Basically, there are two camps when it comes to advising runners on how to get faster – increase mileage or do more speed work. In my opinion, all training philosophies are variations of those two camps.
It’s no secret with me that I prefer shorter, more intense runs over the slower, longer ones; hence, I train for speed rather than for volume. I know some runners have strong ideas about the “best way to train,” but my general philosophy is that the best training is the training that you actually do.
I’ve been running to varying degrees of seriousness for the last five years with different ratios of speed-to-volume. Keep in mind that when I say I’m running more “volume,” I mean volume for me. It’s still pretty low in volume in comparison to other runners. My weekly mileage over the years varied from under 10 miles per week (I did this for several years and no, I wasn’t injured) to just under 40 miles per week for marathon training.
For a few months now, I spent a lot of time navel gazing at my past training history in thinking about what I want to accomplish this year. I notice some interesting things that I’ll talk about. When I say notice, I mean these are things I think are happening in the data (i.e., training log); I could do data analysis and come up with concrete, but I’m too lazy for that (sorry, not sorry). One of the interesting things that I observed is that volume doesn’t seem to do much for me. When I started marathon training in 2015 for Wineglass, Ben predicted that I would get faster in 5K and half marathon as a result. While I did PR in the 5K, it happened AFTER I was done with marathoning and I was in the recovery stage. During marathon training, I got slower in those distances relative to what I had done before.
One of the interesting things that I observed is that volume doesn’t seem to do much for me. When I started marathon training in 2015 for Wineglass, Ben predicted that I would get faster in 5K and half marathon as a result. While I did PR in the 5K, it happened AFTER I was done with marathoning and I was in the recovery stage. During marathon training, I got slower in those distances relative to what I had done before.
Of course, this is not to say that volume did nothing for me. If you restrict the data to the longer distances (13+ miles), I did get faster in the longer distances. I simply failed to see an effect for the shorter distances.
I get faster when I do speed work. Period. I need to run fast in order to be fast. This year I spent two months doing my own version of 5K training to break 23 mins. I averaged fewer than 20 miles per week, but most of those miles were short hard runs. Within 10 weeks, I PRed easily. Last year when I was running greater volume, I was nowhere close to doing this.
I can’t definitely conclude that speed work is the only way for me to get faster. Perhaps volume would also work on me, but it’s a step-wise function and not a linear, meaning, I need to run even MORE miles in order to see its effect.
Or it’s possible that I’m now at a stage of fitness where I need to do race specific training. During the early phase, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit, especially if you were sedentary, so just becoming a little fitter leads to gains everywhere.
Another observation was that when I did very low mileage where almost every run was a speedwork was that I got faster quickly, but race performance was rather uneven. Meaning, I either did great or I did terribly. When I increased mileage, I got faster more slowly, but my race performances were more consistent.
I wish there were more 5-mile races. I really like that distance for some reason.
Anything you’ve observed about your own training? Any atypical race distance that you like?