Lydiard misconceptions explained

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Note: I originally wrote this several years ago. While I may write it slightly differently now if I were to rewrite it, I want to preserve this as it was originally written.

Over the years since becoming familiar with the Lydiard style of training, I’ve come across several misconceptions of his methods. The two most popular misconceptions are that Lydiard is all about long, slow distance (LSD in running terms) and that his methods are outdated. However, the misconceptions go well beyond that. I must admit, when I first learned of Lydiard, I fell in the trap of believing some of the misconceptions, mainly that Lydiard is all about LSD.

Because of the widespread misconceptions and because I believe Lydiard’s philosophies are so important for competitive minded distance runners, I’d like to discuss the two most popular misconceptions, a little about why I believe they came into being and explain why they are false. Throughout this article, I will be referencing what I consider to be the premier online Lydiard resource, the Lydiard Clinic.

Lydiard is all about long, slow distance: I’ve found this to be the most popular misconception of the Lydiard principles. It seems like a significant number of people have come to this conclusion and are spreading it like wildfire.

I believe this misconception comes from the fact that very few people actually talk about base training. Lydiard, recognizing that base training is where champions are made, focused quite a bit of time on this in his discussions. In fact, because most "gurus" gloss over base training at best or, more likely, completely ignore the topic, Lydiard seemed to be the only one talking about it. As a result, the biggest difference between Lydiard and others was his thorough discussion of the importance of base building. Is it any surprise that people hear the name Lydiard and instantly think base which, to most people, means lots of long, slow miles?

There are two facts here to consider. First, base building is indeed important. Show me a successful runner who has never established a base and I’ll show you a runner who could be much more successful than he or she is. Second, while Lydiard focused more on base than most people, that does not mean that is all he focused on. When it was time to run hard, nobody – past or present – would promote as much intensity as Lydiard did. The Lydiard program is all about balance. When it’s time to establish your base, that is the priority. When it’s time to develop strength and speed, you don’t let base training get in the way.

Consider the following quotes from the Lydiard Clinic:

The Lydiard training system is based on a balanced combination of aerobic and anaerobic running.

If you continue reading, you will see that’s the case.

The conditioning phase of Lydiard training stresses exercising aerobically to increase your Steady State as high as possible given your particular situation. For best results, you should exercise between 70 and 100 of your maximum aerobic effort. This, therefore, is not Long Slow Distance. This is running at a good effort and finishing each run feeling pleasantly tired. You will certainly benefit from running slower, but it will take much longer than if you ran at a good aerobic pace.

Indeed, it is not long slow distance. You’re not just jogging around, you’re out working at a fairly solid effort. Of course, many people are constantly racing their training runs so it may seem like long slow distance to them but, if they do it right, they will realize that it is very beneficial.

Similar to the three long runs in aerobic conditioning, you should run hard (anaerobically) three times a week during the anaerobic phase. Be sure to allow yourself to recover between hard workouts, at least a day in between. The idea is to stress your system, recover completely, then stress it again. It is not all that important what the distances or speeds are, just run repetitions and intervals until you are tired and have had enough for the day. No coach can tell exactly how many repetitions you can do, or what your recovery intervals should be, on a particular day. So trust you instincts and use any schedule as a guide only.

A different phase, a different focus. How many programs that are supposedly not long slow distance like Lydiard have people running hard three times a week at any point? I’d challenge anyone to read that quote and then think the Lydiard plan is nothing but long slow distance.

Anaerobic training is essential if you want to race well. Bear in mind, however, that if you overdo anaerobic work, you will sacrifice the very thing you have worked so hard to achieve, your good condition, which determines your performance level.

Would anyone who is all about long slow distance say anaerobic training is essential? I doubt it. Once again, the first quote is the key. The Lydiard system is all about balance.

The Lydiard system is outdated: This is another widespread misconception. In a way, it’s easy to see why people might believe this. It has been decades since the Lydiard system was developed. Since the development of this system, virtually every sport except distance running has seen systems eclipse the training methods that were previously thought to be best. In some sports, this has happened several times. It would seem that the Lydiard system has been around for so long that something must have come along to eclipse it. Amazingly, though, this is not the case, which speaks to the effectiveness of the Lydiard system.

