Getting Progressively Stronger…in the Long Run

As I wrap up a very solid two week block of training, I got to thinking that with everyone I’ve talked to in this great sport, there is always that one workout that just gives you a certain satisfaction..a certain excitement when you see it inked into the calendar. Indeed, I have spent many an hour engaged in conversations with fellow athletes about our “favourite workouts”. They range from favourite interval workouts to long, steady runs, and have reasons varying almost as widely as the type of people I talk to. There is no right answer…what works for me may not be what works for you, and you may not get the same enjoyment out of it. But it helps to share, because this spirit of collaboration is what makes endurance athletics so great. So let’s dive right in!

For reasons only known to someone out there who is not me, my progressive long run that is one of the reasons that I look forward to my weekend training as much as I do. A progressive long run is just that…a long run (usually 60 to 120 minutes in length for me) that gets progressively faster over the course of it, with some variations. It is a departure from the previous widely-held belief of a weekly long, steady endurance run, as it adds a note of intensity and variety to what was previously a metronomic, grinding pace.

The best part of these progressive long runs is that they can be as formal or as informal as you would like. During my build up to the Grimsby and Chilly half marathons, each minute of my long runs was scripted to simulate a race effort as much as possible. It involved me doing bursts at or near race pace on legs that had already been put through a steadily increasing pace for an hour or more. But they don’t have to be that scientific. Sometimes it can be quite liberating to just go out and run, and just letting the pace naturally drop as your legs work themselves into it. This flexibility is what has made progressive long runs a staple in my training. Interestingly, I happened upon them for two reasons. One is simply through the evolution of commonly held beliefs…the other was borne out of necessity, and provides and interesting contrast between my training as a single-sport and a multisport athlete.

Let’s talk about the latter first here. When I was a single sport athlete, I had time to get everything in. A typical week involved alternating hard interval days with “easy” recovery days. Even with three hard days in a week (Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday) and a long run on Sundays, I still had 3 days available to me for recovery (though whether or not I used them properly is another post altogether!). However, when I added in the need to cycle, it became much more difficult to get all the required training in and still have enough time allotted to recovery. The answer was to combine workouts together. These progressive long runs are a perfect example, as there is a significant endurance-building effect to them, even as you depart Zone 2 (aerobic endurance) and enter Zone 3 (“The Sweet Spot”). The early portion is steady and aerobic, and the later, faster portion of the run serves to increase stamina and build strength for those tough final miles of a race (or for that run at the end of a multisport race). It also serves to recruit those fast-twitch muscle fibres that don’t see much action during the long, slow distance run, helping to build their endurance as well. The combined effect of quality and quantity only burns one day of training…perfect for the time crunched multisport athlete.

Many contemporary marathon runners have shifted their training towards this type of work, with some doing 30-40km of marathon pace work once or twice a month. The effects of running harder for longer are very real. But be forewarned…they are very difficult on the body. Doing these on a weekly basis may not be for everyone. Renowned marathon coach Renato Canova is often considered the innovator of this new way of looking at the long run, and even his athletes often are only doing these runs once or twice a month. Ensure you have allotted the proper recovery time for these workouts, as they can certainly take a toll on the body. But I will gladly trade taking a recovery day or two for the pure exhilaration of starting off slow and ratcheting the pace up slowly throughout the run until I’m sustaining a pace that has people stopping my to ask, “What, are you training for Around the Bay or something?” Nope…just your friendly neighbourhood sprint duathlon.

As for me, I just wrapped up two pretty easy weeks to give my body a rest after 4 months of hard half marathon training. Highlights of the last few weeks have been a 5W FTP improvement during my latest test, a solid 90 minute run at the Ignition Fitness Big Training Day, an excellent 5 workout in 3 day block during the middle of last week, and yes…a long progression run on Sunday to wrap it all up! Next on the docket is Harry’s Spring Run-Off (out of the elite corral) on April 5 to see where my run legs are over a shorter distance, then Paris to Ancaster for my first real bike race experience! Pretty excited for that, and of course I will be accompanied by my girlfriend Emma, who will likely be volunteering at the finish line of these races!

I am also excitedly awaiting the arrival of my new TT bike, a Felt B16 through the Ignition Fitness/Felt Bicycles sponsorship. We are also looking around for Emma’s first road bike as the weather warms up, so that she too can enjoy the thrills of running and riding! My first multisport test of the season will be at the Iron Hawk/Ontario Sprint Duathlon Championships, then a full slate of Multisport Canada races as part of the Recharge with Milk Ambassador team. Thanks to John and the guys for setting that up, and to Tommy, Roger and the Ignition Fitness crew for getting me into really good shape, both physically and mentally! So until next time, keep Du’ing it!

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