Make Every Run Count

When you lace up your running shoes and head out the door for a run, do you know the purpose of that run? Are you running just to get the miles in or are you running to prepare for a specific goal?

I believe every run should have a purpose. Making every run count and avoiding “junk miles” will help you reach goals and avoid injury and burnout.

I am currently training for Badwater 135. This is a race that basically traverses through a sauna, or Death Valley, for 135 miles with significant climbing. Every run I accomplished last week was targeted toward some aspect of this race.

I completed a long run in a fasted state. The long run has obvious importance in ultramarathon training with building endurance, mental toughness and resilience. Accomplishing this while fasted and in a glycogen depleted state does even more by improving the ability to burn fat for fuel. Some of my long runs will have the purpose of practicing fueling strategies so instead of fasting I will eat what I expect to eat during my race.

The day after this long run, I completed a medium-long steady state run. There are so many good reasons for doing a steady state run. This is similar to a tempo run yet usually longer and a little slower. I typically run this at marathon pace or 10-20 seconds slower (7:20 – 7:30). Steady state runs improve lactate threshold. In short, the higher your lactate threshold the longer you can run. In addition, by completing this workout the day after a long run, I simulated running on tired legs. I’m sure to be pretty fatigued at mile 100 with 35 miles still to go!

I followed my two hard days with a rest day. I did not run, yet I did do some strength work. The rest days may be even more important than the hard days. This has the purpose of both recovering from the previous hard runs as well as being prepared and well rested for the next hard workout. Without rest the body can never rebuild itself. It continues to break down day after day until there is injury or complete burnout. Without rest your speed workouts will be slower and less effective.

After my rest day I was ready for a hard run. I ran 10 miles on trails at a comfortably hard pace powering up all the hills. This sub threshold run helps build aerobic capacity. I then followed it up with five miles of hill repeats. There are three huge climbs at Badwater that I will not have the luxury of facing with fresh legs. In fact, miles 123 through 135 consist of a 13 mile climb straight up Mount Whitney. This workout was specifically designed to practice both jogging up and hiking up a steep climb on tired legs. In addition, I ran down the steep hill trying to simulate the 9 mile down hill section in the middle of Badwater (at a 9% grade). This quad busting section may sound fun and easy, yet nine miles is a long time to run a steep downhill after 50 some miles. The legs are sure to take a beating. I will incorporate many workouts to prepare for this section. Some downhill running I will practice running with good, smooth form. Other workouts I will purposefully attempt to slow down and ‘break’ in order to add more stress to my quads to strengthen them.

The day after this 15 mile hill workout, I completed a recovery run with a little added twist. Heat. I jogged at a very slow 9-10 minute pace on my treadmill in my sauna-like sunroom. The run itself was easy to give my muscles time to recover from the previous hard run, to clean out the lactate acid and prepare them for my next hard run. It truly felt wonderful. Then, with my sunroom heated up to 90 degrees and wearing several layers of winter clothing I also worked on heat adaptation. Heat adaptation for Badwater is not just about being mentally prepared to tolerate running in extreme temperatures. It also helps the body adjust to the increased consumption and processing of liquids and electrolytes. I will drink an ounce or two of my electrolyte drink every five minutes. In addition, every three miles I take a short walk break and chug even more fluids. My body learns to sweat more while losing less sodium.  It has been claimed a person only needs three weeks for the body to become heat acclimated. However, I am starting now with a heat run every week or two for the additional mental preparation. I need to be used to the discomfort. I will drastically increase the heat training the last 4-6 weeks before Badwater.

I followed this easier run with a high quality interval workout.  After a mile and a half warm up I ran 7 miles of 1-minute, 2-minute and 3-minute intervals. These were at about 90% effort with a 2-minute jog between each. I finished with another mile and a half cool-down. These hard effort intervals have multiple benefits. They help with running economy, increase foot turnover, improve running form, and help with mental toughness and pain tolerance. To get the ultimate runner’s high, this does it for me. There is no other workout that gives me more satisfaction when I finish and know that I gave it everything I had.

Finally, I topped off my week with a beautiful run on the trails with no watch and no expectations. This was a mental-health-run. An escape-from-four-high-maintenance-kids-run. An enjoy-the-beauty-of-nature-and-let-go-of-all-worries-run. These are definitely a favorite of mine and they are just as important as the rest of the week’s workouts. If I take everything too seriously I forget why I am doing this to begin with. I love running. I need running. These no-expectations runs are what help prevent burnout and keep the joy in running.

Looking back at my week I feel every mile run had purpose. I attempt to avoid ‘junk miles’ the best I can. Junk miles are miles with no purpose, recovery miles that are too hard, workouts that don’t target your weaknesses, speed sessions that don’t benefit your upcoming race, or miles just to add miles. Junk miles are a sure way to add injury while not helping you attain your race goals.

What is your next race? What are your goals? Before you lace up your shoes ask yourself how you will make this run count. How will it prepare you for your next race? How will it make you stronger and make your goals more attainable?

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