MARCH 26TH 2016

BY COACH HERBERT PLUMMER

THE PRINCIPLE 

OF ACCUMULATION 

IN RUNNING

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Coach Herbert Plummer

Coach Plummer has guided both sprinters and distance runners in their training. He runs competitively for the Central Park Track Club in distances ranging from 1500 meters to the half-marathon. He trains year-round for road races, indoor and outdoor track, and cross-country. He is also a USA Track and Field Level 1 certified coach.

After any given run, therefore, you’re a little different than when you started.

Individual workouts, while perhaps memorable, are more significant within the context of a larger plan, just like a leaf plucked from a tree. While it might be pretty to look at for a moment, it also happens to serve a much larger purpose in the photosynthesis of a tree. To think of it another way, your training has a beginning, middle, and end. What would chapter 9 of A Tale of Two Cities sound like to someone who hadn’t read the first 8 chapters? A bunch of rubbish! OK, hopefully they’d still appreciate the beauty of Dickens’s language, but you get the point. Think of each workout as the product of what came before and the foundation for what will follow.


Many runners count their weekly mileage but it’s just as important to count your monthly and seasonal mileage. In a 20-week base buildup, for example, you might run 800 miles, or an average of 40 miles per week. This block of miles will do more for your fitness in the long term than a couple of 50 mile weeks and the remaining weeks at 25-30 miles. The latter approach might add up to, say, 600 miles for the block. Keeping the principle of accumulation in mind helps you see the big picture, and look at things from a long-term perspective rather than a short-term one. There is an enormous difference between having 800 miles under your belt and having 600: one has an engine only three-fourths the size of the other. Don’t aim for setting weekly mileage PR’s; focus on long-term consistency instead. With this in mind, you can see how the principle of accumulation leads to other important running principles, like patience.


Finally, the principle of accumulation works both ways. Fitness is accomplished through a consistent series of workouts strung together, kind of like Christmas lights: one here and one there might look nice, but together they’re a sight to behold. But push too hard, and your bulb will break or fizzle out; all that hard work can very quickly come to a screeching halt, breaking the whole strand of lights as you find yourself limping off the road.


A subtle yet common foe to runners everywhere is the slow accumulation of fatigue, of which the end result is chronic fatigue. You might be “healthy” in the sense that all of your muscles, joints, and bones are working properly and nothing hurts. But the reality is that your central nervous system is fried. By pushing just a little too much in every workout, your body might not fully recover, and over time the buildup of fatigue may layer itself like bricks on your back. Instead of feeling fresh and ready to go, you may carry over fatigue from the previous session. Then you may begin to feel restless, irritable, and sluggish between workouts.


Don’t let this happen. Catch these symptoms as soon as they appear, and do something about it. If you feel fatigued, communicate that to your coach. Take an extra day off, or do some light cross-training instead of your planned run. Go to bed an hour early. Back off on the weight room. Think of chronic fatigue as a virus: it’s treated best when caught early. Make the principle of accumulation work for you, not against you.


As a runner you will thrive when your body adapts to accumulated stresses over time.

Running is a sport of accumulation. The act, putting one foot in front of the other repeatedly, is an accumulation of steps that takes you from one place to another.

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