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.”

5 Responses

  1. Thanks for doing this, it’s interesting to see. I’m surprised at the similarities between the cycles, I incorrectly assumed this was your highest mileage cycle.

    The recovery weeks do bring your mileage down but without them, how did you come to 100mpw as your chosen workload? Also, your recovery paces exceed McMillan’s by a good bit, is that your body requiring you to slow down to those paces or is it what you feel comfortable with as recovery in general?

    • 100 mpw is a nice round number, isn’t it? Seriously, I generally follow what Kevin lays out for me, cutting back (or redistributing) miles according to how I’m feeling.

      As for the previous cycle, I thought 90-100mpw was a good number to shoot for based on some articles I’d read about the average mileage run by national class female marathoners. With a previous base of 75-80mpw, I didn’t feel it was that big a jump. Although I do recognize that it takes time to adjust, and I also think the dividends to high mileage can take a year or two to really start making themselves apparent.

      McMillan’s recovery paces are, in my humble opinion, way too fast for most people. I run mine entirely by HR and I don’t care what that works out to in terms of pace (I rarely look at my pace while running them). The only reason I wear the watch and HR monitor on these runs is to keep myself from running at too high an effort. If I don’t generally feel better at the end of a recovery run, then I’ve run it too fast.

      I did go out for a recovery run a week or two ago and forgot my watch. It was kind of liberating. I may try it again, since at this point I’ve probably broken any tendency to run recovery runs too hard.

  2. We are so different, I find McMillan’s recovery paces to be too slow, that’s why your recovery paces intrigue me. Then again, my 70mpw is in the kiddy league compared to yours and I’m sure it makes a world of difference as far as recovery needs.

  3. I’m learning the merits of slow recoveries (from Pfitzinger). I was doing them way too fast before. I like the guidance “You should feel as if you are storing up energy rather than slowly leaking it”. I go a little slower than McMillan’s pace while doing that. I see you go even slower, and quite long.

  4. As a huge generalisation I’d say that recovery pace can be inversely proportional to the weekly volume – if you’re running less than 50-60 miles per week the recovery pace can be faster.

    I think you could lower mileage a tad, just because 100 miles/week in terms of time spent running is equivalent to 130-140 miles per week for an elite (faster) runner (who is probably not working full time). The lower mileage (say 85-90 on big weeks) would be better for recovery through the week in general as well as possibly allowing for some increase in intensity.

    As another observation, I’d say you’re not the type of runner who’d run good marathons on 60 miles/week/high intensity.

    I wouldn’t describe what you’re doing now as “two high mileage/high intensity weeks followed by one lower mileage/high intensity week” – I’d say the high mileage weeks are “moderate intensity”. High intensity (to me) would be a week with a high volume/high intensity track session (7 x 1 mile), a high intensity hill session and a high intensity tempo run (near 10k race pace for 10k or more).

    Anyway, I think 2 big, 1 low suits you well. Maybe as a tweak, 1 big with less intensity (90-100 miles), one big with higher intensity (85-90 miles) and one low with not much intensity (for true recovery) – say 50-60 miles.

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