Consider a weekly training block, one which the runner is going about 80 miles per week. This leaves plenty of room to play. Here's a theoretical week for such a runner broken into mornings and evenings:
You can see the running is semi-distributed, with chunks of big miles followed by rest days. But let's change things a little, moving miles here and there, and modifying workouts a little to spread the miles even more:
And again let's return to lumpier mileage, but still different from the first:
Or for that matter let's try having only single-run days
This could go on all day. Clearly there are thousands (millions, really) combinations to be had while holding mileage constant. I didn't even touch on the rest intervals of the workouts, their intensity, or even switched the day they were on. Plus there's could be extra variables like changes in terrain, strength work, and easy running pace. Ok, let's go with just one more:
If you think all of these workout weeks are the 'same' just because they add up to similar mileage then you're
Let it be clear: all the above schedules are different. The opposite view is absurd. Imagine someone arguing that all songs with the same number of notes are equal. Looking at the sheet music below, what kind of person would evaluate the following musical score by counting the total number of notes?
This would be crazy, but it's equivalent to what a lot of runners do. The appropriate way to acknowledge the above music is that it's possibly a complex piece of music. But that is in the eye of the beholder. Others may see this piece as simple repetition.
To continue the musical analogy, it is perhaps even more appropriate since both running and music share a common thread: the fugue.
In music a fugue is described as "a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and recurs frequently in the course of the composition"
As with music, running can be described as a mixture of elements ranging from strength, endurance, short intervals, mid-distance speed, long intervals, and -of course- rest. Each element has it's own schedule, not fully independent of the others, but rhythmically intertwined. Here is how I image, in simplified terms, six weeks of training cycle:
Each day a vertical slice of time, in which you have time to press certain keys, else pause and let the previous day's efforts take their desired effect. Like with music, periods within a training block/stanza are similar yet slightly altered. In the above diagram, all the brackets are on a weekly loop. But certain elements like strength take longer, while sprint-type intervals for pure speed work may take less. Or endurance building, which takes perhaps years to master. They must each be matched for on another.
It is patently obvious the arrangements in a single week are near-infinite, and for multiple weeks the combinations lie beyond imagination. Like with music, it's easy to invent meaningless combinations of notes, but hard to find particular frequencies that mesh properly together.
So why do so many runners effectively focus on the most meaningless element of the music: the total number of keys pressed? The true complexity of training comes from a very different place: renewed stimulation of body and mind by joining, cooperatively, the many elements together. Person X bragging they run more than person Y is akin to mashing all the keys on a piano and declaring a superior composition.
We all have certain rhythms and themes in our training and in ourselves. As certain habits become solidified, other habits crystallize around these core habits until a schedule becomes so inflexible that it could be described as a case of rigor mortis. An athlete who is 'stuck' in a particular training pattern is like having the same tune forever stuck in one's head.
What then happens when such an athlete decides to break the mould and 'take it to the next level'? Since only one variable is left to be tinkered with, mileage, the athlete simply adds more of the same stuff to the pot. The ingredients don't change, nor the flavour. The aspiring runner hopes the body will say "yes, you had it all right before, only there just wasn't enough of it". If only it were that simple. It should be clear by now why this simple 'more is better' concept is seldom the answer. New changes to training are meant to cause new stimulations, which can often be the byproduct of re-arranging the elements in a creative fashion.
I worry some might read the above and think I'm advocating for a 'less is more' policy. This is missing the point. The point being that high mileage is good if and only if it can be used in the same creative ways a complex fugue can exist outside a specific note count.
Consider the following music by Bach, visually illustrated. Now imagine each colour represents a difference training element, the pitch is the intensity, and the length of dashes equals the volume (accomplished on that particular day). Only a true master can obtain coherence with so many elements at play, while others -bent on imitation- will just make a giant mess of it. Can you imagine where in this training song you might fit your desired race?
I apologize for using some mixed metaphors between soup, crystals, photons, running, and music. But I used these analogies to help demystify why so many runners seem obsessed, however wrongly, with adding pure volume to their routine. Runners mix up cause and effect. One should strive for coherence AND complexity, whereby volume is the result. An running 'ingredient', no matter how useful, must be modified with the hole. Volume is not such an ingredient, no more than a 1400-page count is essential to War and Peace being a good novel (there are no epic 15-page novels, but 900 pages might do). Without proper consideration of all elements at play such runners will never rise above mediocrity.
******* THE END? *********
A small aside: Using myself as an example, I did not actually start running faster by running more. Instead I discovered these things called intervals, and tempo. Up until my mid 20s I had never really experienced anything other than fartleks and easy runs. These were solid foundations on which to build as I was in no danger of burning out, but it wasn't enough. Soon I was running 400m to 1000m repeats, hills, drills, and a few spills. All together it boosted my running speed quite a bit. During that same time I did not much increase my total miles run, although ironically this was all I could focus on. The double irony was that increasing my mileage was the path to future success, but it was not an end unto itself. Volume is merely the means to elaborate -with more complexity- based on what I had done before. This crucial point I woefully misunderstood at the time.
Too many notes
Not enough notes