Friday, September 21, 2012

Thoughts on quality VS quantity

Question: Quality vs quantity? Or said another way, since most obsessive compulsive endurance athletes seem to have (need) races and stay semi-fit all year round. When should one base build versus work on speedwork? Some follow the rule of base build and then 8 weeks or whatever our from race sharpen their race skills and start speedwork. Others preach speedwork and then focus on building in the volume closer to the race with just a wee bit of race/speed focus.

Question: What I can't wrap my head around yet is how guys like you and Jay Aldous can achieve such amazing times in 100s without a ton of volume. I'd love to see you explain the quality vs. quantity issue on the your blog.

 First, I'm not a writer and I won't pretend to be. I'm only a marginally educated college dropout hillbilly. My thoughts ramble... and I tend to let them.

 The very first thing, to point out the obvious, is that the type of quality and when to do it depends on a few things. When and how far is your race? How fit are you? What type of fit are you? An out of shape, first time runner starting training for a marathon that's in 24 weeks should not be doing quality, the focus needs to be on quantity to start. A runner that is marathon fit with a 5k in 12 weeks needs to ditch quantity and focus on quality. These examples are at the extreme ends of the spectrum and we all fit in between somewhere.
 We are all different and every scenario is different. Start with basic concepts, evaluate the situation, then work off those basic concepts to formulate a plan of attack.

Brad Hudson said to never sacrifice quality for quantity and visa versa. I do feel however that you can flub volume in favor of quality at times, and depending on your race focus it generally doesn't work the other way around meaning that if you want to get truly fast volume alone will not replace quality. In terms of training stress a 16 mile tempo run may be worth more than a 25 mile easy run. And training stress is what it's all about. We stress our body, then rest, then get stronger. How you stress your body to elicit a response has wiggle room as long as you keep it somewhat specific to your event. Of course stressing your body with 10:00 of Vo2 max intervals will not replace a 20 mile long run, they both have a completely different focus on the type of fitness you're trying to build. With out any doubt though, if you're an old guy like me you will benefit greatly from some non-specific training like Vo2 max intervals or weights.
  My Leadman training showed this approach does work for some. I stressed my body with completely non-specific stress and was able to run far less than most of the runners at Leadville. I averaged 58 miles a week in the 20 weeks before Leadville this year and just 40 miles a week for the entire year. But what I did with that 58 miles matters. There weren't many weeks that I didn't do some form of quality session ranging from 10 X 1:00 Vo2 hill reps (critical for any older runner) to 10 mile/ 2000ft vertical tempo runs to 25 mile flat tempo runs to 30 mile hard runs with 8000ft vertical. What I didn't do was try to fill in my week with short easy runs in an attempt to reach a high weekly total, instead I biked and allowed my body to adapt and recover. I balanced training stress so that my quality days were truly quality. I wasn't fried and this is at the heart of Brad Hudson's advice. If an athlete is pushing to run 100 miles a week then their quality sessions might be compromised, even the value of their mileage, meaning they don't reap the full rewards. They sacrifice quality for a number at the end of the week. This is wrong. Now, that's not to say that pushing 100 mile weeks doesn't have it's place! Refer back to the first paragraph.

 Speaking of stress, another form comes from the environment. 20 miles with 60ft of vertical is not the same as 20 miles with 6000ft of vertical. Same with altitude. I happen to live at 8200ft altitude and a majority of my running (and 100% of my recovery) is done between 8000 and 10500ft on terrain that is extremely hilly. So because of these factors I was able to get away with only doing 58 miles a week because it absolutely is "worth" more than 58 miles at sea-level, there's a conversion and although you can't actually put it on paper it is there. By time alone I looked back and compared data to when I was running at low altitude and flat terrain and where I live and train now. Looking only at weekly time, an 80 mile week is equal to 110 miles. Vague and not scientific but something to consider.

