One of the bigger areas of debate among runners and coaches is the tradeoff between quantity of miles (or kilometers, of course) and quality of miles. With the growth of the “run less, run better” and Crossfit approaches to training, there is a temptation to believe that you as a runner can perform your best by landing on the quality side of this argument in your training and cutting down your mileage to the “minimum necessary.” There are plenty of success stories claiming to prove that these approaches work.
It is, however, important to distinguish between what “can work” and what “works best”. Yes, you can improve your race results with a low quantity / high quality approach, particularly if you are a newer runner (and don’t run with so much intensity that you get injured), or a runner who has been away for awhile but has a good aerobic and athletic base. But these gains are going to be limited in scope and over time, as your returns on investment will begin to fade.
One error many runners make is in the management of their tune-up races. These training elements, when used properly, can be a powerful tool for providing physiological and psychological development, feedback on your progress, experience in managing pacing and other race-specific elements, and in dialing in your “A” race goal. However, they can also quickly derail your training if overused or scheduled and executed improperly.
There are a couple of more common mistakes in the management of tune-up races that you should watch out for (and it’s an area I work closely with Team Predawn Runner members in planning and avoiding).
As an absolutely horrible swimmer and someone with unknown cycling capabilities (as it’s something I haven’t done for many years), I marvel at those who can achieve significant results in both triathlons and marathons. One such athlete is Erin Ruyle, who has been on a string of success specifically in the marathon of late, but has also finished an Ironman and is considering more for the future. Erin was kind enough to take the time to share some of her experiences and thoughts on training for marathons versus triathlons, as well as making a career out of her passion for sports. Inspired, like I am? Then follow Erin’s Journey to Ironman to keep up with her progress.
Erin Ruyle: I get asked that question a lot. I’ve actually never had any sort of formal run training, and while I consider myself a runner today, it wasn’t always that way.
I grew up playing competitive soccer from a young age, all the way through high school. I chose to attend the University of South Carolina, where I knew my soccer days would come to an end – even if I would be lucky enough to make the team, my days would be spent sitting on the bench. I didn’t realize what a void not playing soccer would leave once I got to college. Unfortunately, my freshman year of college I didn’t fill the void with anything very productive (read: beer, boys and frat parties). I was shocked to look in the mirror at the end of my freshman year to realize I had gained the freshman 15(++) and had not exercised at all.
That summer I hit the gym with two goals – 1) to lose weight; and 2) to complete a 5k by the end of the summer. I remember vividly training for that 5k and how hard it was for me. I started out my training by walking. Then I added a few minutes of running in with a few minutes of walking. I did all my training on a treadmill. I finished that 5k at the end of the summer not only lighter, but with a great sense of accomplishment.
I continued running throughout college, although mostly just for exercise, a few miles here and there. The year after I graduated college, I trained for my first marathon (Richmond) and ran just under 4 hours. I drifted away from running the next few years as I went to grad school and then moved to Central Pennsylvania for a year-long internship. It wasn’t until I had moved to Texas for my first full-time job and joined a running group and discovered the great running community that Central Texas had to offer that I picked up running again for good.
Still, I had a long way to go and trained for another marathon (San Diego) and clocked a 4:16 finish. That was disappointing for me, and I vowed to stick with it. It’s been over the past 3 years that I have really been able to reap the rewards of my run training. It was also three years ago that I got introduced to the sport of triathlon, and became hooked. I’ve now completed 11 marathons, 1 Ironman and 6 Half-Ironmans.
PR: We have similar roots in running; I too dropped out of soccer in college (but I couldn’t cut it at a Division III school) and gained the freshman 15 before discovering running and racing. You’ve had some pretty impressive accomplishments already in your running career, can you give us the highlights?
ER: Thank you! I’ll share my top three.
PR: How would you compare dedicated triathlon training with training specifically for the marathon? Do you adjust your approaches for each?
ER: The key factor with training for long distance triathlons is to put in the time: you have to do those 1-hour swims, 100-mile bike rides, and multi-hour runs in order to succeed. There’s no way to fake endurance fitness – either you’ve paid your dues or you haven’t.
