A good running friend of mine and I have had many talks about training/racing strategies and how to maximize our potentials as runners. In particular, we’ve both concluded that intensity, mileage and many other factors take a back seat to consistency, which could be the single most important piece of being a successful runner.
Think of it this way. Which of the following two routes do you think will be more successful? One runner blows off a large chunk of his training for a 5K. He’d been planning on hitting 30 miles a week. So after several sporadic weeks, none of which were over 15 miles a week, he bumps up to 30 a week or two before the race. Another runner only peaks at 20 miles a week, but he’s been running consistently for months and has a bunch of 20 mile weeks under his belt. Although one runner peaked much higher, I believe it’s very likely the second runner would come out on top.
Now, obviously, you have to control for a whole lot of variables (natural talent being a huge one), but the example still stands. To speak from personal experience, during my freshman year of college, I was extremely inconsistent over my winter training but eventually hit 50-55 a few times during the track season. However, I was repeatedly disappointed with my times and I often felt burnt out. Two years later, I trained very consistently, keeping to a schedule, and peaked at 60 miles a week. Although the peak was only ten more miles, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot, the results were dramatic and I beat my 8K PR in the middle of a 10K. Plus, this was early in the season before I’d even gotten many workouts in.
I used an analogy for my friend that I think works well. Picture a good old fashioned water well. Running digs the well deeper. Not running makes the ground fill back in. One seventy mile week might take out a big chunk of earth, but then sporadic running after that will allow the dirt to come right back. However, consistently training around fifty miles might not dig the well quite as deep, but it will stay at a constant level. That way, even if you’re forced to take time for an injury or what have you, it’s easier to come back. You don’t have to dig through as much dirt again. You only have to reach inside the well and lower yourself back down. Whereas, if you’ve been inconsistent, you have to start digging again.
I hope that analogy made sense, but if it didn’t, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try again. Basically, what I’m saying is, the most important thing is to be consistent over time. You’re probably going to be better off doing sixty miles a week for both cross country and track than, say, doing forty five in cross country and then trying to jump up to seventy five during track. Doing that might yield good results, but it presents a huge injury risk, and I get the feeling even if you stay healthy, you might not quite see the results you wanted. Now, sometimes, admittedly, big jumps in mileage do pay off. And some runners can handle them. Everybody’s different. I’m merely trying to give some advice that I think is applicable to the general running public. As always, I encourage experimentation and seeing how your own body works. But by this point, I’ve been around the block a few times and I’d like to think I might know what I’m talking about.