I'm coming off a really good run that I had today. Did a 20-miler. The longest I've ever run. Yup, my first marathon will be after a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike. That wasn't done by accident; I debated doing a marathon since signing up for IMC (key being: this debate was within one year of IMC). I got sound advice to avoid it. One person who said so was Bobby McGee, who's a brilliant triathlon/running coach. He didn't say it to me personally regarding my situation, but he did talk about it at a USAT coaching seminar I went to. I'll never forget it. Basically it came down to post-marathon recovery time for someone who would race the 26.2 hard, like I would. The recovery is not worth missing out on training you could be doing otherwise. Or worse, not recovering and going on with life like you didn't do 26.2. Note: this is not necessarily the case for seasoned marathon runners.
Anyways, so today was the biggest run I'll do before IMC later this month. Not gonna lie, I impressed myself. I set out to do it at an EZ sustainable pace. Emphasis on the "EZ" since 20 miles was new territory for more and I didn't want to bonk far from home lol. The run ended up being an 8:10 average pace, total time 2:43 and change, on a route full of rolling hills, but nothing too extreme, on a fairly hot day. That coming off a freaking HARD 58-mile hilly-ass tempo ride yesterday and a short swim this morning, and the training from Monday and the training from the weekend and... jk ;)
I don't run mega miles every week, and my long runs aren't always as long as one might expect for IM training, but I trust my training. My longest run to date is 15 miles. Today, I knew I could do the 20 without great concern with the training I've done. It was more of a mental hurdle I wanted to cross than a physical one going into IMC, which is arguably just as important. Point being, I believe most people can get away with fewer miles and still be effective at improving SBR skills. It's about how you run (or swim or bike) the miles you do that make a difference.
This is the philosophy I use with training plans for my athletes. There are two key components to make this work, which I'll get to.
But first, I have to mention the "social pressure" to log in extreme mileage and mega volume. Unfortunately, it seems many athletes are too concerned with "how many miles" they do each week or how "big" the week was. It's easy to get caught up in this, and sometimes I still do! It's fun to see that you laid down a gnarly week and logged in record-breaking miles. It's OK to be proud and brag a little even. Or how about when you see your friends saying how mega their workouts were via FB and Twitter; part of you wants to be right there with the same numbers, right? It's natural for us endurance athletes. And, yes, with 70.3 and Ironman training, on certain weeks, it should be about volume and logging in the miles.
But it's not all about that.
The questions that should be asked: What were the intensity levels, and how consistent was the training. I truly believe you can get away with as little training as possible (within reason) and still be a very good athlete, or, at the very least, achieve realistic goals if you stick to two main variables: 1) consistency and 2) intensity.
You're not going to get better at swimming, biking and running -- and remain injury-free -- unless you do it consistently every week. Some weeks do more than others. The idea is to make it "the norm" for your body. You become more efficient, and that brings an abundance of benefits. And when I say "injury free," I mean it's not smart to not SBR for days on end and then go attempt IM-distance sessions on a Saturday. No bueno. Be consistent. And don't mistake consistency as synonymous with volume.
The second part is intensity. Intensity is the king of variables. Studies show that if you take away volume, frequency and duration but maintain HIGH intensity, you can still maintain your fitness (good tip for taper weeks). So, yes, you'll have to build up some fitness by doing early-season base building and whatnot, i.e. high volume and low intensity, but as the season progresses and you're in the "competition" phase, don't feel like every week has to be mega volume if you're workouts are full of high-intensity work. It's an inverse relationship between volume and intensity, and the reason for that is: high-intensity work = more recovery time needed. More recovery means volume should not be skyrocketing. (With elite/pro athletes who recover freakishly fast or are used to high intensity and volume, this isn't always the case... but for the rest of us it is :) lol)
So one may ask, how does LSD fit into this? LSD workouts undoubtedly have their place in a training plan over the course of a season, for both the mental and physical reasons, but you could arguably cut some of those out if you're doing a lot of high-intensity work. One LSD sess a week for each sport is enough. You need to hit certain miles in training based on your race distance simply because you need to be specific to the race and develop those energy systems/familiarity. But more emphasis should be on intensity with adequate recovery. Try it. You'll see that a distance that was once designated to be an LSD sessions becomes faster with less effort.
Take my month of July, for example. It was NOT one of my highest volume months, despite what you may think having a Ironman in August. But I did a lot of high-intensity SBR that required more rest than when I'm only doing Z1-Z2 training. I raced and did race-simulation workouts, and I went HARD. Plus, for the most part I was very consistent with my training so my body was used to SBR no matter if I was going really long or short and quick. What ensured was a "less is more" month for me. Some coaches might argue that "more is more" no matter what, and that's the only way to get better. But I don't think it has to be like that.
This brings up the other key point: time management.
My month of July was also extremely busy outside of my training schedule. My days were not centered around training. School, work, new boyfriend, friends, family obligations, etc. A busy busy life outside of training is the case with most athletes I coach, as well. So when I sit down to create a training plan I try to make it about getting the most bang for your buck with every workout. Consistency and intensity become the biggest priorities. If that means more short hard runs because that's all there's time for and one long one, then so be it. It's better than no runs all week then a 20+ run once a week. Or whatever the situation.
Goals play into this. If you do have aspirations to be uber-elite or pro and training time is abundant, then I might take a different approach to some extent. There's more leeway to manipulate the training variables of volume, intensity, frequency, duration to achieve some crazy goals. But for most of us, to get results, just be consistent, get your dose of high-intensity work and don't worry so much about accumulating big numbers week after week, month after month.
And when all else fails, there's one factor that should dominate above all others: FUN. If you're not having fun, then why the F are you doing it?