For me, the main difference between Ironman training and marathon or Olympic tri training is that I’m rarely concerned with my training pace for Ironman. With marathon and shorter triathlon training, countless workouts are built around marathon pace, 10K pace, tempo pace, etc. For an Ironman it’s more about time on your feet; just get in your 6 hours, whether it’s 33 miles or 18. They both pay the same dividend on race day. The time commitment for triathlon training is also much more intense than marathon training; the triathlete has to be very selfish with their time, and that can come at the expense of others. You typically have 2-3 workouts per day, several days a week. It’s not like that with marathon training. Sometimes it’s very difficult to find balance when training for Ironman, and it’s easy to become consumed by the training.
The other thing I’d say is paramount to successful training is to believe in yourself. Plenty of people will tell you you’re crazy, or question why you feel the need to dedicate as much time and energy as an IM or marathon will require. You don’t have to convince your skeptics or answer to anyone but yourself. Have faith in the training, visualize success every day, and enjoy the entire process.
PR: How have you managed to build a career around involvement with sports and recreation?
ER: I’ve always known I wanted to work in “sports.” Both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are in Sports Management, but the field so broad that I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what I wanted to do with my degrees. I ended up figuring out by trial and error. I spent several years working in college athletics, but got burned out with the long hours, stress and low pay. I took a different direction when I accepted my current position as the Marketing and Special Events Coordinator for the City of Georgetown Parks & Recreation Department. Coming from working in college athletics at the University of Texas (read: stressful), the transition to working for a city entity was a breath of fresh air. I get to plan recreational events for the community, including road races, and promote what I am passionate about – fitness, running and a maintaining a healthy lifestyle! It’s very rewarding.
PR: What kinds of goals are you setting for yourself over the next year?
ER: My number one goal is always to stay healthy and injury free. I know I push the envelope a lot with high mileage and, knock on wood, I have never been injured. I honestly don’t what I would do if I wasn’t able to run, it’s such a huge part of who I am now. My pie-in-the sky goal would be to run a three hour marathon in the future. I don’t know that it could happen in the next year, but it’s definitely something I am gunning for down the road. I would also like to run an Ultra-Marathon (currently targeting the JFK 50-Miler next November).
PR: I know you’ve had some angst lately about the tradeoff between “optimizing” for the triathlon and seeing what you can achieve in marathons. What is your latest thinking on this?
ER: Gosh, it’s such a difficult decision. I got involved in triathlons because I enjoy the variety that the workouts provide, but I’ve always considered myself a “runner who does triathlons” as opposed to a “triathlete”. It would be really hard for me to make the gains necessary to become an age group contender in triathlon without having to cut way back on my running, which I am not sure I want to do. As you know, I’m signed up for Ironman #2 this May, but am contemplating withdrawing and focusing simply on running for the next year to see what I am really capable of with some instruction and focus. I can always come back to triathlons when the time is right for me.
PR: What kind of long-term goals do you have, in your running, career, and family?
ER: Simply put, I want to run for as long as I can. While I have some specific goals (3 hour marathon, sub 1:30 half-marathon, complete an ultra-marathon) what is most important to me is that I never lose running from my life again. In the past it’s come and gone from my life and when I look back on those times when it wasn’t there, many of those years were when life had handed me some “curveballs”, and I could really have used running in my life. Professionally, I would like to go back to school to get my PhD and teach Sports Management at the University level. As far as family goes, I am currently married with two dogs. I think that is about all I can handle at the moment (sorry Mom if you read this…). You never know though!
PR: As an endurance athlete, what do you eat? Is your diet different than a normal runner or the average person?
ER: My eating habits have ALWAYS been my weakness – they’re simply terrible. There’s really no way to sugar-coat it (good thing too – because if it were sugar-coated, I’d probably eat it). So I’ll respectfully plead the Fifth on how my diet differs compared to normal athletes or the general population. I think people would be shocked to see my weekly intake. It’s definitely something I want to work on.
PR: I’m similar in my eating habits – it’s something I need to watch more closely as well. What’s your advice for a runner looking to run their first marathon or compete in their first triathlon?
