Why would you want to run 30 days in a row? I got that a lot over the last few weeks. I never considered myself a real runner. . . Over the last few years I have been able to build a pretty good endurance base that was spread over a few different sports but I have always lacked the running volume to perform where I felt like I could on two feet. This became painfully obvious at the end of triathlons when I was in survival mode just trying not to get run down. As I now know, my lack of discipline to control my intensity while training lead to never gaining the frequency to hold a steady base of miles in my legs. This opened me up to injury and fed my lack of focus for running. Never following a structured training plan only made it easy to make running the sport I left out . . . usually the case for ones limiters. It was time for me to change that.
A couple of months ago, I decided to try a different approach to running that my buddy Sean had been telling me about for over a year now. Frequency first! Even if it was 20min, I was trying to run more than 2 or 3 times a week and not increase my volume as much as I have tried to in the past. Oh, and I was not running ALL OUT every time I headed out of a run. It was not until sometime in October that I finally put together 10 (injury free) weeks in a row of about 20 miles a week before I added anything more. It was working.
Just at about the last week of that 10 week block I came across the 30 Runs in 30 Days Challenge on Gordo's website and then saw that “the game” was starting Jan 1st on Twitter. I had just finished up my biggest weekend of running all year in December and thought it would be a good time to keep it going for another 28 days! Why wait until next year? This looked like the perfect challenge for me to focus on frequency, build durability and learn to control my intensity. Just having the thought of running day after day put a damper on those accelerations that I had ingrained in my running habits.
The “game” was pretty simple. The goal was to try and run 30 times within a 30 day window with a minimum time of 30min of running to count as “a run”. You didn’t have to run everyday. If you ran a double (a.m. run and p.m. run) you could “bank a run” so you could skip a day. What I like about the game is that it rewards consistency over the “go big or go home” approach. You get credit after just 30min of running. Miles do not count. Speed does not count. Running over 30min does not get you any additional points unless you are running 30min twice a day. Then there is bonus point for every 5 days of running that increment as you go along encouraging frequency and consistency. Good lessons to learn from a “game”.
It was not like I was racing a country or something and people do run much more. Dean ran 50 marathons in 50 days. I remember Kevin Patrick on his way to running 100 days in a row. Ultramarathon runners could probably run the minimum miles on their easy weeks but for me it was just beyond what was reasonably possible. I had just wrapped up the two of the biggest training months of my life and after the longest weekend of running all year decided to keep it rolling for another 28 days playing the game. Just doing the minimum of 30 minutes of running seven times a week at about a 10min/mi pace would get me 21 miles a week.
Something that is as simple as a “game” but is just beyond my reach of fitness, experience and expectations for me in running. I love it. It scared me enough to focus on the task at hand and push me to pull out all the stops to make it happen. I have never taken things like keeping my HR down, focus on form, getting adequate sleep, food and recovery more seriously. Until this game I had never ran more than 4 days in a row and there was only two weeks in 2009 where I ran five times in a week. Needless to say I was worried about injury and my pride of not finishing the 30 days (this is where my rules come in below) but this is exactly what I liked most about it. It kept me praying, eating and recovering harder than ever so that I could back it up day after day. That is the something that extends beyond just a game, running or training itself. Love it!
I had some simple goals for the challenge and some rules to follow to keep my goals on track, injury free and having fun with it.
Don’t get injured – Goal #1 and Rule #1 - Many things wrapped around this like pace/stretching.
Run everyday – even if I could bank double runs I wanted the mind frame of running day after day
Progress my long run – I didn’t want to survive on just 30min runs each day
Keep the balance with swimming/biking
Finish strong / negative split
I set my watch to just display my current heart rate and overall time. I also had it set to “auto-lap” every mile to start recording pace throughout the 30 days. I didn’t always have my heart rate strap on to collect my HR stats…Sometimes it was not working and sometimes I didn’t want the tan lines from the winter sun in SoCal ;-) Yes, it is pretty good down here. I set my “alert” on my watch to beep whenever my heart rate got to 155bpm or higher to warn me to slow it down.
Although it is not completely accurate (my max HR is about 191bpm and I doubt I ever got over 165bpm) it gives a good outline for where my watch was beeping at me and how I would tend to run right up against the upper limit. If I really wanted to watch my intensity I would set my watch to start beeping at 150bpm or due to the drifting as you can see there is always the desire to run it up right to the end.
How did it go? Well, the good news is that I reached all of my goals. Running and my habits just started to roll by day after day. It was one great sunset after another and I noticed a shift at about day 10. The easy runs were . . . easy. I started absorbing the running rather than just trying to survive it so I started to increase my long runs and had a few days when my intensity was a bit higher but nothing “hard”. By day 20 I was running near my race pace but at a steady effort. I am learning that life training at steady is a good place to be.
I could go into more details than you would ever care to hear about my running details but my “steady” pace basically progressed by dropping a little over 1min/mi in pace. In addition, that pace I could now hold for about twice as long and feels really comfy holding it. It was working!
I am now about a week after and am running injury free and happy. I didn’t miss a day of running during the 30 days and even added some double runs and progressed my long run to finish with a negative split. I was stoked to run most of the days with friends and my super encouraging wife Monique. A team effort!
...and Monique herself ended up banking more running miles than ever before just getting out with me for some time on two feet between our dinners and breakfast feasts. Good stuff!
This post could have been titled how to destroy yourself in 30 days… Not only did I start this at the end of the biggest two month build of my training ever but in trying to focus on swimming I ended up just about doubling my swim volume during December. I met my goal of “keeping the balance” between the other sports. My bike volume dropped considerably from the month before (55hrs in November) which is one of the reasons why I think I got away injury free. Dropping my intensity was also a huge help and relieved just how inappropriate my intensity was before.
In the 30 days ending 2010-01-10:
I had one more super secret goal for this challenge. IF I was running niggle free, absorbing the running and not just surviving it and IF I was getting stronger and building my long run I would try for my super secret goal on my last day of running. Day 30 I would try to run longer than I had all year (only 13miles). It turned out that I was not planning on running that long on the last day but I was stoked to get lost in Aliso Woods and run in just under 16 miles on day 30. I’ll take it!
Below is a look at my miles for the year and the 30 day wrap up. I banked more miles during “the game” than all of the summer months combined. Killer!
...and some more nerd graphs from WKO+. This one basically shows my “training stress” for the 30 days of running. This does not include other sports but just the TSS (Training Stress Score -red) from each run and my CRL (Chronic Training Load -blue) as the 30 days progressed. The larger spikes at the end are the days when I ran “doubles” and my long run. Time for some rest!
Is running 30 days in a row the best way to train for you run fitness? I don't think so... I know there is a lot of benefit to a rest day and I look forward to that more than ever now. They say that it takes 30 times of doing "something" to build a habit and that is what I was after. While I struggled to run more than 4x a week all year I ended my last two weeks running 8x a week. I developed some habit(s) during the 30 days that I hope I can keep for a lifetime. THAT is the good stuff! You don't need to be an ultra this or that to challenge yourself into a new habit or two and like Gordo says with the 30 runs 30 days, people always end up doing more that they set out to do. The hardest part is getting started!
“Success isn't how far you go, but the distance you traveled from where you started.” -Anonymous