When considering whether the Lydiard system is outdated or not, consider the history of the system and the history of Lydiard himself. He began by testing the system on himself, where he progressed from a good club runner to one of the best runners in New Zealand at an age where most competitive runners were retiring. He then worked with a stable of New Zealand runners and took Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, and Barry Magee to the 1960 Olympics, where they all won medals (gold for Snell and Halberg, bronze for Magee). In the late 1960s, he worked with coaches, including Lasse Viren’s coach and American coaches such as Bill Bowerman. He also influenced or worked directly with runners such as John Walker, Dick Quax, and Dick Taylor and coaches such as Bill Dellinger and Mark Wetmore. His methods are still largely followed by the best and most respected coaches and athletes in the world.

When people say that the Lydiard system is outdated, they often cite the Kenyans as people who are supposedly succeeding on a system that is nothing like Lydiard’s. However, consider some facts before believing this conclusion. First, people who say this usually say that the Kenyans are running faster than Lydiard would suggest. Read the Lydiard Clinic and you will probably disagree with that statement. Second, they make wild claims of how fast the Kenyans are training, such as one individual who told me that the Kenyans never run slower than lactate threshold pace. That would be an impressive accomplishment, seeing as they frequently do two hour runs while rarely run for less than one hour at a time and lactate threshold pace is roughly the pace one can hold for a one hour race. Frequent one to two hour runs at one hour race pace? No wonder why they are so good.

In reality, though, things look a bit different. Are the Kenyans following a system different than the Lydiard system? Take Lydiard’s own observations on that into consideration. In 1992, Lydiard visited Kenya. He intended to discuss the Lydiard system with the Kenyans. When he got there, though, he observed them and realized that they were already following the Lydiard system. Without Lydiard’s help, the Kenyans had found the same thing that Lydiard had found three decades earlier. The Kenyan system is, in fact, so similar to the Lydiard system that he often used them as examples of what can be accomplished in future presentations.

Shoes: wear what’s comfortable

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Image

Article on NYTimes.com says what I’ve been saying for years.

It’s nice to see a study backing up what, to me, has seemed like common sense for some time. If your shoes don’t feel comfortable, how are they not going to cause problems?

Note/question: Would you like to see more quick link/comment type posts? I’m thinking of doing more of them but I feel a bit guilty because I don’t always have a lot to add, as is the case here.

You DO deserve a coach!

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

I recently received an email from one of the runners I coach stating that a medical professional she is seeing laughed at her for having a coach. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well with her or me. It’s also an attitude I’ve seen all over the place since I’ve started "officially" coaching runners. In fact, at least three of the runners I am now coaching originally contacted me with almost apologetic tones, unsure whether I would "bother" with "middle of the pack adult-onset" runners like them.

First, my answer is yes. I absolutely love working with "middle of the pack adult-onset" runners! Second, my response to them and to the naysayers out there is why don’t these runners deserve a coach?

Some people seem to be of the mindset that only elites or those running in a school setting should have a coach. They seem to think that, if you aren’t running for a team or running for a living, a coach just doesn’t make sense. To that, I ask: why?

Why can’t someone who is new to running but not in school benefit by learning from someone with years of experience? An "adult-onset" runner hasn’t had the benefit of having a coach at the high school or collegiate level. These runners are essentially novices. They can read books and websites, which I would encourage whether or not they have a coach. However, there is a lot a coach can teach them about how to implement the multitude of philosophies and ideas and find the path that best works for them.

Why can’t someone who is not an elite have big goals and benefit from a coach in reaching toward those goals? We all can strive to do our best at whatever level we compete. Big goals are good things. Successful people set big goals. Sometimes, especially when we are new to something and aren’t experts on it, we need help in achieving our big goals. This is nothing to be ashamed of. We should be proud of setting big goals for ourselves and we should be proud that we can recognize when we need help achieving those goals and of being modest enough to go out and ask for that help but proud enough to not give up on those goals.

Most important, if you don’t believe in coaching for non-elites, that’s your choice but why do you have to pass judgement on someone else who believes otherwise? Maybe you don’t need a coach. Maybe you learned from a coach previously, maybe you think you have all the knowledge and advice you need without a coach. Good for you. If someone else makes a different decision about his or her own personal situation, what difference does it make to you?

