Where Your Dreams Become Reality
Ask Wejo: Round 1: High Mileage Base Training, Stop Watches, and Ryan Hall and Dean Karnazes
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Ok I get quite a few questions about training on here. I try and respond to them all. But today I realized that instead of emailing just the people back and sharing the info with 1 person, I could with a little more effort but not a lot, write a response and share it with thousands of people. The power of the internet.
Question #1: Loved your account of how you've grown as a runner. There are lots of good tips there. I especially liked your point about running fast and not hard. I don't have much time for training but I'd like to try to do more mileage. I've always found higher mileage leads to tiredness and injury, but the way you've explained the AT and recovery runs makes more sense. Would you mind sharing a sample of an AT workout you might do? Would you do something like 5 miles at 10% slower than your 10K pace? That sort of thing?
First off, I'm not big on the scientific terms. That's why I turn down a lot of request for people to coach them over the internet. For me to scientifically design a running program with specific paces would be difficult. Even more difficult would be for me to explain things scientifically.
But I think a lot can be learned from this. First of all, if you have a coach who could design workouts for you that you trust, it makes things a lot easier. There is no doubt in your mind then. A workout is assigned you believe in it and go do it. If you're unsure of what you are doing and start questioning everything you do, then you won't have quite the confidence when you race. And the one thing you must have when you race is total confidence. But not overconfidence. (See my comments on confidence and overconfidence and Ryan Hall and NCAAs at the bottom of this answer)
But turning back to the question at hand, as I said I'm not big on the scientific terms or judging the pace off of a watch. I think the key is to listen to your body. That should be your guide. When I sucked at running, I trained off of my watch, when I was good, I just used my watch just to record my times.
I think one of the reasons I made such drastic improvement when I moved to Flagstaff (editor's note: his 10k pr went from 29:49 to 28:27 in 1 race), besides the altitude and increased mileage I was running, was for the first time in my life I had to just listen to my body when I ran. I'd go workout on a dirt track at moderate altitude that makes the tracks in Kenya look like Mondo tracks. I'd ask my coach, "What pace should I run". He'd say he didn't know, he had no idea with the altitude and surface involved. He had always described things in effort, but given me a pace as well. However I always focused on the pace which was a mistake. For the first time, I just had to go off of effort.
And soon my watch was almost just a recording device for me. 25-30 minute tempo runs are probably my favorite workout. Now sometimes, these are what I call, "high steady state" (no emphasis on pace, I might even run longer say 45 minutes), sometimes they are true tempo runs, and sometimes, very rarely (especially if I'd got a little shorter in distance), I'd feel the need to try and hit as close to a certain pace as possible (and that was when I was at low altitude). The final instance was the only time where I would actually use my watch as a guide during the workout. For this, I have a 5-10 second range in my head that I knew I needed to start off at, and since there was an emphasis on pace, I wanted to make sure I was starting off ok. But I would exit the track after 3/4 of a mile, then do 2 road loops off the track with no mile markers, and then finish with say a faster mile on the track. But for the majority of these runs, all the watch would do was record my loops. Usually the only time I looked at it was the times I started off on the track. Oftentimes, I NEVER looked at the watch during the run. I would just hit the "split button". I never measured the distance of the loops. I'd just report the times back to my coach. This may sound crazy, but it taught me to learn how to listen to my body and how to run fast.
One of my favorite things was finishing workouts (I did this same thing for a lot of track workouts as well so don't think this only applies to road stuff), and then looking at the split times, to see how the workout "went." And things almost always went well (actually without a watch I think it is really hard to have a bad workout) because I was running how I felt, not trying to force an artificial pace (don't get me wrong there are a few times you really need to try and hit a pace but they are few and far between). And basically I'd evaluate these runs on one criteria, whether each lap was faster or as fast as the same one before it. It never ceased to amaze me that EVERY single time I worked out (at least that I remember), this was the case, until the workout I blew out my plantar and kept running on it. (I got back that day and was like "Whoa my foot must be messed up, I just ran that loop 30 seconds slower). Even days when I felt like I was slightly struggling, I would not be slowing down. And that is because on most tempo runs (I'm using that term broadly) you don't want to be over your threshold until the final mile or final 3 minutes. My plan for most of these things was to perhaps start out a little slower the first mile, exit the track, be able to maintain or pick up that pace, and then be able to bring down the pace for sure the last mile, but for sure the last 2-3 minutes. If you can not do this, you are running too hard too soon. If you are dying in a tempo run, you might as well not do it. I can not reiterate this enough. As Arthur Lydiard said, "Relaxation is the key to running fast." To do this, in almost everything you do, you should be finishing faster than you started. If I had one rule for running that would be it, Finish Faster Than You Start.
And the absolute pace on my runs would vary tremendously. I remember doing say 4*8 minutes on this one loop and my loops were over 7 minutes with rest. Now this might upset some people because I knew the year before I had done 4 continuous loops in around 6:30 a loop. So here I was running 30 seconds a mile slower WITH rest. But this was where I was at and the pace I needed to run. The next week things would be faster, etc. But when getting into shape, you can not force a pace. Thus if I tell you to run 10% slower than your 10k pace I don't think it serves a lot of purpose.
