Thursday, September 15, 2011


So, I said something yesterday that is probably sacrilege to most runners. I said I’m not interested in speed. Yup. Flog me now! The reason I am not interested in speed is because I’m already fast. Yessiree bob! I know that I have an 8 minute mile in me. The only problem is that I can only do that eight minute mile for maybe 50 yards.

I used to think that in order to be fast, I had to train fast. And that’s what happened. I trained fast. And my 5K and 10K times got better and better. The only problem? I was training for half and full  marathons.

This is the same problem that I see most runners grapple with at some  point in their running career. “If I want to run fast, I need to train fast.” Well – yes that’s true. But if you can’t last 26.2 miles, it’s not going to make a bit of difference that you trained for speed by doing four miles of intervals every week.

Here’s the bottom line folks – the single most important thing in your training is your aerobic base – your body’s ability to work efficiently for long periods of time. If we ignore our aerobic base, then regardless of how fast we can go, we won’t be able to do it for long periods of time.And how do we build aerobic base? Directly from Pete Pfitzinger:

How do you develop a big aerobic base?

Slowly and persistently. The key is to accumulate mileage over the course of months and years. Most distance runners should include two blocks of base training in their annual running plan. The minimum period required to obtain a significant improvement in your aerobic base is about six to eight weeks.

If you live in a part of the U.S. where you can train consistently through the winter, then starting aerobic base building in January provides about 12 weeks of solid training before the spring racing season kicks in. Similarly, if you can stand the heat, the relatively quiet racing months of July and August can be a good time for six to eight weeks of base work. With two solid blocks of base training per year, on top of your otherwise "normal" mileage, your aerobic base should build steadily from year to year.

How much and how quickly you should try to increase your mileage depends on your propensity for injury. Although you can increase your mileage dramatically over several years, increasing too much at once is almost certain to leave you injured. As a general guideline, most runners can handle an increase in mileage of 10 to 15 percent every two to three weeks. For example, if you have been running 40 miles per week, you would increase to 44–46 miles for two to three weeks before increasing your mileage again. No rule of thumb works for every runner, however, so you need to pay close attention to your body’s feedback to find the optimal formula.

During your base training, you should avoid VO2-max sessions and speed work and slightly reduce the overall intensity of your training. By backing off the intensity, you can increase your mileage without increasing the overall strain of training. When you are building up your mileage, it is particularly important to train on soft surfaces to reduce the accumulated jarring on your body, and to be sure that your running shoes are in good repair.

Aerobic cross-training, such as cycling, swimming, elliptical training, and deep-water running can contribute to your aerobic base with less risk of injury than further increasing your mileage. The more similar the cross-training activity is to running, the greater the crossover effects will be. If you have a history of injury or live where the winter (or summer) is not conducive to high mileage training, then cross-training can be a worthwhile component of your aerobic base training.”

Two-time Olympian Pete Pfitzinger is an exercise physiologist.

Here’s the bottom line. Want to run fast? Train far…..


  1. Well, I'm testing out your (or Pfzinger's) theory, as you might know. My long runs have been super slow, and my "yardstick" race is on 10/9.

  2. Its a meaningful theory. I appreciate this. This article is knowledgeable. It enhance my experience.

  3. Here! Here! I love training far : ) That's my whole thing. Great post!

  4. Great post! I just started swimming laps a month and a half ago and I have found that my lung capacity has increased SO much! It has made my respiratory system able to withstand a lot more when I am running. :D

  5. Thanks for a great post, I learned a lot that I need to incorporate into my training. Even though I run shorter races (5 and 10k) I tend to increase my mileage too quickly and it inevitably results in injury.

  6. Great information. Some of us have been around the block a time or two and know both the good and the bad that speedwork can do.

  7. Thank you. I keep reminding myself of this fact. Not that I am in any way fast, but I agree wholeheartedly that the endurance counts for a lot.