Is this post self-serving? Sure, it probably is a little. I’m a coach of primarily "middle of the pack adult-onset" runners. I’ll be completely honest and say that the coaching service is my primary income source at HillRunner.com and allows me to do other things, like justify the time I use to write the code for this blogging platform and to write these blog posts. However, this is about much more than that. I’m terribly proud of the runners I coach. They work hard, they do what I ask them to do, they listen to my advice, ask questions and have a genuine interest in learning about running. There are many others like the runners I coach who are working with other coaches. These people benefit from coaching probably more than school age kids who don’t always listen so well and follow instructions given by authority figures. In my opinion, they should be applauded for their choice.

Periodization

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Note: This is another article that I’m rewriting without change into the blog. It’s been a popular article so, even though I’d write it slightly differently now, I’m going to preserve it as it was originally written.

This is a topic that I don’t think can be stressed enough. It is a very hot topic with elites. Whether they actively think about it or not, virtually all elites do it. Unfortunately, it seems like many average runners are not taking full advantage of this concept. I just wanted to take some time to explore this topic, going through each phase and explaining how I would normally implement the phases.

Before I start, I should point out that different people will use different terms for the cycles (big surprise, right?) and some may add, possibly remove, and will most likely adjust the amount of time in each phase. In fact, the length of the cycle itself can vary. In my example, I will be going on a 6 month cycle. This is very normal, as it gives a person two peaks a year. However, at times, people will go on an 8 month or 12 month cycle or some other duration. Going shorter than 6 months, though, can leave you skipping or cutting too short important components of training. Specifically, my example will be what a high school or college runner might want to do, where they will have two peaks. One in May for track and one in October or November for cross-country.

I will start with the cycle that most runners consider to be the beginning of their training season, base training. I will then progress through my phases of training in order, which are laid out in an order that tends to be the most popular. Second will be race preparation, third will be taper, fourth will be the race, then on to recovery. After recovery phase, a runner would start back at the beginning of the cycle with base training again.

Phase 1, Base: This is probably the most simple and most important phase for most race distances, especially the longer ones. Unfortunately, it is also probably the most overlooked phase. The concept is quite simple and straight forward. Run a lot of miles. Don’t worry about pace, don’t even worry about how far you are going to go tomorrow. Just run. How much? As much as you can, more than you ever have before if possible. Build up cautiously, listening to your body and backing off if it’s rebelling, but build up as high as you can. This is the time to build your aerobic endurance. As my high school coach always told the team, running is like a pyramid. The bigger the base, the higher the peak. If you don’t get an adequate base in and try to build your peak too high later, the pyramid is just going to come crashing down. Some experienced runners get away with skimping on base because they are relying on their base from previous years of running. However, even experienced runners can’t do this forever. You can’t keep going to the well without replenishing it at some point.

Keys to the phase: Weekly mileage and long runs. Yes, do your long runs here. Maybe not right away but, by the end of base phase, I would plan on having in at least one run of the longest distance I’m planning on doing. Want to do speed? Throw in a fartlek or tempo run when you’re feeling good but I wouldn’t do it more than once a week. I’d plan on doing this phase for at least 2-3 months. Between this and the next phase, especially if you are in base phase for a long time, you may want to take a down week or two. Less miles, maybe 50% of peak – play it by ear, but no more intensity. An occasional race isn’t a bad thing during this phase but I wouldn’t race very frequently and I wouldn’t treat the races in this phase with any importance.

Example: For the high school runner, this is what you do during the summer or winter off-season months. Starting after your recovery phase, simply build your miles. When I was in high school, June, July, and August would be my base building months for cross-country and late November, December, January, and into February would be base building for track.

Phase 2, Race Prep: This is where most programs you see on books and websites pick up. Unfortunately, they assume you didn’t get in a proper base phase so the books and websites have you building your mileage and long runs through here. If you are properly prepared, you will already be at your peak for mileage and long runs. At this point, the focus shifts to quality and you are just maintaining your base. Typically, this phase lasts for about 8-12 weeks.

Keys to the phase: Intensity, while maintaining the base. Keep the long runs going and keep your weekly mileage up as much as you can, although a step back in mileage is far from the end of the world. At this point, add in whatever speedwork you decide to implement. Of course, the type of speedwork depends on what the distance of your goal race would be and where you are in this phase. It’s a very good idea to start this phase with some hill repeat workouts to build strength before launching into real intense speed workouts. About a month of strength work before launching into track workouts is a great way to lay a strength basis for the big speed workouts. Experiment to find what works best. This would also be the point to have occasional races thrown into the schedule.

