Monday, 5 April 2010

Is More Always Better?

Hi again. Yes only one day since my last post, but being Easter enables this privilege(?)!

Those of you who have been following my blog since it started last week will recall that it was John Kynaston's Ultra Running blog that got me inspired to start my own blog. Well last night John finished his post with the following comment:

"I sometimes wonder whether I do enough. I realise averaging around 50miles a week will be a lot to some but to other ultra runners it's on the low side. Maybe one year I should experiment with say 70miles a week and see what happens."

After reading this, it provoked me to leave the following comment:

"Why not try averaging 30-35 miles a week for a year, before trying 70miles average. It may produce better results, as well as taking a lot less time." And then I signed off stating that my weekly average for 2009 was 34.5 miles.

Reading John's blog tonight, my comments could be interpreted as being a bit arrogant, e.g. "Why not do as little training as I do and run quicker!" This was not the intention. The comment was made to encourage John to consider the alternative. As the title of today's post reads: "Is More Always Better?"

So what is the answer? As with pace judgement in ultras (my previous post), there isn't just ONE answer. However, this doesn't mean I shouldn't share my views and a few statistics!

Logically one would think that in order to run Ultras well you would require a reasonably high weekly mileage. As John suggests even 50 miles a week is possibly/probably too low!
Although there is more to training than simply mileage. Thinking about training does lead into some interesting questions "What are we wanting to improve with ultra training? What does it mean to be fit for ultra running? Without wishing to 'blow my own trumpet' I will present a few statistics, comparing myself and John in terms off running mileage.

I have only met John on two occasions, so I don't really know him, but there is a wealth of information available on his blog!

John is 51 years old, I am 47 years old. So I have an advantage(?) of 4 years over John.

If we look at our training in terms of weekly mileage for the last 3 years and 3 months, John has ran a few more miles than me:
2007 - John = 1894 miles, Stuart = 1592 miles
2008 - John = 2208 miles, Stuart = 1806 miles
2009 - John = 2326 miles, Stuart = 1783 miles
2010 to date - John = 585 miles, Stuart = 506 miles
Total - John = 7013 miles, Stuart = 5687 miles
So what is the secret? Why have I finished ahead of John in both of the races we have raced together?

I haven't got time to explain the secret now, but will introduce two possible areas which may help to explain the mystery to Ultra Running Performance. These being:
(i) The need to have a strong self-belief in your preparation/your ability. If there is any doubt, any questioning of whether your preparation has been adequate then I strongly believe that this lingering doubt will hinder your performance come race day. As you can see this is a rather large topic, so I will leave it for another day!

and (ii) It isn't so much the mileage that you have 'put in' over the preceding months, or even the previous year or two, but it is the TOTAL MILEAGE that you have run EVER that is important!

I am very fortunate that since the 1st of January 1978, this being my 15th birthday, I have recorded in my training diaries every running training session I have completed. (I have also actually recorded every bike, swim, kayak training session as well.) This information is invaluable as one is able to learn so much from oneself.

So who has run more miles in total? On John's blog it states that he has run in total 22, 420 miles. Well including this mornings 10 mile run, I have run in total 35,674 miles. This 13,000 miles extra that I have run over John, I consider is one large factor that contributes to why I am able to finish ahead of John in an Ultra Race.

You may be saying "What about Kilian Jornet, the winner of the last two Ultra Trail Mont Blanc races at the age of 20 and 21 years? He can't have completed many miles." Well I did say this topic is too big to explain today. Apologies again, my ideas will have to wait to another post!

However, since I have mentioned my 32 years of training diaries, at the bottom of this post are three graphs displaying the yearly mileages for these 32 years, presented for the 70s and 80s, 90s, and the 00s. The yearly average for each decade is: 70s and 80s = 1328miles, 90s = 705 miles, and 00s = 1218 miles. With the overall average for all 32 years = 1099 miles. The two lines on each graph represent the decade yearly average and the overall yearly average.

As you can imagine, I have many many training and racing memories within these 35,674 miles. Hence the subtitle of my blog Millsy's MEMORIES and Muttering. Perhaps it is time to start sharing some memories.

What happened 30 years ago today?

Easter Monday 7th April 1980 - Training Diary reads: "22miles with Wilby, 2 hrs 42mins, to Johnsonville - Makara. Good run, strong relaxed, legs tired at end, worst part at 14 miles."

My estimation of miles was never very good, so I doubt it was 22 miles, but good for the confidence as I was preparing for my first ever marathon, New Zealand's most popular marathon, the Fletcher Marathon held in Rotorua each year. Yes, I ran my first ever marathon at the age of 17, on Saturday 26th April 1980. How did I get on? The topic of my next post!

Although many of my comments within this post and other posts have focussed on performance, I think it is important to remind ourselves of the bigger picture, as highlighted by Dan Millman from the movie Peaceful Warrior - "It's journeys that bring us happiness, not the destination."

Enjoy the journey,

PS Sorry about the size of the graphs, I'm hoping to sort it out next week. Perhaps try saving the photo and then zooming in if it is too small.
I think I have finally managed to sort this out. Try clicking the following link to see larger graphs:


  1. Interesting Stuart!

    I feel quite honoured to be compared to you!!

    I appreciate your approach and challenges and will be giving it (weekly mileage) more thought.

    As far as why you beat me (hansomely) in ultra races I think the answer is that you are a better runner than me!

    There is no shame in that and my challenge is and always will be to try and do the very best I can in each and every race I do.

    Keep your posts coming!!

  2. Back again (lured by the link from John's blog) to say my piece...

    Have to agree absolutely with the 'strong self-belief in your preparation/your ability', but am afraid I just don't get the 'TOTAL MILEAGE that you have run EVER that is important!'

    Now, I'm 46, have only been running seriously for six years, clearly haven't accumulated the same total mileage as you guys and am no way as fast as John (let alone you) on the road. But I've got conviction in my preparation for a big off-road ultra like the West Highland Way and have already suggested to John that he'll need a PB to beat me... so where do I fit into your scheme?

  3. I don't have a clue about my total mileage run so far, but have only been running for ~9 years, with 4 years of ultra running, so it won't be much. I run 30-50 miles a week when training properly, peaking above that if I have a long race in a week. I am definitely not as fast as you Stu, but am not far off JK.

    There could be something in the total mileage run as I am definitely getting better year on year - I can see how this would strengthen muscles and tendons to stand the repetitive bashing of an ultra. I think there is certainly something about self-belief - if you really think you will run well, then you will. But there's also got to be something in the argument that miles don't matter as much as functionally splitting up your training e.g. including a long run, a speed session and a hill strength rep session every week. I do so religiously every week.

  4. Hi Stu, it would be intersting to know what weekly mileage (maybe the last 10 weeks or so) you have done to prepare for the UTMB. Is that something you would want to share?