Steamtown ‘08 vs. Newport ‘09: A training comparison

Flo of Girl-in-Motion recently posted some questions regarding how certain aspects of this round of training (for the May 30 Newport, OR marathon) compare to the last round (for the Steamtown marathon in PA last October). If my training run paces are anything to go by (and I sure hope they are), then I’ve made tangible improvements in speed and endurance* during this training cycle. Put more simply: I’ve obviously improved more over the course of training this time around, relative to the level of improvement I made during the last cycle.

I had been meaning to do a comparison myself, and this was a great excuse to buckle down and look at the numbers.


Newport Training

Steamtown Training

Avg recovery run pace 10:00 10:00
Avg recovery run HR% 65% 65%
Avg weekly mileage 84 80
Mileage in peak week 100 101
% miles at recovery pace 44% 56%
Avg runs per week 9 11
Avg length of run 8.15 miles 7.50 miles
Frequency of full recovery weeks Once every 3 weeks Once every 4.5 weeks

To the casual observer, it appears that I am a solid 100 mile-a-weeker. But in reality I’m only averaging a measly 4 mpw more than I was in the summer and fall. This is because more frequent recovery weeks bring the average mileage down.

Also note that despite an increase in fitness, my recovery pace has remained the same. There are wide swings from day to day (anywhere from the low 9:00 range all the way up toward 11:00). But it averages out to a ten minute mile. I would not be surprised if it stays in this range for the next cycle as well.

The three major differences are found in these areas: number of sessions per week, frequency of full recovery weeks and, perhaps most interestingly, percentage of miles run at recovery pace. Let’s look at each of these.

Number of sessions: Running shorter, more frequent runs works well for some people. I tried this for Steamtown and found that I was constantly tired. When Kevin put me on a basebuilding plan in November, I was surprised to see no doubles, but lots of recovery runs on the longer side. I followed the plan with some trepidation, yet quickly discovered that this arrangement works better for me.

If I run one 10 mile recovery run, I’m recovered and ready for a hard workout 24 hours later. If I instead do two runs (one in the morning and one about eight hours later in the afternoon), I’ll be tired the next morning, regardless of how the mileage is broken up between the two. What you don’t see in this comparitive table is the distribution of double days over the course of the Steamtown training. During recovery weeks they dropped off, obviously. But in peak weeks it was not unusual for me to be running 12-14 sessions per week.

Frequency of full recovery weeks: I took my cues from the frequency of recovery weeks in Pete Pfitzinger’s book Advanced Marathoning. Meaning they were few and far between. This may work for some people, but I recognize now that it wore me down. Why this is is anyone’s guess; perhaps it’s a side effect of being over 40, or maybe it’s an individual thing. The current arrangement (two high mileage/high intensity weeks followed by one lower mileage/high intensity week) has worked out well. With rare exception, I have emerged from the recovery week mentally ready and physically able to handle the demands of the next two “on” weeks.

Percentage of miles at recovery pace: This is the measurement that I find most interesting. The amount of time I’m spending running hard has increased by about 8%. I believe I have improved fitness as a result of that increased amount of time running harder miles (as well as the variation in workout types), and I believe the previous factor (recovery week frequency) is responsible for my being able to handle that increase.

It will be interesting to see if, with some tweaks to some of these factors, yet more improvement can be yielded. After I’ve run Newport and we’ve done the post mortem, perhaps we’ll make further adjustments. If I lowered mileage but increased intensity,** would that offer a bigger benefit? What if I reduced the doubles even more and did slightly longer runs? I suppose this is why runners are thought of as “experiments of one.”

*And, dare I say, running economy, although this is a bit harder to gauge outside a laboratory. Unfortunately, my laboratory is in the process of being redecorated at the moment.

**As recently suggested in some comments by “Coach Tom.”