Example: This ties in with the season in high school. All the early season training and meets are part of this. Race prep in high school for me basically started right about the time official practices started, mid to late August in cross-country and early March in track. I would start a bit early for track, maybe in late February, but my coach would know what I was doing and would make sure it fit into the overall plan. The thing to remember when you’re in high school or college for that matter is which meets mean something. How important are those early season meets? The end of the season meets are what matter, the rest is just preparation.

Phase 3, Taper: Probably the hardest phase to get right, this is all about cutting back your training enough so you are well rested for the goal race while not cutting back so much that your legs get stale. It’s a tough balancing act.

Keys to phase: Cut back basically everything in this phase. How much? That’s a very individual thing. Some people need to cut back a lot, others find they run best when not cutting back much at all. Some people find holding volume nearly steady but doing virtually no fast stuff works, others find dropping volume significantly but keeping nearly all the intensity works. You have to find what’s right for you. How long do you taper? Well, it depends some on the individual and some on the race. The longer the race, in general, the longer the taper. For a 5k, a 7-10 day taper is plenty good. For a marathon, the standard is usually 3 weeks. I also like the idea of blowing out the pipes with one big effort in a race 2-3 weeks before the goal race.

Example: For high schoolers, this is kind of a tough phase because you are usually peaking for multiple races. You will usually have multiple mini-tapers. For me, this would start in mid-October in cross-country as we tapered for conference, then continue for the sectional race and, if we made it, continue all the way on to state.

Phase 4, Race: For a high schooler, this may be multiple races between tapers. For a marathoner, this is a one day (one morning?) phase. The one thing to remember is this isn’t every race you do. This is the goal race or races.

Keys to phase: You know, all the good stuff. Don’t go out too hard, if you’re running a long race like a marathon drink early and often, leave it all on the course.

Example: For the high schooler, this can consist of multiple races between mini-tapers. Hopefully not more than about 3-4 races and hopefully over a span of no more than 2-3 weeks. This would be your conference, state qualifiers, and state meets.

Phase 5, Recovery: If the base phase is the most overlooked phase, this is second. A lot of people launch right back into training too soon. Take some down time. Some Kenyans are well known for taking a month completely off from running after their racing seasons. You’ve been pushing hard for a long time at this point, let your body regroup. Don’t worry about your fitness, sure you’ll lose some but you’ll still come back next season stronger than you were this past season. If you don’t let your body recover, you could end up tearing yourself down so far that you can’t get in effective training next time around. Personally, I think the key to deciding on a duration for this phase is to let your mind and body decide. When the motivation to train hard is back and the body feels like it’s ready to fire things back up, that’s when the phase is over. Once that time comes, return to the top of this page and start over at phase 1.

Keys to phase: Just do what you want. If you want to run, do it for the enjoyment of running. Don’t even think about training. If you want to get away from running for a little while, this is the time to do it. Do some cross-training if you wish, do nothing but sit on the couch and watch your whole DVD collection 5 times if you wish.

Example: When I was in high school, I would take anywhere from a couple weeks to a full month either off or just easy running at the end of a season. It was always different for me because I would simply let my body decide when this phase was over.

The junk miles myth

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Note: This is an article I wrote many years ago without revision. It’s become somewhat popular so I want to preserve it as it first appeared as the articles section of the site gets phased out. In the future, I may write another post discussing how my views have evolved over the years but this generally is still advice I would stand by.

No matter where a runner looks, you can’t seem to get away from the term "junk miles". Don’t run too much on your easy days, you’ll be running junk miles. Don’t go that far on your cooldown, that’s just junk miles. Don’t do that extra run, that’s just junk miles. So, what exactly are junk miles and why are they so bad?

In my opinion, the term "junk miles" is the most overused term in running. Most people will use the term to describe any amount of miles that may leave you a little tired for a workout.

So, here is my definition of "junk miles": If you are doing so many miles that you can’t get in your speed workouts at a time when your speed workouts should be the focus, you are running junk miles. Of course, this is a pretty complex definition, so I better explain further.

During base training, when you are not running hard workouts or at the very least are not focusing on the hard workouts, is there such a thing as junk miles? As long as you are keeping yourself healthy, I argue no.

