I just got word that Running Times will print an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon, coauthored with Brad Hudson, in its August issue. It's going to be a condensed version of Chapter 2, which discusses the 12 core methods of Brad's training system. Check it out if you can. And in the meantime, check out this brief sneak peak at the same chapter:
General running volume-or how much you run-is the most basic parameter of training and therefore the first parameter that each runner should consider in creating a customized training plan. How many times per week should I run? How many miles per week? How much should my running volume increase from the beginning to the end of my training plan? These are the questions you need to answer before asking any others as you look ahead to your next training cycle.
The running volume that is most appropriate for you depends on your next peak race goal, your capacity to absorb and recover from frequent runs and longer runs, and your training history. As a general rule, I recommend that runners consistently maintain a moderately high running volume relative to these individual considerations.
Some training systems are characterized by extremely high volume rather than mderately high volume. In extreme high-volume systems, runners push themselves to run as many miles each week as they possibly can. Arthur Lydiard was a persuasive proponent of extreme high-volume training. Many of America's top runners of the 1970s and early 1980s-including Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar-were strongly influenced by Lydiard's philosophy and achieved great success on high-mileage training (upwards of 150 miles per week in some cases).
Other training systems are known as high-intensity systems. In these systems, training intensity, not training volume, is considered to be the true path to running success. The weekly training schedule is packed with high-speed sessions that leave runners exhausted after relatively few miles compared to the number of miles they could complete at lower intensities. High-intensity training systems are necessarily moderate-volume systems, because the more high-speed running you do each week, the less total running you can do without becoming overtrained or injured. Many great runners have achieved outstanding success on training programs that emphasized quality over quantity. American middle-distance star Alan Webb and former marathon world record holder Steve Jones of Wales are among the most noteworthy runners to have reached the top by doing a lot of high-intensity workouts and less total mileage than most of their peers. Bill Bowerman, the legendary University of Oregon coach and Nike cofounder, also used a high-intensity, moderate-volume system with his athletes.
Based on the proven effectiveness of both approaches, I like to split the difference between the extremes in volume emphasis and intensity emphasis. I believe that high running volume is indispensable for maximal aerobic development. However, high-intensity training clearly provides fitness benefits that moderate-volume training does not. Since the only way to truly maximize running mileage is to forego high-intensity training, I believe that overemphasizing mileage is a mistake. Most runners will get the best results by finding a balance between quality (intensity) and quantity (volume). So the adaptive running approach is to do as much running at various faster speeds as you can do without seriously limiting the total running volume you can absorb, and to do as much total running as you can do without seriously limiting the amount of high-intensity running you can absorb. Naturally, the precise formula is different for each runner and requires experimentation to find.
Another aspect of my philosophy on running volume is consistency. Some training systems entail large fluctuations in running volume throughout the training cycle. But I prefer to keep the overall running volume fairly consistent throughout the training cycle while manipulating other variables to produce fitness gains. Obviously, when an athlete's recent training has been at a low volume it is necessary to gradually increase it to the level that is required for peak fitness. However, once a runner has attained this level, I like to have him or her stay relatively close to that level thereafter, except for brief off-season rest periods.
The rationale for consistency in running volume is, first of all, that it does no harm to maintain a relatively high volume year-round. As long as you take one or two breaks each year and reduce the overall workload of your training when appropriate, you won't wear yourself down. Secondly, having to build your running fitness from a low level to the level required for peak fitness can really bog down a training program, because volume increases must be executed gradually to avoid overtraining and injuries, and it's very risky to increase overall running mileage and high-intensity running mileage simultaneously. You'll be able to build fitness faster and peak at a higher performance level if you start each training cycle with a relatively high volume of running. And the only way to safely start a training cycle at a fairly high volume is to never allow your training volume to drop too low.
A third benefit of maintaining moderately high running mileage more or less year-round is that it reduces injury risk. Injuries tend to occur during periods of increasing running volume. If you keep your mileage relatively high, you will minimize these risky volume ramp-up periods in your training.