Is intensity worth more than mileage? Discuss.

oldshoes4Any of you who are training for a marathon or half marathon will now be fully aware of the tyranny of high mileage training. Particularly if you’re aiming for a marathon, you need to start from a base of around 15 miles a week, and get that up to at least 50, including weekly long runs of at least 20 miles. Well, that’s the theory anyway. And one that I subscribed to myself until a couple of years ago.

That was until I realised that after a 4 month build-up culminating in several 50 mile weeks, I was pretty much a dead man walking by the time I got to the start line. My knees felt pounded to death. I was rarely free of cramp, no matter how good my warm-up and cool-down. And don’t even get me started on how much I was spending on my favoured Asics Gel Cumulii, at the rate of a new pair every 400 miles (or 8 weeks, in old money).

Which was when I decided that there had to be a better way, and started to experiment with cross-training and speed-training as a substitute.

So these days, when I’m preparing for a marathon or half marathon, instead of running between 6 and 8 miles, 4 times a week, followed by a long run at the weekend, I’m far more inclined to do 20 miles on a Saturday, rest on Sunday, swim or cycle on Monday, do 8 miles on Tuesday, do some sprint intervals around a football pitch on Wednesday, do about 6 miles running on Thursday, then rest on Friday, to get some energy up for Saturday’s long, slow run.

Now, this all adds up to a weekly mileage of less than 35 miles on the road, which any running book will tell you is woefully inadequate. The thing is though, that my race times are about 10% quicker since I reduced my mileage, and I don’t spend my whole life feeling like I’m about to expire from exhaustion. Nor do my errant cartilages make such regular breaks for freedom.

Now, I’m fully aware that to publish such thoughts amounts to sacrilege in the world of the serious runner: nearly as bad as my borderline fascistic rejection of the walk/run strategy as a valid way of training for races.

What I’m talking about though is a training regime that works for me, as a 14 stone, 44 year-old bloke with bad knees. And what I’d love you to take away from this is the thought that maybe, just maybe, all of the running books that insist on a massive mileage as the only way to train, could be living in the dark ages.

Is there anyone else out there who doesn’t think that ‘miles in the bank’ are all there is to marathon and half-marathon training? If you’ve got any thoughts on this, please leave me a comment. I think that this is important stuff.