Wejo Talks About Confidence, Overconfidence, Ryan Hall and NCAAs
"The strategy was to run hard at a 4:30
pace. I had that for the first mile, but I didn't feel comfortable. I
just didn't have it. Once we were off pace, I really wasn't excited out
there. No one runs well when you're not excited.
Running fast is never easy. Never forget it. Now maybe Ryan Hall went out too hard, and the heat got to him. The other likely scenario is the hype got to him a bit. He ran so fast in Houston, he raised the bar for Jacksonville. "4:30 pace shouldn't be that hard" was his thought process going in. But it doesn't work like that. Let me repeat, running fast is never easy. (Sure after the good races it may have seemed easy but it wasn't) . If Ryan can run 4:30 pace for a half marathon, 4:30 pace for 9 miles is no walk in the park. Neither is 4:40 pace. Yet he has such high expectations, he gets out there, things aren't as easy as he thinks, he starts questioning himself, and instead of racing and enjoying it, he's not "excited" out there. All things considered, running 44 minutes for 15k isn't bad. But it just shows the studs of the sport can have the same mental breakdowns that you and I have.
On the other end of confidence spectrum watch the NCAA championships. This is the creme de la creme of NCAA running. Almost everyone there is a star at some level. But the most interesting thing is to watch the guys or gals who get to NCAAs and run scared. The race will be much slower than their qualifying time, evenly paced, and they'll be nowhere near the front, or run in the back of the pack like that is where they expect to finish. This either indicates 1) poor coaching (ideally you should be running your best at the end of the season) or 2) a lack of confidence. We all have it at some point. The problem is however, if we don't believe we can compete, then we shouldn't even bother running the race. If you make NCAAs in the mile or 800, you've got to race like you belong in the final. A lot of guys don't.
Question #2:Racing Well in College While Trying to Train
If you're trying to race well there is no way I'd advocate 140 mile weeks, week in week out, especially if you've never done it before. Sure there are people who can do this and race well but not many.
I don't think blind 140 miles a week is the solution for most college runners either. That is a ton of running. I bet most likely it is too much for you. It all depends on your running history but I didn't run that much until I was 27. Sure I think my coach was a bit cautious with me, but I don't think the solution for most guys is to just go to run blind 140 miles a week. Yes I'm an advocate of higher mileage, but first and foremost I'm an advocate of training sensibly and mixing in the right ingredients.
And if you're running a lot of mileage something has to give. Since you're in college, I can bet you're running pretty hard on your easy days, unless you're the exception to the rule. Now granted when I was in college I didn't run a lot but I average my miles at 6:30 a mile or better. Out of college I average them at 7 but then began to realize they were probably slower than that a lot of the time. A 40 year old master's runner came and ran with me in Flagstaff and asked if I ran this pace every day. It was a morning run, and I said yes and asked if it was too fast. He said it was way too slow.
But that does not mean I advocate slow running. I advocate running so you can recover. I never went out to try and run slow and never felt like I was running slow (well actually there were a few days I got out there and felt like complete sh** and it even felt slow, so those days I might cut it short. It was a sign my body was almost wrecked) but to the average observer I was running slow. Why? I was running a lot (probably 120-130 miles a week) and also trying to get in some quality workouts. But the point is I didn't look at my watch. I just went out there and ran according to how my body felt (see the article above). And yes sometimes I ran a decent clip but that emphasis of the run was never the pace. It was on my body. (Sometimes I'd probably finish runs up to a minute a mile faster than I started and not really have a clue except the guy I was running with would make some comment). But if you're on a team this is harder to do.
And if you're on a team most guys aren't running even 100 miles a week so they're going to want to run faster. Are you telling me you're not trying to keep up with them on your easy days? I bet 140 a week is too much for you regardless of the pace just as a generalization (I could be wrong), but I'm even more convinced that it's too much for you if you run your easy days like most college kids . What you read about Josh McDougal doing in training is the exception to the rule. If you're content to let your teammates drop you on your easy runs, then maybe you can run 140 a week, but generally something has to give. High mileage and high intensity (assuming you're trying to workout well 3 times a week) usually means one of the following, subpar or inconsistent race performance or injury.
But I think a lot of your problems are related to the dynamics of being on a collegiate team and trying to run indoors. You said, "I am a bit frustrated, granted I know I am in my base phase." Well if you truly are in a base phase, then why are you trying to race well? You're trying to train like you're in a base phase but also race well. Sorry but once again something has to give. I think you need to sit down with your coach and figure out what you are really trying to do- train well or race well. Most likely it will be a combination of the two, race fairly well but not forget that you have an outdoor season that you'd like to do even better in. The top guys can race pretty well indoors, and then race even better outdoors, but most college guys do not manage this very difficult task. There is nothing better than being on a college track team, but it is not an ideal world for training, as the seasons are compressed together very tightly.
Weldon Johnson, aka Wejo, has run 28:06 for 10k, ranks only behind the legendary Dean Karnazes as the greatest running self-marketer of all-time. He lives with his wife and two dogs in upstate, NY.