A High-Mileage Manifesto
You’ve probably heard of the book 80/20 Running, perhaps even read it. But did you know that the original working title of this book was A High-Mileage Manifesto? I started writing it in 2013, a time when HIIT mania was in full bloom, CrossFit Endurance was making waves, and Run Less, Run Faster was the top-selling training guide for runners. Dismayed by these and other influences, I decided to push back in the best way I knew. It was only when I realized that the average runner can’t benefit from running more until they’ve first balanced their training intensities correctly—shifting from the typical 50 percent moderate-intensity routine to the 80 percent low-intensity approach of the elite—did A High-Mileage Manifesto become 80/20 Running.
Despite this evolution, I remain convinced that exercising a lot is a proven best practice in endurance training that not enough athletes at the nonelite level actually practice. Scientific support for this position keeps coming. The latest evidence arrives in the form of a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. Japanese researchers surveyed 587 runners (all male, unfortunately) about their training prior to their participation in the 2017 Hokkaido Marathon. Intensity data were not included in this particular study. The researchers were specifically interested in identifying links between various volume-related parameters and marathon performance—and they found them.
Among runners who trained with equal frequency, there were significant correlations between monthly training volume, average run distance, long run distance, and marathon time. In other words, given two runners who each trained five times per week, the one who packed more miles into these runs tended to perform better on race day. Interestingly, though, when the researchers compared runners at different levels of monthly volume, there were no correlations between training frequency, average run distance, long run distance, and marathon time. This suggests that monthly volume matters a lot, and how one achieves it matters less. But it does matter some, for when the researchers looked at runners who had the same average run distance or long run distance, strong correlations were found between these variables and monthly volume and marathon time.
On the basis of their findings, the researchers concluded, “These results indicate that monthly training volume is the most important factor in predicting marathon time and that the influence of monthly training volume is only significant if the running distance per workout exceeded a certain level.” The lesson I draw from this study as a coach is that, if you want to race a good marathon, you need to run high-mileage consistently. Get your volume up to a high but sustainable level and keep it there.
Perhaps I’ll get around to completing A High-Mileage Manifesto one day. For now, here’s the overview to a proposal I wrote for the book.
In 1945 Arthur Lydiard set out on a five-mile run that changed his life—and the sport of running—forever. The young track racer struggled to keep up with a much older man on that relatively short jaunt and came home humbled, realizing he was not nearly as fit as he’d thought he was. Sensing that the secret to running faster in races was to run farther in training, Lydiard gradually built his endurance to the point where he was able to easily run well over 100 miles every week, which was unheard of in those days. In 1953, Lydiard, now thirty-six years old, won the New Zealand Marathon Championship. Afterward he was inundated by requests for coaching from other runners.
At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, three athletes coached by Lydiard won medals (two of them gold). Suddenly the whole world was interested in Lydiard’s high-mileage training approach. Within a decade this approach had been adopted by virtually every elite runner on earth and was responsible for a drastic improvement in world records at all race distances between 800 meters and the marathon. Today the essence of Lydiard’s training system is still practiced almost universally by professional runners and by most collegiate runners and serious high school runners.
Curiously, however, the vast majority of runners who take up the sport as adults do not run high mileage and are not even aware that this training approach is regarded by every true expert as the necessary path to the full realization of any runner’s innate potential. Of course, the average recreational road racer with a full-time job and a family cannot be expected to run more than 100 miles per week as the professionals do. But it is bizarre that such runners are not even encouraged to run as much as they reasonably can. No other sport is bifurcated in this way, where competitive young athletes and recreational adult athletes are not even taught the same methods to improve.
The split occurred when the sport of running exploded in popularity in the 1990s and it has widened steadily since then. The rapid minting of new adult runners has created opportunities for new coaches to guide and train them. Almost without exception, the opportunists who specialize in mentoring adult recreational runners have little or no background in serious competitive running and were never indoctrinated into Lydiard’s high-mileage training approach. Knowing no better, these pseudo-experts base their own training systems not on high mileage but instead on “new” methods such as high-intensity intervals and technique fixing, which are not new at all but in fact were tried by past generations of elite runners and discarded as inferior.
This madness has to stop. Every runner deserves to know the best way to train. While high-mileage running may not be for everyone, the method that Lydiard perfected sixty years ago yields better results than any alternative even when scaled to fit the lifestyle of the average recreationally competitive adult runner. It’s a crime that this truth, known to all of the sport’s true experts, has been hidden from the masses by lesser authorities. A High-Mileage Manifesto is an overdue corrective that rediscovers the lost secret to running better and motivates runners who are not already enjoying its fruits to give it a try in the way that works best for them.
Written by Matt Fitzgerald, whose previous books include the bestselling Racing Weight and the award-winning Iron War, A High-Mileage Manifesto does not badger busy runners to run more than they really want to. Instead it makes Arthur Lydiard and his method the heroes of a story of triumph against long odds and of lasting survival in the face of wrongheaded challenges. In this way the book gently persuades readers to make their own choice to embrace high-mileage running, which truly can be tailored to work for any runner, as the meaning of “high mileage” is relative.
Like Fitzgerald’s past books, A High-Mileage Manifesto is intended above all to provide a captivating and satisfying reading experience for all runners who enjoy running enough to purchase a book on the subject. Readers will enjoy the author’s rich portrayal of Arthur Lydiard, history’s most iconic running coach, about whom far too little is known by most runners today. They will also gain a new perspective on the history of the sport as Fitzgerald traces the evolution of training methods from the nineteenth century to the Lydiard revolution to today. And they will have their minds blown by Fitzgerald’s limpid explanations of fascinating new science proving the superiority of high-mileage running in unexpected ways that almost no one yet knows about.
The book is organized as a linked set of narrative essays arranged in a loosely chronological order. Chapter 1 lays out the problem to be solved. The next several chapters take the reader on a journey of entertaining persuasion that follows the story of Lydiard’s great idea from its unlikely conception, through its astonishing world takeover and subsequent setbacks, to its ultimate vindication. The concluding chapter tells runners of all experience and ability levels everything they need to know to benefit from high-mileage running. By the time they get there readers will be keyed up beyond all expectations to do just that.