Is running a matter of more or less?
For many runners, certainly many I know, the usual response to the desire to get better at running is to do more running. But I have recently been thinking about running in terms of balance. Whether more is always better. Or in fact whether sometime less is optimal. I have decided that it is ultimately always down to the individual – I know runners who can manage 140 miles a week running. If I was to try to do that, I would certainly not last into week two. For me, less mileage but more quality seems to have been the key (although that might be about to change with all the ultras I have coming up this summer…)
So here are a few thoughts, based on my personal experience, of where more is better and where less is better.
Focus on the mental side: I spent quite a lot of time thinking about the London marathon in the run up to the 2013 race (where I ran my PB). I would imagine scenarios where I was feeling bad and think about what I would do to over come those moments. I thought about what it would feel like from mile 20, when I would see Nick Anderson, then the RunDemCrew and then the Mornington Chasers all within a couple of miles. I imagined what it would feel like to round the corner in front of Buckingham Palace and see the clock with two-thirty-something on it… In the end I think all of that mental preparation was essential and meant that I felt relaxed and ready on the start line
Quality training: I was short on time by the time of the London marathon 2013 – Freestak was growing and I was struggling to find the motivation to get out for 9 runs per week. So instead I tried to focus on quality – harder and longer hill sessions, better track sessions, longer threshold runs and more marathon pace efforts in long runs.
Rest: linked to the above, I made sure that I was able to rest more. The quality sessions were going to fall on stony ground if I was not allowing myself to recover so I tried as much as possible to limit the times when I would not get enough sleep.
(Good) food: I started running to try to lose weight and that nagging feeling that I might be eating too much has never gone away. I have even dabbled in calorie restriction from time to time, even as a sub-2:40 marathon runner. But for the London 2013, I ate well. I made sure we always had enough food in and I made sure I ate soon after sessions. I tried to avoid processed food and junk, but not at the expense of being hungry.
Group runs: I tried as far as possible to get runs done with other, like-minded and similar pace runners. Not just long runs, but track, hills and threshold sessions. Even recovery runs. Meeting people for a run is part of the attraction for me of running and I indulged myself as much as possible.
Listening to my body: I am not getting any younger (vet. 40 next year!) and the aches and pains seem to come on and stay on a little more. So I listened to my body and if I needed a break, I took one. I think that allowed me to be more consistent than if I had hammered myself and then needed weeks off at a time.
Stress: I tried to remember that running is supposed to be fun. I didn’t worry if I missed a session or if my weekly mileage was measly. I just redoubled my efforts and got on with it.
Booze: I do like a drink and I will usually be topping my glass up if I’m drinking wine at home at a rate of 2 glasses for me to 1 for my wife. Or if we are in the pub, I will always be happy to have a second (or even third pint). But in the run up to the marathon 2013, I was much more reasonable. Not only did my waistline thank me (I think) but I was also more clear-headed and therefore likely to run in the morning the next day.
Water: I ran all of my runs without water. I couldn’t be bothered to carry it and I know how hard it is to stay rehydrated in a race – even one with bottles – at 6 min/mile. So I went without and I didn’t once have a problem on a training run.
Germs: I did everything I could to minimise germs, so I washed my hands a lot, carried a hand-sanitising gel and avoided people with colds. I think that in marathon training the immune system is suppressed and I really didn’t want a cold!
So there is a list. It’s not definitive I’m sure and it is specific to me. You’ll have to work out what works for you. And if you do, please let me know – what have you done more or less of (or are planning to do more or less of) to improve your running. Perhaps together we can find perfect balance…