 And yet another form of stress is emotional or 'life stress'. A full time professional athlete who doesn't work, has no job or kids will have a bazillion times less stress than a guy like Nick Clark (I use him as the example only because Chuck Norris has a poster of Nick over his bed) who has two kids, a job, a house and is training a bazillion miles with weekly Mt Everest vertical. This matters. Nick often times crushes the former guy. Stress of any kind can add (or subtract) to the value of your training.

 Another aspect that links in to all of this is the athletic age and background of an athlete. Someone who has been training for 2 years will not be able to train like an athlete who has been training for 2 decades. 15 years ago I was running 100 mile weeks. This matters both physically and mentally. I have the confidence to step back and rest and not chase numbers that may diminish my training or my race results. Conversely I also feel that this has limited my training and prevented me from truly racing well. I'm tired, not the 'I just ran now I'm tired' type but more of a big picture fatigue from training week in and week out for over 15 years. But I digress.
 Sort of. The OCD type athletes generally do not have a ton of experience nor do they ever reach the top of their sport. Either that or they are insecure. If you look at top athletes at Ironman or the marathon you rarely see these guys and girls racing every week or even every month and very often you hear them say that rest is critical. Yes they are OCD but they also know what the right thing to do is and they're disciplined enough to do the right thing. You may see them do a short period of racing during peak season but they usually target 1-2 races per year and then do everything to make those the highest quality that they can.
I told you I ramble...

 Periodization is what all of this ultimately boils down to. The application or planning of periodization is specific to each athlete's strengths and weaknesses and if an athlete truly wants to get strong and fast then there is a method to the madness. Training blocks with zero intensity are part of it. But I also see athletes who don't have the time (their race is only 12 weeks out), attitude or the patience to allow this concept to work effectively. Maybe they enjoy the group track sessions, fine. Have fun, that's why we do this and I mean that. Or maybe they don't feel like wearing a HRM all the time and they go out and run too hard, fine. I have zero problem with an athlete wanting to have fun and just go run, but that athlete also needs to understand that the end result may not be the same. Another thing to consider is that we are all unique so what worked for one most likely won't work the same for another and this is where the 'art' of training comes in, or at least the ability to read an athlete and see how they are responding.

 So back on track... Intensity is the king of all training. But only if your body is able to handle and absorb it. Very often athletes over estimate their ability in this aspect. The same goes for volume really. I fell completely in to this trap of thinking I needed to run 120 mile weeks for the marathon and it totally ruined my chance to run a fast marathon. Adaptation is about the application of appropriate stress. An athlete that has never run a step will not reach a high level of fitness (and this is all about long distance racing. Not crossfit or the 100m dash) by hammering intervals immediately. The foundation for endurance events is metabolic economy and using fat as fuel. You work this first, then get fast. Also the ability to absorb hard training is based on the concept of a base. A runner that runs 20 miles a week will not absorb hard training as well as a runner who hits 80 miles a week. So, in terms of periodization we must prepare our body for the training to come. In a well planned periodized plan you have 12-16 weeks of training that is ONLY preparing you to train effectively in the last 8-10 weeks. There must be a period of time where we focus solely on training that strengthens our tendons and muscles and metabolic economy. I think we should get as fast as possible at 20 beats below threshold first. Once you do this then start thinking about getting truly fast. For most of us the distance we are trying to race is part of the challenge! So build your body to be able to handle this aspect first. How can you consider the speed for 26.2 miles when simply finishing is still the major challenge? Don't put the cart before the horse.

 Once you have reached a solid level of fitness then start to think about quality. Once you have built an adequate base then quality is king! But also keep this in perspective. Your body has an ideal level of stress needed for ideal adaptation. More or harder is not better. Consider the impact of a given session on the week. When I'm doing my long runs or intervals, at a certain point of fatigue, I ask myself questions. Is going further better? Is doing one more hill repeat better? Will I be able to train again tomorrow? If you're falling off the goal pace or wattage then this is a telling sign that you have stressed your body adequately because it is failing. Intensity is not only king but by default it is also the riskiest form of training. Even more so than volume, quality work is the overriding factor in over-training and injury. But this makes sense, the higher the risk the higher the pay out AND the bigger the loss. This is the same in almost everything we do in life. This is why it is so important to prepare properly for this work because an error can cost you dearly with a loss of training due to a strained hamstring or tendonitis or extreme fatigue.