ER: Don’t let fear paralyze you; marathons and triathlons aren’t as impossible as many people think. Our bodies are capable of so much more than most people realize; the trouble is that we dwell more on the reasons something can’t be done than the possibilities that it can.
My marathon progression…
Marathon 1 – Richmond: 3:53:15
Marathon 2 – San Diego: 4:16:04
Marathon 3 – San Antonio: 3:32:36
Marathon 4 – Austin: 3:32:17
Marathon 5 – Boston: 3:24:58
Marathon 6 – Baltimore: 3:17:53
Marathon 7 – San Antonio: 3:20:19
Marathon 8 – Houston: 3:15:35
Marathon 9 – Ironman Coeur D’Alene: 4:03:33
Marathon 10 – San Antonio: 3:13:36
Marathon 11 – Las Vegas: 3:10:25
PR: What type of approach have you taken to your marathon training to see such a progression? Do you follow a specific program?
ER: I’ve actually never followed a specific training planning for a marathon, but I can attribute my improvement to two things: 1) Consistency with speed work twice per week with a group (I always push myself harder with a group) and 2) a strong endurance base built on high mileage on a consistent basis (typically 50+ miles per week). I really enjoy the high mileage and my favorite workouts are tempo runs and longer repeats. The shortest run I do during the week is typically 5 miles, sometimes 4. However, I do realize that this approach doesn’t work for everyone. I’m lucky – again, knock on wood – to not be injury prone, so my body is able to handle high mileage without much recovery needed. I’ve noticed as I’ve increased my mileage over the past two years, how much quicker the marathon miles go on race day. I feel like this type of training gives me physical and physiological strength.
PR: Are you going to beat me in Austin in February? I mean, with the kind of roll you are on, you’re making me a bit nervous.
ER: Ha! I wouldn’t make any bets on it at this point….unless of course you’re willing to give me about a 30-minute head start!
PR: Sorry, I don’t think I can even afford to give you a 5-minute head start.
It’s not often that I spontaneously buy a new type of running shoe. But that was the position I found myself in when I went with my wife to help her pick out some new shoes at the best shoe store in the area, Vertical Runner in Hudson, OH.
First, I think a bit of a lesson is in order – be careful in trusting the expertise of running shoe salespeople, especially when it’s not a running-focused store. My wife got her first shoes from someone who had been “trained by Brooks” on selecting shoes. While the young lady got one variable right (neutral running form), she missed a few other key ingredients. My wife spends most of her work day in high heels as a hospital administrator, and has never really run before. The Brooks Pure Cadence sounded good on paper, but the low drop and limited cushioning were a complete miss. Fortunately, the store took the shoes back after ~20 miles, so we decided to go to a better source for try #2 (note, I had intentionally removed myself from try #1, to let my wife find her own space in developing as a runner). Read the rest of Running Shoe Review: Pearl Izumi Project E:Motion Road N1 »
Many runners are in a relationship where they are the only one pursuing the sport. Obviously, partners in a relationship can have divergent interests, that either predate the relationship or developed over time. This is a good thing, as everyone needs their own “thing”, and their time to themselves. Plus, running is a hobby that consumes a lot of time, and it can be difficult to balance with other needs like childcare – though hopefully you are doing your fair share of more of the work and supporting your partner’s own hobbies.
However, given the great physical and mental health benefits of running, which you are hopefully humbly putting on display through your fitness and good demeanor, it’s probably far more likely that your significant other (for simplicity, let’s just assume it is a spouse, and more specifically a wife, since Mrs. Predawn Runner has just started running) will develop an interest in running than in, say, golf or poker (especially poker). Or perhaps she just wants to have something more in common, something to talk about, or another way to spend time together.
A few Team Predawn Runner members have asked for help with their form of late. I’ve also been asked to provide some thoughts on the running form of one of the kindergarten soccer players coach. My response? Maybe it’s a little early to worry about that…
Form is a tricky topic and in fact a bit of a “bunny hole”, particularly when coaching online. That’s partly because form is highly subjective and individual, and therefore “messing with it” can often be counterproductive. Since it is a common concern runners have, it’s worth sharing a few thoughts on a “form philosophy” that I’ve built over the years. Read the rest of Nine Helpful Tips on Your Running Form »