% per week and include a reduction in mileage, or a “rest week” every fourth week.

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