 When do you know when it's time to start quality work? I think a base period should be a minimum of 8 weeks for most people, myself included. Some people should do a year. Hopefully you have an idea as to what peak mileage you can handle, if you don't then go find it. You need to have adapted to this peak mileage. Meaning that it isn't a huge push to hit it. If you're still struggling to hit peak mileage then consider spending more time adapting or reevaluating your expectations on your body. Maffetone's method is great for this. With frequent testing you can see definitively when you should start quality training with a plateau in your MAF development. But I will warn you, even after 17 years of dedicated MAF training I have only ever truly plateaued a handful of times. This is partly because our bodies adapt extraordinarily well to stress. It's simply amazing what we can do to ourselves and how our body will adapt if the mind is willing (key aspect there). It's important to also use PE for this. Once I hit a MAF pace that felt like tempo (or Zone 3) then I started quality work. I've taken my MAF down to ~5:50 pace and it was hard, and that was a mistake. I took this too far and my failure to run fast for the marathon was a result of this. I neglected other, equally important aspects of fitness like muscular strength and threshold. Threshold, at a certain point in an athletes development is more citical to performance than anything. I also pushed too hard to reach an arbitrary weekly mileage as I said before. I ignored my body and wasn't disciplined or confident enough to listen to what my body was saying. That alone is another blog post.

 Not sure I answered the questions completely but there's some fine rambling.


Christie said...

Great read. Always follow your blog for incite, thanks

jameson said...

Awesome post dude! Loving all the info your putting out there lately.

Footfeathers said...

"I think we should get as fast as possible at 20 beats below threshold first. Once you do this then start thinking about getting truly fast. For most of us the distance we are trying to race is part of the challenge! So build your body to be able to handle this aspect first. How can you consider the speed for 26.2 miles when simply finishing is still the major challenge? Don't put the cart before the horse."

If car bumpers were big enough, I'd have a bumper sticker with the above quote and stick it to 90% of the runners I meet.

Footfeathers said...

Great ramblings, by the way!

Lucho said...

Thanks guys!

it's all about pace said...

Great stuff! I kept snipping bits and taking notes.

Rick said...

Thanks Tim, great stuff. Considering the the low impact of 1:00 hill reps, would you think it's ok to throw these in during a base building period?

Andy said...

Man you really need to write a book, seriously. This is all great stuff!

Lucho said...

Rick- Meh, I doubt it would hurt the base building process but I would either limit the number of reps or I would do just ~20"-30" reps instead of 1:00 just to be safe. And even better would be to do something longer at more of tempo (sub threshold) effort. Like 4-6 X 3:00-5:00. The critical aspect here when you're talking about base training is lactate. Going above threshold has more of a chance of messing with the base building process. But, tempo or AeT (2.0 mmol of lactate or roughly marathon effort) is quite safe. There isn't enough lactate accumulation or a severe metabolic switch from fat to CHO to mess up the process yet is hard enough to stimulate muscular strength gains. So in the base period you could do the longer more moderate efforts and then as you slowly transition over to a build phase those intervals could gradually get shorter and harder.
For an athlete just coming off a big rest period ro just starting out I would also wait ~3-4 weeks before adding these in just in the interest of keeping your structure healthy. No, these aren't that damaging but there could still be risk to achilles and hamstrings if they aren't prepared properly.

Lucho said...

Thanks Andy!

Rick said...

I like the options - thanks!

P. said...

bookmarked. very appreciated!
this morning, i especially like the following:

Maybe they enjoy the group track sessions, fine. Have fun, that's why we do this and I mean that. Or maybe they don't feel like wearing a HRM all the time and they go out and run too hard, fine. I have zero problem with an athlete wanting to have fun and just go run, but that athlete also needs to understand that the end result may not be the same.

