Weekly mileage seems like the consensus litmus test for fitness in the running community. Runners often proclaim, “I’m going on a 5 mile run today” or “this week I ran 30 miles.” I used to have this same mindset, using distance to track and communicate fitness to others.
A few months ago, I began tracking my runs by the duration of time instead of miles. Coming back from a foot injury, I wanted to limit repeated impacts on my foot. Time seemed like a more effective tool for this than miles. I began with two 30-minute runs per week, then 3 times a week, then I’d increase one run to 40 minutes, then 50 minutes, all the while gauging how my foot felt. After several months, I have minimal foot pain running 5 or 6 days per week logging 5 – 6 hours on my feet.
My Current Running Schedule
|60 min||40 min||110 min||40 min||off/run||60 min||off|
Each run is fairly similar in that it includes both a 15-minute warmup and a 15-minute cooldown while the remainder of the run is spent at an easy zone-2 pace. My warmups and cooldowns consist of jogging at zone-1 pace.
Zone 1 and 2 refer to heart rate zones. For all these runs, I wear a heart rate monitor that tells me which zone I’m in. Staying within a zone controls my intensity. If these runs stay at zone 2 or below, I know my intensity will be low no matter how fast or how far I go.
This focus on timed intensity has some advantages. I’m slowly building a base of aerobic fitness while allowing my body time to adapt, reducing my risk of injury.
How do I gauge my progress?
- The distance I cover at a given intensity over a given time increases.
- I don’t get injured.
Elite Runners Train Slow
Surprisingly, this training strategy is more in line with the typical elite runner. For example, elite runners train at lower intensities than slower runners as illustrated by this analysis done on users of the HRV4Training app.
Elite runners also take the same number of steps as slower runners to cover the same distance. As you get fitter and faster, your cadence, or the number of steps you take every minute, tends to stay constant. It’s your stride that gets longer.
Let’s take an elite runner who averages a 5-minute mile over the course of a training week. If that runner puts in a 100-mile week, he would spend 10 hours doing so. If another runner also put in 10 hours of training in a week but averaged a 10-minute mile pace, he would have only put in 50 miles, but surprisingly, would have taken the same number of steps. While covering very different distances, they would have spent the same amount of time on their feet. If their workouts are performed at the same intensities, to me, the workouts are the same despite the major difference in miles covered.
So, controlling for intensity and time allows me to do a workout similar to a more advanced runner without pushing too far beyond my fitness limits and risking injury. I plan to continue this strategy indefinitely, sprinkling in a few higher intensity efforts here and there.Tags: low-intensity running slow jogging