During these first several weeks of training, most of us have been slowly and steadily increasing our mileage in terms of both the length of our long runs and our aggregate weekly mileage--and I’ve heard from many of you about the tremendous progress you’ve made, both physiologically and psychologically. Congratulations!
For some, each of these weeks has brought about new records – covering more miles than you’ve ever run before. For others, speed, strength and endurance are improving noticeably. What once seemed a tedious pace is now your ‘conversational pace’; I even overheard one runner comment that she is now able to sing(!) while running at a pace that used to have her gasping for breath.
Even runners who are not running longer or faster than ‘ever before’ begin to notice progress in their performance--progress that is often measured by their wanting more weekly mileage, a faster pace and longer runs. (“We want more! We want more!”)
Then we look at our training schedules (anticipating another new ‘best performance ever’ in the week ahead) and we discover our progress is suddenly diverted. “Why am I running shorter distances this week instead of MORE?
It seems counterintuitive that we reduce aggregate mileage and the length of our long run just as measurable progress lies before us.
Reduced mileage weeks are called ‘cutback’ or ‘step down’ weeks in training. These are planned points in training and a very important component of the training regimen—where ‘less’ actually becomes ‘more.’
LESS IS MORE
For the last several weeks we have been building up our mileage, with a consequent toll on our bodies. We have built a base, improved our fitness level and added stress to our bodies. This is positive stress. Our bodies are getting stronger from the additional time on our feet, from the longer distances covered each week AND from the ‘rest days’ along the way. In fact, the greatest advancement comes from the rest and recovery following the increasing mileage. Utilizing rest days and cutback weeks, we discover ‘Less is More,’ as our bodies begin to derive MORE benefit from LESS running.
Cutback weeks are like the walking intervals in a run-walk training schedule; or like the recovery intervals in a speed workout. Cutback weeks allow for muscle recovery before we again increase the stress levels which will come with increased training in subsequent weeks.
Less running, more improvement. Less is More.
Cutback weeks are important and should be followed as scheduled. Lower mileage – in terms of individual workouts and weekly mileage - sprinkled throughout the schedule promotes a stronger body, better adaptation for the next phase of training and sets the stage for improved performance with less likelihood for injury. Following the cutback, we are better able to safely increase mileage again. Without cutback weeks, athletes are more susceptible to injury or mental fatigue, sooner or later in training.
And there’s the added bonus of cutback weeks: For many runners training for a marathon, it’s often common for ‘life to get in the way’ of training. Illness, injury, work, social or family obligations - each can hinder training. If workouts (especially long runs) are missed, it is not safe to continue the schedule as if all training runs were completed. Strategically incorporated cutback weeks can help ease the transition back to your regular training schedule—and I encourage you to (please) contact me with any “getting back on schedule” questions you may have to assure there is not a risk of “over-compensating” for missed runs or overtraining.
Enjoy the cutback week.
“Good form will carry you through”®