I think that's really good advice. I've already known several guys who have burned out waaaay too quickly in running and cycling because they get really disconnected. like, they either get bummed because they didn't run "fast" at a race but then...they never did the work to run "fast" so what did they expect? OR they put all their focus into the HR numbers/miles/workouts (super type-A) and then when a race doesn't go well...they realized they never even enjoyed the process leading up to that race. like, all the pleasure was suddenly going to come to them after crossing the finish line.

whoaaa, too much text in this comment. i'll keep it to "fuck yeah, bro!" next time! thanks again!

Lucho said...

P.- Nah man, I appreciate your thoughts! I think part of my longevity has been because I enjoy the training far more than racing. If you enjoy the 160 days that lead to a race, then you'll never be completely disappointed in the race. And really, a failure only allows you to repeat that 160 days trying something new :) You're constantly learning. And failures in a race don't really mean that the training was entirely wrong. But ya, I think we're all guilty of having an ego and then having it crushed on race day. It's only been in the last few years that I've been able to balance that analytic OCD with a Zen approach. It's allowed my training to be more enjoyable than it ever has!

Matt said...

great post! I am similar I enjoy training far more than racing..

Wyatt Hornsby said...

Incredibly insightful. This post is a keeper. Thanks for the awesome info, Lucho!


Lucho said...

Thanks Wyatt and Matt!

Chris said...

Fabulous read and just the right amount of rambling. And I second the notion of a future book. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, really helps the mid life crisis age group athlete like myself.

Brett said...

In case prospective clients are reading this post, Tim coached me a few years ago for awhile.

I was averaging under 30 miles per week. No joke. Tim started with me 2 weeks into October and I ran a marathon (it was my second road marathon) in mid-December (2 months later) in 3:16 for a 22 minute PR on the same course from one year prior.

That spring I completed a 50 mile trail run at an average elevation of 11,000 feet with 12,500 feet of vertical, coming from sea level having to use a bridge overpass as my only hill. Again on that mileage.

He knows how to get the most out of you. He knows his $h1t.

Lucho said...

Thank you Chris. A future Masters run post is coming too.

Lucho said...

Very much appreciated Brett! But to be fair, you did all the work... I just sat here and typed :)

SKA Runner said...

Great Post!

It was perfect to read at this point in my training. I spent a year building a foundation and listening to my body. I feared injury all the time. I wasn't ready for speed work yet, even though I knew it was an integral part. Two weeks ago, I craved for the "quality" workouts and I felt ready and my body was telling it was time. Last week I did my first track workout since high school (I am 42) and I feared I would be destroyed after. Come on, it is intervals, the most hated day of high school track. But, it felt great and I am craving for the next work out.

Thanks for the great post.

Lucho said...

Ska- You're exactly what I'm talking about. Build a PROPER base and speed work does not kill. Same with long runs. If an athlete is patient enough and doesn't cut corners then they they are not risky and they don't hurt you. Nice work!

SanDiegoPJ said...

Another great post! Thanks for all this great insight.

Stay Vertical said...

Lucho's blog...pretty much taught me everything I know about running. Not a joke. Someday, I would like to call you "coach."
Thanks for sharing,

Lucho said...

Thank you PJ and Vert!

Bill Walz said...


How does one hire you as a coach. You are one bright dude!


Lucho said...

Bill- Drop me a line!

Chris Holbrook said...

Hey Lucho, There's a great video that's just been posted on Chris Lieto's bike training on the big Island. Well, I assume he does pretty much the same training everywhere but that's where it's shot. He describes the importance of working at and above race pace to improve. Sounds like a good idea, right?

