Long Course Athletes: Stop Running Longer than 2.5 Hours!

In a recent blog post I challenged the scheduling of the long run on Sundays following the traditional long ride on Saturday. I’d like to stir things up again by encouraging you to stop running longer than 2.5hrs in your weekly long run.

Ironman® athletes will often receive advice from training partners or coaches pretending to know the Ironman® game that they should schedule a weekly 3hr long run. This one piece of advice is probably the single most high risk, low return, ruin-your-training-week thing you can do to yourself.

Very Low Marginal Benefit
We schedule our Ironman® athletes for 2-3 x 2.25-2.5hr runs during their training for their goal race. You feel you need to do 3hrs. So let’s talk about what benefits you receive from that additional 30-45′ of running. But first…we’re going for a bike ride.

I email you on Friday to say we’re riding 2.5hrs on Saturday. But when I show up in your driveway at 7am Saturday I say “change of plans, we’re riding 3hrs instead.” Now, in your mind, is there a material difference, a significant marginal benefit, between a 2.5 and a 3hr ride? I would argue no, these rides are, for all purposes, the same ride, one is just 30′ longer. No big deal, I know that 30′ isn’t going to make or break my performance on race day, 6-12 weeks away. So if this is true on the bike, why should the run be any different? Is running 30-45′ longer on one run per week, for about 4-6wks of your 20+ weeks of Ironman® training going to create a material difference on race day? I say no.

Very High Marginal Risk/Cost
However, in my experience, your additional 30-45′ of running comes with a very high marginal risk of injury and potential cost to downstream workouts:

  • If you’ve run 2.5hrs and then run 3hrs the next week…you know things hurt a lot more, and much more quickly, then in the first hour of your run. In other words, the difference in how you feel between minute 30 and minute 60 is…meh. 60 – 120′? 2 x “meh.” But things just get exponentially harder after 2hrs…and 2 x exponentially between 2.5-3hrs. Sorry, my Math for Marines class is limiting my use of math metaphors to accurately describe how much more crappy you feel after 3hrs vs 2.5hrs 🙂  If you’ve been there…you know what I’m talking about!
  • This “exponentially more crappy” effect has a HUGE impact on downstream workouts, especially if you’re still doing your long runs on Sunday despite my advice in my last blog post! Your body doesn’t magically reset itself to “recovered!” on Monday morning just because you turn the page on another training week. If you continue to do stupid stuff on the weekends (6hr long rides, 3hr long runs), that stuff will absolutely effect your downstream workouts: your Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday sessions become compromised. You may be able to get back on track by Thursday, just in time to do the same stupid stuff to yourself again…the cycle just repeats itself week after week but, hey, you’re following your training plan, hitting all the workouts and getting in the scheduled training hours. When you’re asleep under your desk at lunch on Monday…how’s that working for you?

So what do we get when we put our no-Sunday and no-3hr run guidance up against common Ironman® long run scheduling?

  • You: long run on Sunday after a long ride on Saturday = another opportunity to practice running, slowly, on tired legs. At some point in your training the combination of the length of the Saturday and Sunday session begins to significantly impact downstream workouts. In my experience, this bumping of heads begins to happen at about a 3.5-4hr long ride + 2hr long run. As you go north of this point, standby because next week is really going to start to suck. You begin to lock yourself into a cycle of crappy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday workouts, “maybe” digging yourself out your hole by Thursday…just it time to put yourself back in the hole by the weekend. Congratulations, your fitness is now treading water, if not going backwards!
  • TeamEN:  Monday works with Tuesday works with Wednesday, etc, with the composition, timing, and volume of every workout carefully planned with much consideration given to how it ALL fits together across the training week. By separating the long run from the long bike, the TeamEN athlete is running on much less tired legs, enabling them to sustain higher paces during their long run. By limiting the volume of the run to 2-2.25, 2.5hrs at the most, that long run is able to accommodate some “get-faster” run training: half and full marathon paced intervals within the long run. Most importantly, the TeamEN athlete has effective Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday sessions.

 

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22 comments
  • CoachJerry
    REPLY

    Hey guys! Love your stuff. Agree with much of your method…particularly that intensity trumps volume. However, I'm starting to get turned off on the “old skool” comments and the increasing bashing of training methods that you don't agree with. There are coaches that, today, right now, coach and train in the manner in which you call “old skool” and more than a couple of the most highly successful coaches in the world who fall into the category of “coach-who-thinks-he-knows-Ironman”, as you put it. While all this bashing may appeal to new triathletes, and is probably designed to draw in the “I don't have to work/train that hard/long to do this” crowd, for anyone that knows triathlon, it's history, and its coaches know differently.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm with you guys on much of what you preach. However, it's “stoopid” (to use your misspelling) to denigrate methods and techniques that are producing race winners, champions, and Kona qualifiers right now, today. In fact, the most successful coach in triathlon today…who coaches by far the greatest number of winners in all categories, including Kona Qs out of coached athletes, uses the methods you call “old skool”. Market all you want, but let's bring civility and reason back to the table.

