When I was in my twenties, training was easy. I would just run as many miles as I could, and complete progressively harder and bigger workouts leading up to a goal race. Then, after a brief respite, I would start all over again, trying to get just a few more miles per week out of my legs than I did in the previous cycle. It was time consuming, and it took a lot of effort, but it was easy to come up with.
Now that I am closer to 40 than 30, and several years removed from all of my personal best times, it has become obvious that I can no longer train like I used to. Even 50 miles per week leaves me feeling creaky and fatigued, and the mere thought of doing 3x 5 miles at marathon pace leaves me so exhausted I can barely stand. So, I’ve had to re-think my training philosophy. I have tons of miles under my legs (over 35,000 just since I started tracking my mileage in 2005), so I know I don’t need super high mileage to run well anymore. But I do need to have a decent amount of quality to run faster than 6:30 pace for a 5K.
So, lately, I have been adding some strength training, which I have always intended to do but never actually stuck with before. I found that Brad Stulberg’s Minimalist Strength Training plan works great for me, because the exercises are simple, recruit all the major muscles, and don’t require lots of time to accomplish. Before, I would try to do eight different lower leg exercises, plus biceps, triceps, chest, and back. All that took too much time and effort and left me so fatigued I could barely run. Now, in just 20 minutes, I can get a decent full-body workout that leaves me feeling stronger, but not terribly fatigued. Is it the perfect training plan? Well, if you believe that the perfect plan is the one you follow, then yes, it is the perfect plan for me. Obviously, it’s not for everyone, but I actually enjoy it, and like feeling like slightly less of a skinny wimp than usual.
In addition, I have severely cut my mileage, to the point where I am running 20-30 miles per week. This is a sharp contract to the 70-90 miles I used to run when training heavily in my twenties. Doubtless, this has helped me stay consistent with the strength training as well. I still do some quality, but nothing as structured and regimented as I used to. I have a basic training plan outlined for myself, but instead of saying I will do 6x 1000m @ 3:16 next Tuesday, I will pencil in long intervals at 5K-10K effort, and play it by ear on that day. It seems to be working well, as I don’t have the time or energy to be as focused on my workouts these days.
Lastly, and this is the change I am the least proud of, I have started to incorporate some biking into my week. I still don’t enjoy biking, but find that it does leave my legs fresher the next day than if I were to run for the same amount of time. Plus, when I bike indoors, it gives me some much-appreciated time to get some reading in. It makes the running purist in me disappointed, but I can’t deny that it seems to be doing a good job of saving my legs for when I need them most.
So far, this seems to be working pretty well. I obviously am not running any personal best times, but then again, I’m not trying to expecting to. I have managed to surprise myself a few times this year, with performances that are better than my training would suggest. Plus, I don’t feel as run-down and exhausted as I used to. So, while it did require a pretty big mental switch from “run as many miles as possible” to “run a bit and cross train a bit too,” I do feel that this is a change for the better. Only time will tell.