Customized Training Plans for the Advanced Runner

Arthur Lydiard (6 July 1917 – 11 December 2004), considered by many to be the all time best running coach, insisted, dogmatically, that athletes must train 100 aerobic miles (160 km) per week in the base-building phase of training. He was completely inflexible on this requirement. Lydiard had reached this conclusion through years of ruthless experimentation on himself. He was known to have said, “Less than that is not enough no matter how fast you run it,” and I have waited patiently for life to cooperate so that I could be my own guinea pig in this 100-mile per week experiment.

Lydiard-inspired 100-mile Base Building Program (as interpreted by John Molvar)

Although Lydiard implied reaching the 100-mile/week goal should not take that many weeks, I have decided to take the conservative route and reach the 100-mile mark in the second of two base-building sessions this year: one before a March marathon, and the second during the build-up to an October 50k Ultra Marathon.

The week of 21 December marked the first of these two sessions: a 600+ mile journey, and a peak 90-mile week exactly 5 weeks from today.

Having spent four months building a strong base (and adjusting to my new, hilly terrain), I picked up the schedule in week 4, dropped the Monday runs in favor of cross-training, or a rest day if needed, added three step-back weeks after weeks 4, 6, and 8, and a two-week taper at the end, which lands me at the starting line of the Tobacco Road Marathon in Raleigh March 13.

It would be foolish to expect every mile would go as planned.

Weekend before last, in the wee hours of Saturday morning, a wave of nausea struck me like a freight train. There was no question, this was bad. There was one full day in bed with no food, and another three days on the couch with limited rations. I had lost 27 miles of running. You just can’t ever get those miles back.

In the early days of running, the worry is that you’ll lose fitness altogether. This doesn’t happen as quickly as you may fear (it can be as little as 3-4% in as many as 10-14 days missed). What really separates the field is how well you get back in the game (i.e., re-entry).

Each week of a marathon training program builds upon the last. Long or difficult runs are purposefully scheduled with shorter, easy runs in between for recovery, and total weekly mileage increases at a pace your body becomes adept at managing.

There were 51 miles on the calendar the week I got sick, and I had just returned to running last Wednesday with an adjusted schedule and an 8-mile run when it began to snow, and snow. . . and snow.

There were only 4 or 5″ on our ground, although the meteorologist says we would have had 8-9″ were it not for all the ice. One inch. Twenty inches. It doesn’t matter. Running in the snow is treacherous at best. 28 miles were finished on the treadmill in our basement gym.

The single most important skill a runner can possess is to understand how to successfully adapt their training program to their life. Whether you run 30 miles/week or 100, eventually something is going to happen. Miles are lost, and it’s up to us to figure out how to still make it to the starting line in tip-top shape.

There are general guidelines for creating a successful re-entry. If it’s early in your base-building phase, skip those missed miles and move on. The closer it is to race day, however, the more important each run. You’ll need to consider re-writing the remaining schedule to accommodate incremental mileage and/or speed-work safely. No matter when the setback occurs, the first few days of re-entry should be slow, easy running.

Reminder: Not all atmospheric re-entries have been successful and some have resulted in significant disasters. The same is true for athletic re-entry.

Yes, the most customized training plan available to runners is the one you have adapted to your life.


Additional Reading:

RunnersConnect: How to Return to Running After Injury, Sickness, or Missing Training

Lydiard Interpreted


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