    By the way, as much as I love EN…make no mistake, EN wasn't the first to advocate intensity over volume…not even close. And EN most definitely isn't the only voice in the triathlon space advocating such an approach…and probably not the biggest either.

    So guys, let's hop down off the pedestal. Have a little respect and humility. Teach and preach the methods. But you aren't triathlon gods. You don't have all the answers. You aren't the smartest kids on the block. Etc. You have a philosophy and method that works. Not the ONLY ONE that works. When EN starts putting 25-30 people on the podium every year across the AG board at major races and 20+ Kona qualifiers in the mix, then maybe we can crown EN as the new vanguard to displace the coaches that DO. Until then, let's not ruin a good thing with arrogance. It's getting old.

    I've left off names and numbers out of respect for the fact that this is an EN resource. However, if you need me to document, I can do so. Just post a reply.

  • CoachJerry
    REPLY

    Hey guys! Love your stuff. Agree with much of your method…particularly that intensity trumps volume. However, I'm starting to get turned off on the “old skool” comments and the increasing bashing of training methods that you don't agree with. There are coaches that, today, right now, coach and train in the manner in which you call “old skool” and more than a couple of the most highly successful coaches in the world who fall into the category of “coach-who-thinks-he-knows-Ironman”, as you put it. While all this bashing may appeal to new triathletes, and is probably designed to draw in the “I don't have to work/train that hard/long to do this” crowd, for anyone that knows triathlon, it's history, and its coaches know differently.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm with you guys on much of what you preach. However, it's “stoopid” (to use your misspelling) to denigrate methods and techniques that are producing race winners, champions, and Kona qualifiers right now, today. In fact, the most successful coach in triathlon today…who coaches by far the greatest number of winners in all categories, including Kona Qs out of coached athletes, uses the methods you call “old skool”. Market all you want, but let's bring civility and reason back to the table.

    By the way, as much as I love EN…make no mistake, EN wasn't the first to advocate intensity over volume…not even close. And EN most definitely isn't the only voice in the triathlon space advocating such an approach…and probably not the biggest either.

    So guys, let's hop down off the pedestal. Have a little respect and humility. Teach and preach the methods. But you aren't triathlon gods. You don't have all the answers. You aren't the smartest kids on the block. Etc. You have a philosophy and method that works. Not the ONLY ONE that works. When EN starts putting 25-30 people on the podium every year across the AG board at major races and 20+ Kona qualifiers in the mix, then maybe we can crown EN as the new vanguard to displace the coaches that DO. Until then, let's not ruin a good thing with arrogance. It's getting old.

    I've left off names and numbers out of respect for the fact that this is an EN resource. However, if you need me to document, I can do so. Just post a reply.

  • Rich Strauss
    REPLY

    Jerry, ok, noted, but I want to point out that there are many, many coaches out there who are simply parroting the advice of other coaches who do schedule their athletes in this manner, without critically thinking about what they are sentencing their athletes to. For every story of super-fast guy working with a coach and doing schedules like this, I can give you stories of 10 MOP and BOP age groupers being drilled into the ground by ineffective, not well-thought-out training advice, the 3+hr run being the big one. It goes on and on until the Sunday 3hr run has become part of the culture of the sport and “just how it's done.” I want people to step back and consider a different way, one we've found based on our experience with _thinking_ long and hard about what's the best way to coach the AG athlete.

    As for the tone, in my defense I want to call people's attention to the fact that the reason people do things a certain way is because it's often just the way things are done…not necessarily the best way.

  • Rich Strauss
    REPLY

    Jerry, ok, noted, but I want to point out that there are many, many coaches out there who are simply parroting the advice of other coaches who do schedule their athletes in this manner, without critically thinking about what they are sentencing their athletes to. For every story of super-fast guy working with a coach and doing schedules like this, I can give you stories of 10 MOP and BOP age groupers being drilled into the ground by ineffective, not well-thought-out training advice, the 3+hr run being the big one. It goes on and on until the Sunday 3hr run has become part of the culture of the sport and “just how it's done.” I want people to step back and consider a different way, one we've found based on our experience with _thinking_ long and hard about what's the best way to coach the AG athlete.

