Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hard days vs. Easy days

I've been reading Lyle McDonald's blog recently because he has some good things to say about interval training, fat loss, etc., all of which are topics that I like to read about. He recently did a series of articles about interval training vs. steady state running that was a real eye opener for me. But that's not the point of today's post. His most recent post is about hard training vs. easy training, and how if we don't do the easy training the right way, easy, then all of our training will warp into medium training because we are too tired to train hard. Did you get that?

The full blog entry is here. But I'm including the meat of it below.

But most people aren’t satisfied doing that kind of [easy] training. They don’t like doing the short duration (an easy/active recovery workout might only take 20-30 minutes). They figure that if they took the time to drive to the gym, they should do a full workout session. So the duration starts to climb.

Then there’s intensity. Proper ‘easy’ training should feel utterly easy, like there’s no effort at all. And the obsessive don’t like that, not at all. It doesn’t feel like it’s accomplishing anything (No pain, no gain, right) so the intensity starts to climb. Where it should be an easy 130 heart rate or lower, it’ll start climbing to the aerobic range or higher. Suddenly, what should have been easy days start becoming medium days.

But it’s even more insidious than that: these medium days end up being too easy to really stimulate fitness, but too hard to allow complete recovery. It’s this weird no-man’s land that doesn’t accomplish anything good.

Which has another major consequence, without the ability to recover sufficiently, the hard days can’t be as hard. Because you can’t do a quality session when you’re tired. So the hard days start becoming medium days as well. And it all goes wrong.

The hard days can’t be hard enough, the easy days are too hard and the whole week ends up being this weird sort of medium intensity across the board.

Get it now? It sounds like a familiar trap to me (not that I, or any ultrarunner for that matter is "obsessive"). I see it with my running friends, and I definitely see it in my own training. Lately I've adopted the mentality that if I'm going to train, I might as well train hard. Every run becomes an attempt at a PR for that course. I push myself to the brink of injury, then wonder why my body and my daily performance suffers. On the flip side, this high intensity training has produced some PRs for me this year. So where is the trade-off?

How many hard days should be followed by how many easy days? That, my friend, is the question that only you and I can decide. I have no problem running three hard days in a row. When I travel to Atlanta for work (once every 2 months or so), I run intervals every day because I have a love-hate relationship with the 0.52-mile track at Piedmont Park. But by that third or fourth evening my body is starting to talk back to me. I'm usually dealt a rest day as I travel back home. But then I hit the ground running, ready for more intensity. As I reflect on my training log, I think three hard days followed by one easy day is what works for me. But as Lyle's blog article states, this needs to be a really easy day. I will always struggle with that, but I will try to try harder... er, make that easier. Whatever!

How much does a taper week before a big event play into this too? If we train like madmen and madwomen leading up to an event, can the taper offset our lack of easy days? I'll try to look into that later as I get closer to June 7.

Run hard out there, but don't forget the easy days.


ncultra said...

hi Neal, I know it's time for an easy day (or rest day) when I am so stiff and sluggish it takes me more than a mile to move faster than a shuffle.

Neal Jamison said...


The last time I saw you move slower than a shuffle was at about mile 98 in the OD 100 Memorial shortly after you were hallucinating that I was hiding in the bushes taking pictures of you.

I have the pictures to prove it. ;-)