My question is how to incorporate that sort of training when I ride on rolling terrain? I live just outside Washington, DC, so pretty much everywhere is rolling. I don't train with power only because I can't afford to buy a power meter. I don't have an indoor trainer either although that's on the to buy list for the winter. I imagine the next best thing is to train by pace. Let's say I want to average 22 mph for a 1/2. I could do 5 minutes under 22, 10 minutes at, and 10 minutes over. So, to finally bring this back around to my point, how should I work this on the hills? Thanks, Chris

Lucho said...

Chris- You'll need to rely on PE and HR, but that's fine and good. On a rolling course you need to (if you can) hold effort down the hills and because it is downhill you rely on PE and HR. Not much else to do there! On flat sections really focus on the feel of 22mph and try to develop a good sense of PE. HR is also plenty effective.
And you absolutely need to spend time at above goal speed/ effort. I would do something more like 10:00 at goal speed/ HR. Then 5:00 above. Then rest for ~5:00 with easy spinning. Repeat this with volume focus like ~2:00 worth. But really there are a million ways to structure this. Your example works fine too and the recovery aspect (5:00 under 22) is effective as long as you are fit enough to also do adequate volume within this session. Obviously recovering at a somewhat fast speed is tougher. The main focus in this session is the time spent at and over goal speed, so don't compromise these aspects, rest accordingly.
Also doing focused TT's at 23-24 mph is effective. This should be close to threshold which is good. For the 1/2 IM your functional threshold really does matter so don't neglect this.
And getting a trainer will without doubt give you good options. Nothing beats a hard trainer session!

Chris Holbrook said...

Thanks again for your thoughts. They are much appreciated.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts in a blog on nutrition as well. There's so much noise and fads (at least I perceive them to be fads) out there. Ben's ketogenic stuff. Joe Friel's paleo. I'm sure they're fine ways to go, but it seems to me pretty much all elite endurance athletes eat a normal diet. Those who go gluten free--Timothy O'Donnell--do so because of allergies, and not because they're following a particular diet. I recall reading an interview about a year ago with TJ Tollakson who said he eats meat, potatoes, whole fat milk, veggies, rice, etc. In other words, normal food. I could really ramble on about this but it's hard for me to believe that 10 years from now people will be talking about paelo and high fat diets. And what about Asian diets. Lots of white rice and noodles. Euros didn't start getting fat until more women entered the workplace. Less time to prepare each meal. They ate loads of breads and pastas. The point is, the logic doesn't always hold up. Then you add in the expense of eating paleo, for example. Do you know how much quality meat costs? A LOT! I know because I buy plenty of it.

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Steve Pero said...

Man, I'm late reading this because I've been away at a race this weekend!
Wanted to mention that this post is fantastic and is what I'm always looking for in running advice.
I'll also mention that I have been a Maffetone die hard runner since 2004 and drank that kool-aid of only running slow until I heard several of your ATU podcasts, started adding back in tempo runs, dropped the mileage a bit and I'm running (somewhat) fast again. (I'm 60) ;-)
Thanks for this and the podcasts, Lucho!

Chris Holbrook said...

Yet another question Lucho. (Just let me know when you're sick of me. Ha ha.)

Do you have any advice on what to do when you're following a plan and you go away for a few days. For example, my in-laws live in Queens, NY. We go up for a long weekend every couple of months. Running up there is no problem. I basically just do circles through the neighborhoods of Forest Hills. A very posh, exclusive community. (This is not, btw, where my in-laws live.) But running is pretty much all I can do up there. There's a certain amount of self-imposed stress involved during the season when I can't get that ride and/or swim is.

I know I should just relax and do what I can. But do you have any specific advice on how to handle this?

Jill said...

Thanks for an amazing post! I had a horrible foot problem I dealt with for about 2 years which has left my fitness pretty much in the toilet because I mentally just gave up. Now I'm fighting to get back out there and just can't seem to find the right way; everything I'm doing seems to be "wrong" and I'm making zero progress. Do you help coach ordinary runners, like me, get back on the ground....running? (you coach my blog friend, Ana Maria). Regardless, thanks much for the post, I will absorb it all.

