Below, I’m going to take a look at some recent research done and then look at how that correlates with Moses Mosop’s training (1st at Kenyan XC Champs and 11th at Worlds).

Take it Easy:
There is a large debate in endurance training circles about easy or “junk” mileage. Does it do anything? How much easy running should be done? Does easy running actually make us better?

Those are just some of the questions that could be asked in regards to what exactly easy running does. Ask almost any (non-coach) Physiologists and he’ll tell you that intensity is the way to go. These physiology guys LOVE intensity. They all have their particular best intensity, whether it’s training at VO2max or Lactate Threshold. But almost all of them will tell you that running so many miles per week is stupid and that easy runs will only do so much.

Okay, so I’m making a vast generalization, but it holds some truth. I could give many examples of guys with PHD’s who write about the latest speed workout that improved performance by 10000%. It kind of makes me cringe. In fact, in my research for my presentation on Kenyan runners for class I came across a quote in a pretty good review article that said:

“The dominance of African runners in the last 2 decades may provide valuable insight into the training process. Their training appears to be relatively uncomplicated. In essence, intensity is emphasized over volume.”
“In contrast, in the author’s opinion, training in western countries appears to be guided by a ‘more is better’ philosophy which necessitates limiting intensity.”

It made me cringe. He went on to speculate that this intensity over volume emphasis was one reason why African’s were better at distance running. He’s not the only one. There are many others, and they do this despite the fact that there is evidence smacking them in the face to the contrary. Most science types won’t accept anything not published in a journal article, so much of the “anecdotal” evidence is dismissed. But even evidence from Scientific Studies, like one from Billat, et al., show that African’s train at high volumes (avg. between 160-175km per week leading up to a track season.).

But there is hope. A couple somewhat recent studies have come out that help show the importance of easy running. Both were done in Spain on relatively well trained distance runners (in one, performances ranged from about 30-34min for 10k I think).

The original study set out to quantify a group of runners training for two CC races using HR. They split training into 3 HR zones and recorded their HR during all training for 6 months. The 3 zones essentially came down to easy running, threshold type running, and interval/speed type running. It’s more complicated but that makes it easy to think about the training. At the end of the study 75% of the training was done in zone 1, 21% in zone 2, and 8% in zone 3.

The surprising thing was that the ONLY thing that significantly correlated with how an athlete performed was the amount of training done in zone 1. So, the more training in zone 1 an athlete did, the better he tended to perform.

This was obviously surprising since you’d expect that the amount of training in the faster zones would correlate to race improvement since they were racing over 4.1km and 10k. So, they did another study to figure things out.

In the 2nd study, they took a group of runners and split them into two even groups. One group did had a zone distribution 80%, 10%, 10%. While the other had a distribution of 65%, 25%, and 10%. They made sure the training load (calculated based on HR, essentially it is volume X intensity) was equal in both groups. Basically, the 1st group did more easy and steady running, while the 2nd group did more tempo work.
What happened? Both groups improved. That’s good. BUT, the group with more easy running improved even more so. In fact, they improved a statistically significant amount more.

So, what does all of that mean? EASY running, including junk mileage, has a place! It works.

Lastly, let’s look at Moses Mosop’s training prior to the Kenyan XC champs, which he won. For the months of November, Dec, Jan. and Feb. he had the following avg. miles per week: 124, 127, 88, and 125. That’s a lot of running. Let’s look a little deeper at the average training over these four months.

Weekly mileage –AVG= 116.2mpw
Regeneration Mileage (< 6:10/mi)- AVG=52.33%
Basic Aerobic Mileage (6:10/mi >< 150m) AVG=.03%
Medium Length Hills (200m >< 300m) AVG= .19%

Just to compare it to that last study, approximately 80% of Mosop’s training would be in “zone 1”. 10% in zone 2, and 10% in zone 3. Pretty crazy how that works out…

It’s no surprise that his training percentages come out that way. There’s some research that suggests that higher percentages of intense work may suppress the sympathetic NS a bit and effect catecholamine secretion. The important thing though is that because of Mosop’s large base of support on which to work, he can handle more TOTAL work. Thus his total work at the intensities is higher than someone else might be able to handle. Thus, why that someone else can only run 80mpw with similar percentages of intensities while Mosop can handle 120mpw with the intensity.

With all this being said, I think it is very important to look at EACH training session. Look at the progression of the training that Mosop did for example, it’s great, especially the long run progression. Looking at averages just gives us an easier way to look at how an athlete globally trains.

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    1. Anonymous on April 6, 2009 at 5:13 pm

      great post. do you have a link to what those 4 months of training looked like?

    2. Anonymous on April 17, 2009 at 5:01 am

      great info. Thanks for sharing.

    3. ashatteredclock on April 28, 2009 at 3:02 am

      holy crap.. thanks to the link I’m not gunna be able to sleep for a few nights.

    4. sports compression socks on February 4, 2011 at 2:49 am

      I’ll definitely be updating the blog with any news on the outcome.

    5. Anonymous on October 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm

      Can't it be the case that runners of higher mileage at zone 1 are just much more recovered——->perform better at practice——–> race better???

    6. Jake on March 15, 2013 at 10:09 pm

      Is there any chance that remember the authors of the 2 papers that you referred to, currently writing a "client report" type assessment and struggling to find papers that actually extol anything other HIIT. I wouldn't say that all exercise physiologists have this view but I agree that the emphasis in the literature on intensity is somewhat flawed in so much as the majority of studies tend to be short duration (4-6 week interventions) using mostly recreational athletes and clearly doesn't equate to world class performers

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