What about in the final couple of months of your training (few months, whenever your focus shifts), when your focus becomes the hard workouts? I think the best way to explain this is to use an example. Let’s say you have 4 mile repeats on the plan for Tuesday and 8×800 on the plan for Thursday. Your target paces are 5:20 and 2:30 (just using rough estimates of what my paces would be). You run your 5:20 miles on Tuesday, do 5 miles on Wednesday, then come back with your 2:30 800s on Thursday. Obviously, no junk miles there. Now, let’s say you are running higher miles. You end up doing 5:25 miles on Tuesday because you are a little fatigued after your 10 miles Monday, you do 10 miles Wednesday, then do the 800s in 2:32. Are the 10 mile runs on your easy days junk miles? Some people would say yes but I say no. If you are still getting the whole workout in at the goal intensity, hitting the exact paces isn’t crucial. Your body doesn’t even know it’s running 5:25 and 2:32 instead of 5:20 and 2:30, it just knows it’s running at the intensity that you wanted to run at in the first place. You are still getting in the desired training effect, plus you are building significantly more strength on the easy days, which will help you greatly on race day. However, let’s say you step it up another notch. You do your miles Tuesday but only get through 3 of them because you are so tired. You then do 15 miles on Wednesday, then only get through 5×800 on Thursday because you are again still tired. Are you now running junk miles? The obvious answer seems to be yes. My answer is maybe. If you are in a phase where building your aerobic strength is still most important, as it would be for quite some time if training for a longer race like a marathon, no. However, if you are in the final race preparation phase or the peaking phase, yes you have.

So, there is my term of junk miles. If you are doing so many miles that you can’t get in your speed workouts at a time when your speed workouts should be the focus, you are running junk miles. However, doing the workouts a little slower than planned because you are a little tired doesn’t mean anything. As long as you get the whole workout in at the desired effort.

Now that I went through this whole explanation, I’m going to throw a wrench in it. In most cases where I see people not getting through workouts, it’s not because they are running too many miles on their easy days. It’s because they are running too fast on their easy days, what you might call junk pace. There is no harm in running your easy days very slow. You will still build the aerobic systems that the aerobic runs are designed to build and you will recover more. In fact, the longer you are out there, the more work your body will do to build those aerobic systems. So, in many ways, an 80 minute run at 10 minutes per mile can be better than a 40 minute run at 8 minutes per mile.

How Can I Increasing Mental Toughness

This article was originally posted by Ed at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

I just read an article (Runner’s World) on beating mental roadblocks in training and racing. Some of their ideas seem so silly. It is tough to just "tell yourself" to do better or to just ignore or replace negative thoughts or to "just smile." For me mental roadblocks are more than motivation. A mental roadblock needs mental toughness to overcome any and (nearly) all obstacles.

For me a mental roadblock is brought on by some sort of physical signal from my body. Signals like the beginning of a side stitch or my breathing getting out of control or even that wonderful burning sensation in the legs. This is what I want to be able to overcome and push through to the end of the race.

I have realized that I need to distract myself with more than the silly ideas like "I really want the race shirt" or "its ok if I get a (much) slower time because I made my goal so wide open" mentioned in the article. It has to be something concrete and directly related to my goal for that workout or race. I have had some success with shortening the race mentally – "catch and pass that runner in front of you – that’s all, just pass them and hold on" which seems to work best. However, what do I do when I just cannot close that gap? Get a glimpse of the runner chasing me and try to widen that gap.

I want to learn how to ignore a side stitch as painful as they sometimes feel, running through it, working to control it and not slow down. I want to learn how to continue racing when my breathing is out of control or my legs feel like they are on fire. I want to do this without slowing down but by employing a technique to minimize the issue and engaging a superior mental toughness.

After the racing season (or maybe during the season depending on Coach Hill) I would like to start having a few workouts a month that are nearly impossible to complete. Workouts that would create tears in my eyes, which will require serious effort, so that I can start to develop that mental toughness of drawing on the pain and completing the goal regardless. We shall see what Coach Hill thinks and/or puts together for me.

Either way . . . there is more running in my future!

Training by Time

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Interesting thoughts over at the RT/RW site.

I like the general point of this article. I’ve long believed in training by time, though I accept that most people will think in terms of miles so I think of a target time, the expected pace of the run, then assign a corresponding distance. Want at least 1 hour and expect to run around 7:00 pace? Go for 9 miles. Want at least 1 hour and expect to run around 9:00 pace? 7 miles will get you there.