Lucho said...

Thanks Steve. I've done the MAF over-kill which isn't good. MAF just prepares our body for hard work!

Lucho said...

Jill- I'll help anyone willing to work hard! jogdaddy at gmail.

Lucho said...

Chris- I do a weekly podcast for Endurance Planet. Every Monday they ask for questions on their facebook page, these would be good questions for the podcast!

Chris Holbrook said...

Lucho-I know you podcast on Mondays. I love that show! I'm going to submit my question now.

Lucho said...

Thanks Chris- It might be best to wait for the post on Monday calling for questions!

Chris Holbrook said...

Grr. Too late. No problem. I'll resubmit on Monday.

Lucho said...

I'll make sure they get in Chris, both of them. They're good questions. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great post and just running across it today for the first time. I'd love to tap your MAF knowledge as I'm not getting a clear answer from anyone on an issue I am running into. Most folks seem to find MAF training to easy and the pace too slow. I've had 19years of running (and a lot of base) and my MAF HR pace is basically what I hold in a 5k. There's now way that I could realistically use this for regular training efforts - It's just way too hard.

It sounds like you might have run into this too with your pace getting down low. Is it just a switch to other forms of intervals at this point to keep building speed and progressing or have you picked out a 'reasonable' HR that can still advance the aerobic system as well?

Love to know your thoughts.

Lucho said...

How old are you? What HR ranges are you using? Do you have any race HR data? What's the highest HR you've ever seen during a run? Do you know your lactate threshold HR? And what race distances are you focused on?

David McMillan said...

Hey Lucho,
Thanks for the quick response - really appreciate it.
Here are a few stats:
I'm 36, Max HR from an 800m run test a few years ago was 175. Also live at altitude (5000ft).

My MAF formula HR works out to be 180-36+5 = 149. Most of my 5km races will average about 151bpm at most.

If I am doing mile repeats on the track I'll probably hit 153-155bpm and around 5:50pace.
History has mostly been Marathons and a couple of IM's. Moving to Ultra's this year for the first time. I've had a good solid 26weeks of aerobic base building getting over some injuries with very little intensity. Very curious about Maffetone's work but very conscious that at the HR he prescribes could just dig me a very big hole very quickly.
Typically I have done my easy runs really easy (like 2mins/mile slower than marathon pace) and my hard runs hard. That changed a little in my last marathon build with some solid tempos in the 16mi range that really seemed to give me a boost. Still nowhere near MAF HR though. Could altitude be that much of a difference maker?


Lucho said...

A few things jump out here. Maffetone used 180 as a mean Vo2 max for his formula... NOT max HR. Your max is lower than 180 which means the formula is not correct for you. I've seen this often in both directions. MAF formula is wrong for you.

26 weeks is too long for a base period and using the incorrect HR for that has a couple of implications... either you're bad ass fit now at the high end or you've deteriorated your base by training too intensely. Possibly both.

I would say to drop your MAF HR down to ~120-130 and see what happens there. Based on your 5k HR this range is not far off of what the MAF idea is supposed to be. You should be able to comfortably run ~3+ hours at MAF and not need significant recovery after. And I think based off your 5k HR that range is generous. MAF falls roughly at ~20 beats below threshold and you should be able to hold ~5 beats over threshold for a 5k. SO really extrapolation by data would put you in the 115-125 range. Not sure that feels correct though.
Try 120-130 for a couple of weeks and see how that feels. It equates to Zone 2 effort.

5000ft altitude shouldn't have a profound effect. Unless you've been there less than a couple of months.

I think you're pace is so fast/ hard because the MAF formula is wrong. Drop that range and if you have time then spend a few weeks there. Test immediately and track the progress.

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Thanks for the input. Just knowing it should be around Zone 2 effort helps a lot as I have a pretty good sense of the PE for that.

Many thanks for taking the time. I've been browsing around the blog and love it. Keep up the good thoughts and writing.