High Volume Marathon Training: Is It Worth It?
With the vast variety of marathon and half marathon training plans out there, it is difficult to choose which is best to help us reach our goals. Some include three or four days a week of running while others call for running every single day. The amount of speed work varies from plan to plan, while some do not include any at all. There are training plans aimed at low weekly mileage for those individuals with limited time in their schedules, while others ramp up mileage significantly, especially close to the race week. Although race day only consists of running, more components are essential to include during the training weeks than just running itself.
When it comes down to deciding which plan is right for you, it will depend on your specific goals. If you already have a busy schedule in your daily life and are looking to complete a half or full marathon no matter how slow you run, then the minimalist plan would suit you—three or four days of mostly shorter runs, with one day of a gradually increasing long run that may go up to ten miles for half marathon training and twenty miles for the full marathon. If you are looking to get faster, it is beneficial to choose a plan that includes speed work and tempo runs each week. With either of these options, it is important to make time for strengthening and cross training to avoid injuries, especially it you are a beginner.
For those runners out there who are more experienced and are looking to improve their finish times, it may be helpful to use a high-volume training plan. This type of plan is useful for runners who have already incorporated proper training with all necessary components to improve pace. When researched, high volume training has gotten negative feedback. Some articles state it is unnecessary to run so many miles per week in order to achieve faster paces, while others state it is not worth the higher risk of injury. Although it may be true that the more miles you run, the more chances you have of getting injured, there still is a healthy way to get to high mileage without an injury. There are pros and cons to high volume training, so it is best to understand why and how to increase mileage if is something you are considering.
Several studies over the years have been conducted on the effects of higher mileage training programs for preparing for a marathon. Although even more research needs to be done regarding this topic, it is safe to say that the more miles you run, the better your aerobic capacity will be. Some of the fastest runners in the world come from Africa, where since childhood, these individuals were constantly performing physical work in their everyday lives. Compared to most Americans, who have more sedentary daily lives, the Africans have a much higher work volume.
Studies have shown that running efficiency also improves as mileage increases. With high volume training, muscles and tendons adapt to prolonged activity and the result is that the body will require less work to complete a certain distance as compared to a lower mileage-trained body. On top of muscle and tendon adaptations to higher volume, one study also concluded that there is an increase in elasticity of the ankle joint, which assists with a more efficient forward force during the push-off phase. This improved forward motion keeps a runner propelling closer to the ground rather than vertically, which will require more work from the body.
Increased injury risk
Exercise is used as a means to prevent injury since it makes you physically stronger overall and the stronger our muscles are the less likely something will fracture or tear. Many forms of exercise in sports can also increase our chances of getting injured either through high impact forces such as in football or overuse injuries, which are common in running and cycling. As mentioned before, the more you run, the more risk you have of injuring, whether it is from overuse or simply twisting your ankle.
For those runners interested in increasing their weekly miles, it must always be done gradually. This means a training plan that would normally be twelve weeks long, may need to be 16 to 20 weeks in length to be able to gradually get to those high miles before race day. The rule of thumb is to increase miles by 5-10% each week, with a slightly lower mileage week every few weeks. This is the first and most important method to incorporate for high volume training that will lower your risk of injury.
Quality > Quantity
If you have already been incorporating quality sessions in your training, such as a long run, tempo workout, and speed work, the extra mileage should mostly be in the form of easy-paced runs. If you try to incorporate a higher percentage of fast paced miles every week, eventually your quality will suffer. This will only create burnout and extremely tired legs, which will only get in the way of ever hitting any prescribed faster paces. If you notice you are not able to go hard on your scheduled “hard” days, you may be increasing mileage too quickly or not resting enough. This obstacle goes hand-in-hand with available time.
The most common reason runners are unable to incorporate high volume training is because of the amount of time required. If you generally run a pace of 8-minute miles, and you are trying to hit 80 miles per week, you will need to set aside at least 10 hours for running. These 10 hours do not include warm-up and cool-down time, strength training, stretching, and other conditioning, which will all be necessary if you want to run 80 miles per week without getting injured. The average person works full time and has families to tend to, so training for a minimum of two hours every day may seem impossible. Many runners who attempt a high volume training plan eventually end up sacrificing sleep, which is probably the most important component of the day that will help you make it through all of the miles.
If you look at elite and professional runners’ training plans, you will see weekly mileage up to 140 miles per week. This is extremely high and not necessary for the average person who is looking to improve their finish times and is beginning at 30-40 miles per week. In regards to time, 140 miles per week with all of the other necessary training components, one must dedicate close to 30 hours per week to a program. Keep in mind, most elite and definitely the professional runners do not have a daytime job and are safely able to run this much without sacrificing sleep, time with family, and their health.
High volume training has its benefits and downsides, so it is imperative to understand what it takes to incorporate this type of training. It is important to make sure to get enough sleep, around 8 hours at the least, and making time to fit in 2-3 days of strength training. Keeping the full body strong and gradually increasing the miles is key to avoiding injuries. As with any training program, listen to your body and give it rest when you notice any signs of burnout.