Maximize the Minimum: train less, reduce injuries, get faster?

In an attempt rid myself of chronic running injuries, I started running less mileage, focusing on the quality of my runs rather than weekly mileage. To my surprise, I started getting faster, closing in on some of my personal best times. After just 6 months of training this way, I set personal bests at 10 miles 57:29 and 5k 16:39.

I continue to hone the minimalist approach and I’ve been injury free for 3 years now. I’ve been able to meet or exceed all of my previous personal bests from 5k to Marathon, and complete a trail 50k, while running only 25 miles per week or less.

Basic rules:

  • Train intermittently
  • Long recovery periods between key workouts
  • Run fast only when motivation is high
  • Perform similar workouts week after week
  • Train for performance — not physiology
  • Train for pain

Train Intermittently

To avoid injury and overtraining, run very hard only 1 or 2 days a week. On the other days rest or run very easy.
Running injuries result from cumulative repetitive stress on the body, not from occasional hard efforts. By training hard only occasionally, you capture most of the training benefits while keeping your risk of injury low.
Push your body hard, as if racing, then allow it to recover for several days after.

Long Recovery Periods

Instead of following some arbitrary training schedule, let your body tell you when it’s ready to go hard again. Sometimes, you’ll be ready to go after a few days, other times it might take up to a week or 10 days.

Run hard when motivation is high

Only attempt a hard workout when motivation is high. Taking cues from your internal motivation helps you to maximize your workouts. If your brain is telling you to rest, it might be wise to listen.

Similar Workouts week after week

Prior to running my best 10 mile of 57:29, I had done several training runs of about 10 miles, gradually improving each time. This helped my body adapt to the specific demands of a 10 mile race.
Conventional wisdom says to keep changing our workouts in order to confuse the body and keep adapting to new stimulus. As a runner you are training your body for one thing—to run fast. By keeping your workouts similar, you teach your body to do one thing really well.

Train performance, not physiology

Most training programs focus too much on trying to improve some physiological aspect of running, be it lactate threshold, max VO2, or running economy.
Train to run faster, not to improve some granular aspect of physiology. We tend to get hung-up on measurements and forget the real organ that is holding us back: our brain.

Train for Pain

Last month, I ran two 10 mile time trials, two weeks apart. I took 45 seconds off from one trial to the next. How did I accomplish this? Not because I suddenly became more fit in two weeks time, but because I trained my brain to accept higher levels of discomfort.
Make your training as painful as possible by including regular time trials. You’ll be callousing your mind, training it to accept more pain and push beyond what you thought possible. Nothing hurts like a time trial or gives better feedback. It tells you exactly where you’re at and trains your brain for the kind of pain you’ll experience during a race.

Take-away

I’ve been training this way for about 3 years now and I’ve remained injury free, while running some of my fastest times and training very little. This type of training isn’t going to work for everyone, but it might work for you.
If you’ve been struggling with injuries, or are just looking for a way to get faster with less time, experiment with your training and see how little you can get away with.

Published by

Aaron

Paleo lifestyle enthusiast, Minimalist runner

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