With appreciation to sage William Shakespeare, many times the most important question in a runner’s day is “to run, or not to run?” For over thirty years, I avowed to answer that thought with, “To run” of course. Consecutive days of running soon became weeks, then became months and soon became years. Over 11,200 days came and went and each one contained running. Mileage during that “running streak” totaled over 75,000 and would have continued except for a freak accident while taking care of yard work one day following a 60-minute run on Paris Mountain.
Yes, that is a very long streak of not missing a day of running. However, there are others with longer streaks. An old acquaintance by the name of Mark Covert had a streak of 45 years, when he decided to end it in July of 2013. What I admired about Mark was that he wasn’t just someone who went out and jogged a mile as some “streakers” do. Covert was a highly competitive athlete and once placed 7th in the 1972 USA Olympic Marathon Trials and was the first runner to complete a marathon in a new brand of footwear named Nike.
So running everyday must be good for you as a runner? Not so fast my friends. Although I was fortunate to have experienced a very memorable running streak of over 30 years, that would not have been the case if I had still had the desire to compete at a high level. Following a very good high school running career, but a modest collegiate experience while at Furman University, I relocated to Gainesville, FL, to join the Florida Track Club and their collection of post-collegiate runners--including Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter and Olympians Marty Liquori and Dick Buerkle. While there, I learned to endure high mileage training consisting of weeks of 120-140 miles with no planned off days. If you missed a day of running it was usually due to injury. We even had a route around the airport in Atlanta so you could get in a run if you had an extensive layover when traveling.
And then I became educated in the art of training smarter. As a studied for my post-graduate degrees in the areas of physiology of exercise and movement science, I gradually accepted the fact that an organism needs to recover from the stress applied in order to adapt and develop. Bill Bowerman, the famous coach at the University of Oregon, had used his philosophy of “hard” days followed by “easy” days of training to produce an amazing number of sub 4:00 milers as well as Kenny Moore, who later placed 4th in the 1972 Olympic marathon in Munich, Germany.
Moore, who had incorporated very long runs, sometimes up to 30 miles, into is training regimen had previously earned the ire of Bowerman as an undergraduate at Oregon. Bowerman had “forced” Moore to reduce the mileage on his “easy” days to a mere 3 miles so that he could recover from his harder workout days. Counter-intuitive to what most runners want to believe, the “hard/easy” system produced many top performances. Running hard every day was not the answer and most likely became the problem.
I had also witnessed the excellent performances of some of the European runners who had migrated to the United States to compete for various universities as NCAA athletes. To our dismay, some of them actually took complete days off from training following a very hard workout day. And many of them became NCAA champions.
Soon I began to change my philosophy regarding training and the body’s response to stress. That continued to evolve over the years, but has been centered on optimizing each training cycle by including “recovery” and “regeneration” days.
While our philosophy with our ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE athletes is centered around a group-training experience, we ensure individualization is promoted regarding recovery/regeneration days. We plan an “off” day into every micro-cycle (which may be 7 or 14 days in length). Many times that day may include some light running, but limited to an easy 30 minutes, or some alternative exercise such as aqua jogging, swimming or time on the ElliptiGO. We have found that not only is it okay to take a day off, but it is beneficial to our athlete’s development.
However, it is our belief that the sequencing of training is vital and that is why we usually schedule our “off” day on Mondays, following our Sunday long run and before our Tuesday hard workout session. We will not consciously schedule a workout session the day following our long run, as we prefer 36-44 hours of recovery and adaptation following those extended efforts.
We also schedule two other “easy” days within each 7-day micro-cycle or a total of six easy days within a 14-day cycle. These easy days usually consist of a 40-50 minute run followed by 45 minutes of ancillary work for strength, balance and flexibility. So each harder day is followed by an “easy” running day to recover, except for our Saturday sessions, which are followed by the regenerative long run.
At the end of our macrocycle, following our targeted “goal’ race of the season, we schedule 3-5 days of non-running activity and recovery to recharge our bodies and freshen up for the next training cycles.
So would I embark on a running streak if I had it to do over? Not if I had competitive goals. To reach those goals, it would be much more productive to incorporate some “off” days into the training cycles so that my body could recover and adapt to the stress applied and thus improve.