    As for the tone, in my defense I want to call people's attention to the fact that the reason people do things a certain way is because it's often just the way things are done…not necessarily the best way.

  • Dslogar
    REPLY

    It's spelled “stupid” and it's not “effect” that was meant but “affect”, ie., “If you continue to do stoopid stuff on the weekends (6hr long rides, 3hr long runs), that stuff will absolutely effect your downstream workouts.” You can, however use “effect” if you rephrase the sentence. “Stoopid” and “sez” can be accepted for slang, but “affect is definitly used incorrectly, however the general premise of constantly beating your body down with long anything event after event with no rest is correct. Anyone who has tried it knows it's not effective. Everything in moderation is a good life mantra.

  • Dslogar
    REPLY

    It's spelled “stupid” and it's not “effect” that was meant but “affect”, ie., “If you continue to do stoopid stuff on the weekends (6hr long rides, 3hr long runs), that stuff will absolutely effect your downstream workouts.” You can, however use “effect” if you rephrase the sentence. “Stoopid” and “sez” can be accepted for slang, but “affect is definitly used incorrectly, however the general premise of constantly beating your body down with long anything event after event with no rest is correct. Anyone who has tried it knows it's not effective. Everything in moderation is a good life mantra.

  • Wayne Brandt
    REPLY

    In defense of Coach Rich, moderating the long run training regime is an effective, stratgic, and smart appraoch to IM distance training. Medical research supports that recovery is far more important than high volume, over distance training, particularly for older age groupers. The EN plan finds a way to (i) provide recovery within 10-15 hour training week and (ii) conserve one's body over a demanding race prep season. Keep in mind that under the EN plans, athletes are still running 5 times a week –clearly there is no shortage of running. Coach Jerry, you raise some good stats regarding other successful plans that put 25-30 age groupers on the podium and 20+ Kona qualifiers per year. While these are impressive stats for those plans, they are not necessarily the only measure of success and so the comparison is not relevant for the bottom 90% of triathles who are just trying to live a healthy fit life and fiinish their race. Both approaches can have successful outcomes. However, in the four years of training, testing, and racing on the EN plans I find the long run 2.5 hr stop sign is the secret ingridient and keeps me returning to this torturous,challenging, and fun sport year after year.

    Try it. You will feel better after your 2.5 hour run.

  • Wayne Brandt
    REPLY

    In defense of Coach Rich, moderating the long run training regime is an effective, stratgic, and smart appraoch to IM distance training. Medical research supports that recovery is far more important than high volume, over distance training, particularly for older age groupers. The EN plan finds a way to (i) provide recovery within 10-15 hour training week and (ii) conserve one's body over a demanding race prep season. Keep in mind that under the EN plans, athletes are still running 5 times a week –clearly there is no shortage of running. Coach Jerry, you raise some good stats regarding other successful plans that put 25-30 age groupers on the podium and 20+ Kona qualifiers per year. While these are impressive stats for those plans, they are not necessarily the only measure of success and so the comparison is not relevant for the bottom 90% of triathles who are just trying to live a healthy fit life and fiinish their race. Both approaches can have successful outcomes. However, in the four years of training, testing, and racing on the EN plans I find the long run 2.5 hr stop sign is the secret ingridient and keeps me returning to this torturous,challenging, and fun sport year after year.

    Try it. You will feel better after your 2.5 hour run.

  • teamen
    REPLY

    I can't remember if we had science on this point or whether it was the result of years of doing long runs and realizing that anything longer than 2.5 hours just crushed the following week(s) of training. As with anything we say, YMMV. It works for me and our athletes…

  • teamen
    REPLY

    I can't remember if we had science on this point or whether it was the result of years of doing long runs and realizing that anything longer than 2.5 hours just crushed the following week(s) of training. As with anything we say, YMMV. It works for me and our athletes…

  • Rich Strauss
    REPLY

    @VTFIT: no science, just 10yrs of Ironman coaching and thousands of IM finishers, zero of whom have done any run longer than 2.5hrs. And I'm not alone in this guidance. Many, many Ironman-specific coaches are no longer prescribing a >2.5hr, Sunday run. I just seem to be the only one that gets hot about when I see it 🙂

  • Rich Strauss
    REPLY

    @VTFIT: no science, just 10yrs of Ironman coaching and thousands of IM finishers, zero of whom have done any run longer than 2.5hrs. And I'm not alone in this guidance. Many, many Ironman-specific coaches are no longer prescribing a >2.5hr, Sunday run. I just seem to be the only one that gets hot about when I see it 🙂

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