One place I think the author makes a mistake is in describing the workout. The 15:30 5K runner and the 18:00 5K runner running a 5K pace workout are not running at the same intensity. The 15:30 runner is running at a higher intensity than the 18:00 runner. What’s more similar to 15:35 (shouldn’t it be 15:30?) at 15:30 race pace, 14:28 at 18:00 race pace or 18:00 at 18:00 race pace? The problem is the author discusses focusing on time and intensity, then ignores the difference in intensity between the 15:30 5K and 18:00 5K. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal but think of the difference between a 15:30 5K and a 20:00 or 25:00 5K. Same concept. As he mentions, the body doesn’t know distance, it knows time and effort. This doesn’t mean the workout shouldn’t be adjusted but the reason given is, in my opinion, questionable. Maybe you need to increase recovery duration so your ratio between work and recovery remains similar. Maybe you need to shorten the workout for other reasons, such as the possibility that the 18:00 runner may not have the same base and work capacity as the 15:30 runner (though the inverse could potentially be true of course).

In the end, I’m not trying to be critical of the author or what he wrote in general. I fully agree that the body knows effort and duration. It doesn’t really know whether you’re running 9 miles or 10. It knows you’re running 70 minutes at some given intensity. That said, we should carry this premise through to workouts and realize that a 15:30 5K runner and an 18:00 5K runner are not running the same intensity at race pace so targeting the same time means the 18:00 5K runner has an easier workout than the 15:30 runner. Maybe that’s called for given other factors. Maybe, though, it isn’t.

One more

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

If you’ve read my two most recent race reports, you might have noticed a pattern. About a week before the races, my training crashed. Fortunately, I bounced back in time for race day both times but I can’t keep counting on this happening.

So why did I crash both times, less than a month apart? The answer to that question appears to actually be more simple than one might think. I didn’t follow my own advice and I ran my workouts too hard. Essentially, I ran myself into the ground. I was fortunate that I recognized this both times and corrected in time but why did I fall into this trap not only once but twice in such a short time and what can we all learn about this?

The first time, it was simply a matter of getting too aggressive. I had one very challenging workout on my schedule. It felt so good to nail that workout, even though I had to dig deep to get it done, that I couldn’t resist the draw to feel that again so I ran later workouts harder than I should have. Meanwhile, easy days were not sufficiently easy to recover from such demanding workouts. I recognized this when I crashed but I then entered a shorter than usual training cycle between races and figured, with not as much time to train, I could put a little more into the workouts. Different reasoning, same trap.

I’m not sharing these examples of how I fell into the trap to make myself look like an idiot or to get your sympathy. I’m sharing these examples because they are examples of how easy it is to fall into the trap. I doubt I’m the only one here who has fallen into these traps.

So what should I have done and what will I do going forward? I’ll follow my own advice: finish every workout feeling like you could have done at least one more. If I do fall into the trap during a workout and run it too hard, I’ll take extra precautions in the following day or two to ensure I am adequately recovered before moving on.

Whether you’re running 30 second repeats or mile repeats, it’s good to aim to finish feeling like you could have done at least one more repeat. Even on long runs, finish like you could have run at least one more mile (I actually prefer feeling like I could have run at least 2-3 more miles on long runs). This will keep you from racing your hard days. Remember, save the racing for race day. On workout days, you’re generally not looking to challenge yourself. You’re looking to build yourself up. You need some stress to stimulate improvement but too much stress repeated too frequently will just break you down.

More on the 10% myth

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

After posting about the 10% myth earlier this week, I thought it would be good to discuss the primary argument I’ve received over the years against my view on this "rule".

To paraphrase, the argument goes something like this: Sure, you could increase by 15% or 20% for a week or two but that isn’t sustainable. 10% per week is the maximum sustainable rate at which one could increase their volume.

I usually respond with the question of how long one thinks you can sustain a 10% per week increase. I’ve yet to hear a response.

If you increase by 10% per week for 8 weeks, you’ve increased your volume by 114%. If you’ve been running 50 miles per week, you’re now at 107 miles per week in about 2 months. If you increase for 12 weeks, you’ve increased your volume by 213% and your 50 miles per week base has in 3 months turned into over 150 miles per week. By 15 weeks, you’ve topped 200 miles per week. Is this sustainable? Of course not. Depending on your circumstances, you’re doing very well if you are safely running 73 miles a week in a month’s time.

