Friday, January 30, 2009


In the early 1980s I owned a running store and a bike shop. Retail was one of the most challenging things I ever did in my life. In the first year I lost so much money that I could have put myself through Harvard Business School – and it would have been a lot more fun. But a lot of good things came out of this seven-year experience, not the least of which was a trip I won in 1982.

With money going out the door faster than it was coming in the first couple of years I had to learn fast. By 1982 Runner’s World magazine named my tiny store one of the Top 25 in the US. Of course, there were probably 26 in the country back then. But we were starting to do pretty well. In fact, that year our store won a one-week, all-expenses-paid vacation for two to the Bahamas because of how well we sold Tiger (today’s ASICS) running shoes. Only 10 stores across the country were so fortunate. Joyce and I still consider it one of the most fun vacations we ever took.

One of the other store owners who won the trip was Gary Muhrcke who owned the Super Runner’s store in New York City. Gary was the winner of the very first NYC Marathon in 1970. We agreed to run together every morning of the trip. So the next morning I met him in the lobby of the hotel and we went for a one-hour run together. After a brief warm-up he began to pick up the pace. Soon we were running sub-6 per mile pace. It was all I could do to hang on. After that I wasn’t looking forward to the rest of the daily runs. So the next morning I came to the lobby with some trepidation. We warmed up slowly and, interestingly, Gary never picked the pace up. We jogged along at an embarrassingly slow pace around 9-minutes-per-mile for an hour. It was a lot easier than I normally ran even when I was tired, which I definitely was that day. The third day was just like the first – tongue hanging out and labored breathing for an hour. The fourth day was extremely slow again. And so it went for the week.

That week Gary introduced me to the concept of alternating hard and easy days. I know that today this is a pretty basic concept but back then it was unusual I came to realize that I could make the hard days much harder if the easy days really were easy instead of moderately hard. My racing times improved. . It was never the same for me again.

Experiences like this one with other athletes, coaches and sports scientists throughout the 1980s helped to shape the way I saw the world of endurance training. It was the best education I could have ever gotten.


At January 30, 2009 1:50 PM , Blogger Speedy said...

Thank you so much for posting this! Many many collegiate and post-collegiate runners still run their easy days "moderately hard", and I'm unfortunately one of them. I've started cycling recently and am using your cycling bible for my training this year. Recently, I have been thinking about how (and if) the low heart rates for easy cycling days could apply to easy running days. You turned a light on over here. Thanks again.

At February 2, 2009 12:01 PM , Blogger MedPhysio said...

Hi Joe,

I have your cycling bible and I have a doubt. When using the table that suggests annual hours by age category and experience, should I consider the Junior category as if they were training only for cycling or that they are adding those hours of training to another sport? Thanks.

At February 2, 2009 2:54 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

MP--The table was intended only for cycling.

At February 2, 2009 6:16 PM , Blogger SanDiegoPJ said...


This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately as I'm not sure I take enough EASY days.

In addition to easy days, do you find much merit in doing really easy recovery runs in the evenings?

I know a lot of runners do this but how would a triathlete implement it, if needed?

At February 2, 2009 6:18 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

SDPJ--Interesting question. I believe that a triathlete should never do a run only to recover. Bike and swim are much better recovery modes.

At February 3, 2009 7:36 AM , Anonymous Shane84 said...

Is there a chance that you would ever write "The Runner's Training Bible"? I think it is badly needed because I haven't seen any books for road runnning that use periodization and your unique training bible methods for runner's to follow just like the Cycling or Triathlete's training bibles.

At February 3, 2009 7:50 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Shane84--Thanks for your comment. I wouldn't rule it out but there has never been any talk of it with my main publisher as they don't have access to that market.

At February 3, 2009 8:42 AM , Blogger Andy Waterman said...

First time I raced in Belgium, I couldn't believe how easy the guys took their non-racing days. They'd kick my arse in a race, then I'd try and ride away from them the next day. What an idiot.
Over there you can race three days per week without travelling, so every other day was a pure easy day @ 20kph in a small gear to the cafe and back.
It made me realise I was good at training, but not so great at racing. Now I train to race and I'm a much better racer

At February 3, 2009 8:40 PM , Blogger mikesaif said...

Joe, I came across your blog a month or so ago. I used to "live" on a bike in my teens but barely touched one until last spring. I'm now age 46 but active and relatively fit.

I had my anaerobic threshold tested over a year ago and it was 167. When I pushed to maximum on sprints, it went to about 174 at the most. But now, I can get to about 180 and sustain that for about a minute or more.

My question is about zones. I hear about building a base and spending longer time in Zone 2. I have 5 zones that we use at Lifetime Fitness but I'm not sure if this relates to the same zones that are talked about in cycling.

With my max heart rate, what would the zones be?

At February 4, 2009 9:10 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

mikesaif--I'm sorry but I can't look it up for you right now. Traveling. All of the zones are in my books in tables.

At March 1, 2009 7:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm a 63 year-old recreational cyclist, who has followed your 500 hour/year training program for the last 4 years.

Recently, I began a swimming program to replace recovery workouts on the bike. I'm beginning to have some arthritis problems with a knee that had ACL surgery 45 years ago!

I now ride 3 days per week and swim 3 days with one day total recovery. I alternate the ride and swim days. My rides are the three longest sessions precribed for the 500 hour/year program.

Here's my question: The swim sessions are high quality. Can I expect to follow a high qualtiy swim day with a high quality ride day?

Walnut Creek, CA

At March 2, 2009 1:20 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi John--No way of knowing short of trying it, I'm afraid. There is a lot of individual variability when it comes to recovery. You may find it works out ok for a few days but then fatigue begins to take its toll. But you're doing the right thing to be thinking about intensity as you age. Too many senior athletes forego the upper intensity workouts in favor of LSD. That's not good for performance or the rate of aging.


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