I remember, back in the early 1980s, there was an article on the great fellow Minnesotan runner, Garry Bjorklund, in “The Runner” magazine. Its cover-photo was BJ (as he was fondly known as) with a couple of friends running in the heart of Duluth winter–snow-covered background!! That is such a typical scene in the Mid-West and, because of this, you’ll see many people getting out in shorts and T-shirts when the thermometer hits 50F!! It has been a pretty harsh winter here in MN. And last 2 weekends had been (finally) such an occasion that we finally started seeing a glimpse of spring.
A few weekends ago, my wife dragged me out for a 2-hour run. I had been slacking and I had done probably two 1:30 runs all through the winter (once on treadmill). To be honest, I hesitated a little but then thought, ah, what the heck, I’d need it anyway sooner or later!!
The thing about a long run is; 1:30 is easy. But I’ve always looked at a 2-hour run as a border line of just recreational hobby-running and where you get serious. Surprisingly, even my wife agreed with that. She had actually run more marathons than I have and I’ve noticed that she can just jump on with long runs and handle them fairly comfortably. I always felt that I’d have to work my way up and keep it up in order to handle long runs. Years ago, when I first met with Katherine Switzer, one of the foremost authorities on women’s running, (incidentally, I remember it was at Dick Quax’s wedding!) she, and her husband, Roger Robinson, who happened to be one of the toughest cross country and road runners of his time and one of the best master runners we’ve seen, both agreed that women seem to be able to do that more easily. Men, both Roger and I said, would have to work at it and, if we don’t struggle with long runs. “But 2-hour run is different,” she agreed.
In almost all the writings of Arthur Lydiard, he always talked about the initial stage to “get to the point where you can run 2-hours comfortably…” He must have learnt, from his own experience, that 2-hour run separates you into a super-fitness. The story goes that he was getting fitter and fitter when he was running up to 100-miles-a-week, but then he turned his interest to marathoning and now he had to compensate his runs. So instead of running 15-miles everyday, he would alternate his runs with 10-mile one day and 20-mile the next… His total weekly mileage remained 100-miles still but his performances improved. He figured those long runs made him stronger. But then he met with Dr. Ullenbrook at Cologne University in Germany who explained to Lydiard that, after 2-hour or more of “continuous” exercise, capillary development of the WORKING MUSCLES increases dramatically. In terms of “aerobic development”, assimilation and transportation of oxygen improves relatively quickly; but utilization of oxygen, which is reflected with capillary development and mitochondrial development, takes longer. This is also noted by Dr. Jack Daniels when he says that these two developments are more directly correlated with the DURATION of the exercise, not intensity. In reading Peter Snell’s biography, “No Bugles, No Drums”, he often mentions his “trying to get around Waiatarua (a 22-mile circuit)” as the first step to starting out “Marathon Conditioning Phase”. Lydiard called this “muscular endurance” and noted that it is possibly more important than simple “gas-exchange” and could often be neglected. Often those who incorporate cross-training tend to overlook value of this “muscular endurance”. They often say; “I wasn’t tired, I could breathe just fine (at the end of the marathon); but I couldn’t move my legs…” “If you couldn’t move your legs (in the marathon race),” Arthur often said, “it won’t do you much good, will it?”
This has been beautifully illustrated in one of Hal Higdon’s writing. He wrote a story about Murray Halberg and Peter Snell running their usual Sunday 22-miler. After about 15-miles, Peter got tired and suggested calling it a day and hitch-hiking home. After all, they had done 15-miles already. “Do that,” Halberg replied, “and you’ll waste the 15-miler so far done. The true value (of the long run) is in the final 5-miles.” I did many long runs with Ray Puckett, one of the original Lydiard runners and the one who really taught the practical application of the Lydiard Method. Most of the long runs we did were 2:15~2:30 range. We did go as long as 3-hours. Sometimes Ray would turn to me at around 2-hour mark and say “Now warm-up is over…!” What he meant is that the first 2-hour is nothing but a prelude; to set our body for the final half an hour or so.
