Thoughts on the Run: Train to train or train in vain?

Andy Shearer

One of my long-time running friends had a very predictable training cycle. And it wasn’t a good one. What’s a training cycle? Well, it’s a schedule or training pattern that focuses on one or two areas, while minimizing or maintaining other areas. 

For example, a miler might spend some time focusing on weight-training more while running a bit less, then shift that focus to more mileage but at a lower intensity and reduced weight room work. As the race season approaches, the emphasis would again shift to faster-paced running, with the goal of peaking just before the key focus races. That’s a general overview, but you get the idea. In other words, you can’t work on all systems simultaneously and expect all of them to respond well. 

Andy Shearer

That’s where my friend comes in. His cycle was about nine to 10 weeks in total length and looked like this: 3 to 4 weeks of gentle running, in which he’d feel really good, then 3 weeks of “hey, let’s hit the track and run 10 by 800 meter repeats a race pace twice weekly,” followed by about 3 weeks of injury recovery. 

Injury recovery? His problem was that he was never fully ready to “hit the track.” He thought he had trained, but he hadn’t trained to train and thus had trained in vain (insert cheesy The Clash reference here – “I see all my dreams come tumbling down. I can’t be happy without you round.”) 

One thing that is sorely lacking in those of my ilk (ie, runners) is the lack of patience. We’re not prepared to take months, or even years, to get better. In fact, there are quite a number of us who have never met a race application we didn’t like or a challenge we wouldn’t take. And I am as guilty as most. 

So what does it mean to “train to train”? Quite simply, it’s making sure our machine is ready to be ready, whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally. Marathon training plans run between 12 and 20 weeks in length. But if you’ve never run more than three or four miles, a 12-week marathon build-up perhaps isn’t the smartest thing you can do. In order to be ready to run 26 miles, you first need to be ready to train for 16+ weeks to GET ready to run 26 miles. 

There are a few disclaimers that I am requiring myself to pass along. The longer you’ve been running, the deeper your base is. However, the longer you’ve been away from running, the less deep it gets. Also, training plans are and should be somewhat unique based on your life requirements, past injuries, training and racing experiences, and willingness to “train to train.” And finally, it’s all an experiment of One.

Another friend recently informed me that it’s taken him years to finally figure out that training pace doesn’t matter, in the long-view. Slower, easier-paced running is a great way to “train to train” in the early stages of a training cycle. Faster-paced stuff could me months away. Oddly, as our base gets deeper, our easy pace will naturally get faster, even at the same intensity level. Training to train! 

For me, my “training to train” cycle usually takes 12-15 weeks. During that timeframe, 90% of my miles will be at a conversationally easy pace (70% effort). The other 10% might take the form of some easy striders, or a few easy hill repeats. Once that cycle is complete (and I usually can feel when that is), the next cycle is more base building but with some added variety – tempo, more hills, increased distance, etc.

If 2020 has taught runners anything, it should be: 1) The mantra that “there is no such thing as a wasted mile” and 2) patience.

No, I’m not planning to quote another pop song from the last century. But I am going to quote myself, “train to train or train in vain.” 

Have a blessed, safe and happy 2021. I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails. 

Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.

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