The argument I’m making is that we shouldn’t focus on numbers. Focus instead on how you’re feeling. At times, you might find yourself increasing by 15-20% or even more. At other times, you might find yourself increasing by less than 5% or even holding steady for a while. Forget about the numbers and focus on how your body is responding to your increases. Your body will lead you to far better results than some arbitrary formula.

Any other questions, concerns or comments about the 10% rule or why I feel the way I do about it? Don’t hesitate to ask.

The 10% myth

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Everywhere you go, you hear about it. Even those of us who try to avoid hearing about it can’t get away from it. The "10% rule". That supposed rule that a person shouldn’t increase their weekly mileage by more than 10% from week to week or they will risk injury, fatigue, burnout, and a multitude of other bad repercussions. Of course, a corollary to this rule that some strongly promote is that, as long as you are within this guideline, you’re perfectly safe. Is this really true? Well, let’s look at a few facts as well as some observations I’ve made.

First, let’s look at the numbers. We’re told that this "10% rule" applies to everyone at all levels. OK, so how does a person start running? You can’t increase from zero miles by 10% and end up with anything but zero. Maybe that’s why so many people are afraid to start running. They would be breaking the "10% rule". OK, that’s a little extreme so let’s take a situation I was once introduced to. Someone ran 8 miles in a recent week and was asking what would be reasonable for the following week. This person mentioned that, by Wednesday, she was already on the verge of breaking the "10% rule" but still felt good, so did she really have to stick with 10% or could she go higher? I gave my usual advice, listen to your body and let it guide you. After all, is it really reasonable to expect a person to go from 8 miles to 8.8 to 9.6 to 10.5? If she was to do 9 or 10 miles that first week after the 8 mile week, would that mean sure injury or burnout? What if she tried to stick to 8.8 miles but measured a course wrong and ended up running 8.9 or 9 miles? She broke the 10% rule, now she’s going to get injured? Let’s be realistic here. There was no doubt in my mind that she was ready for 10, 12, maybe even more miles. Maybe she would have to maintain for a short time once she hit 12 miles but everything she said suggested that she was ready. Of course, that didn’t stop a "10% rule" proponent from saying I’m full of it and that she should in fact run 8.8 miles the following week, 9.6 the week after, and 10.5 on the third week. This person informed me that it was a proven and time tested principle. Really? I’d love to see the evidence of that but I’ll get to that later.

What about the opposite end of the spectrum? Some of those who promote this "rule" say that, as long as one stays within the guidelines, they will be fine. What does this mean for someone who just ran a 100 mile week? Well, that person runs 110 miles the following week, 121 the week after, 133 the next week, 146 on the fourth week, and 160 on week five. That’s a 60 mile per week increase in barely over a month. Staying well within these boundaries, a person could increase by 6 miles per day in a month’s period. What are the chances that someone could actually increase the training load this quickly without problems? Again, let’s be realistic here.

Next, let’s look at some facts. A number of sources will tell you that, as long as you increase by 10% or less, you are at a low risk of injury and burnout. As soon as you cross over to more than 10%, though, you are at a high risk of injury and burnout. This is a very interesting theory. All I can do is ask what makes 10% so special? I know of many people who, on a very regular basis, increase their mileage at a much higher rate with no repercussions. I have actually done that myself from the beginning of my running years. I also know of many people who have increased by much less than 10% and ended up with very serious injuries. From my observations, I have seen no sign that 10% is some magical turning point where injury risk suddenly increases. Also, I have seen no studies that have found this to be the case.

In the end, I just have to ask why 10%? Simple, it’s a nice round number that sounds good. It’s a middle ground. Many people get injured increasing at 5% or less per week, many others don’t get injured when increasing by 20% or more per week for a short period of time. Most runners will be safe at 10%, although many would also be safe at 15% and those who wouldn’t be safe may or may not be safe at 5%.

Well, if most runners are safe at 10%, why do I have a problem with this number? Simple, there is a better, less limiting and even safer way to increase. It’s called listening to your body. At points, if you listen to your body, you will probably increase your mileage by more than 10% per week. This is the point where 10% is too conservative and is actually limiting your training. At other points, if you listen to your body, you will probably increase your mileage by less than 10% per week and maybe even stop increasing for a few weeks before starting the buildup again. This is the point where 10% is too aggressive and runners who follow it to the letter end up developing problems.