There’s something about “getting to the point where you can run 2-hours comfortably”. My runs had been rather sporadic this past winter. But I had little trouble running up to 1:30 whenever I felt like. We ran around still-frozen Long Lake and then through hilly residential area of Wayzata–the loop we ran a couple of times on our last long run (see “Long We May Run“). That got us to around 1:20. We ran through “Water-Front” of Lake Minnetonka and down to newly built (about 2 or 3 years now) Dakota Trail bike path for the final stretch. This is when real “tiredness” sets in. You can really feel there’s “something” going on in your body during this time between 1:30 and 2:00. It is often mentioned that the Wall in the marathon is not so much at 20-mile mark but somewhere around 1:30~1:45. “Your body can’t tell the difference between 2-hours and 20-miles…or 18-miles or 15-miles,” Lorraine once said. “The important thing is that you’d done 2-hours.”
Training effect is a survival mechanism. You get your body through the “unfamiliar territory”, or “uncomfortableness”, and your body would adapt to it. You go to high altitude where oxygen is scarce and your body would adapt to gather and use oxygen more efficiently. It’s a simple adaptation mechanism. You go through your body past the peak of tiredness; your body would get stronger. Yet, for some reason, it seems very difficult for many people today to starve your body of glycogen to counter the Wall–instead, they’ll keep feeding your body with sugar to make those long runs “soft” (this is a whole new blog just on this topic…!). Frank Shorter, in the movie “Spirit of the Marathon“, says that “we run out of fuel somewhere around 1:30-1:45 and this is what makes marathoning challenging.” There is a debate about just exactly what’s happening in our body with fueling but the point is that our body goes through a rough time somewhere around 1:30-1:45 into a continuous exercise. When we train our body to go through this “wall” more efficiently, we achieve what Lydiard termed “tireless state”. Far too many people misunderstand the concept of Lydiard training and aerobic base work. They think that, if your goal is actually to run faster, you’ll need to train faster. Or if your target race is 5k or 1500m or 800m, then what’s the point of running over 2-hours…??? They misunderstand because our “act” is the same“running”. When it comes down to it, it’s totally separate issues. Your goal with all the “slogging” is to create this “tireless” body SO YOU CAN DO MORE COMPETITION SPECIFIC TRAINING. Running so happens to be the most effective way to develop it (because it’s being done against gravity and you’re using the largest muscle groups in the body) and it also so happens to be the same action as your target event (if you are training for a running event, that is). Soccer players run, rugby players run, boxers run…Rocky ran!! They all run because it helps and it works. In the movie, “Miracle“, 1980 US Olympic hockey team coach, the late Herb Brooks, said: “Legs feed the wolves…” It should be an even more appropriate comment for runners. But somehow, many young aspiring runners today seem to like to just run (short and) fast–“because our goal is to run fast!” They are missing the point.
After about 1:30, lo and behold, we started to “feel it”. If it’s a physiological “wall” or depletion of fuel or whatever, you’ll start to “feel it”. For this occasion, I even felt like perhaps going slightly beyond 2-hours…maybe 2:15 or so. “Two is enough!” my wife said. We’ll have one final big hill coming up a kilometer from home and by then, it “hurt so good!!” It’s only a half mile from home, you feel like you had accomplished something, you’re feeling it in your back, shoulders, quads…and feet! And it’s a different feeling from “just” a 1:30 run. “Your true fitness emerges once you get to 2-hour runs,” Arthur used to say. A week later (and yet another 6 1/2 inches of snow in between!), we did a casual 1:30 run along Minnehaha Creek. It not only felt easy, we ended up finishing quite a bit stronger than we expected–on the out & back course, we ended up running almost 5-minutes faster in the second half. Perhaps that’s the benefits of 2-hour run the week earlier??? As we prepare for, oh, maybe 1:45-run today, we’ll see if we still feel that benefit!! ;o)
Post Script: So if the DURATION is what matters and what gives all those wonderful aerobic developments, what about those who “slog” 3 or 4 hours or more preparing for a 5+ hour marathon? Or what about those who are training for ultra-marathons? Shouldn’t they be the fittest people and the best endurance athletes? Well, that’s another story…