While I do think it is important to vary your training, I think that there is a tendency to over-complicate things. The bottom line is if you run more you will become a better runner. There is so much information out there that people can become extremely confused and about the best way to improve themselves. It can be overwhelming, which is understandable. There are only so many hours in a day and we want to make sure what we are doing counts. However, if you can slowly increase your body's capacity to run more without becoming injured then you are doing yourself a favor. In my previous training cycle when I was running 60 or 70 miles a week, there were times I felt chronically sore. I would start to run and I would feel like my muscles had been rolled over by a truck. It was a terrible thing to see me run my first warm up mile. Since my marathon however, I haven't had any of this chronic soreness. I have my full range of motion and more miles to boot!
All of the photos in this post are from my 18.6 Chrome Ridge Loop in Siskiyou National Forest. This is absolutely a rave run. These photos don't do it justice, but the views are incredible. The thing about doing these long runs is you have quite a lot of time to think. Sometimes you are just focused on taking the next step, or your stomach, or the absolute insanity of intentionally running this far. Other times however your body is moving, and your brain is somewhere else.
Some of these miles are easy and others are hard, however all of them are going to contribute to improvement. There will certainly be a point in my life when I feel that I have reached the limits of what I can do in the sport. At that point I will probably lose motivation to train and turn to other pursuits. I know I will always be active, however I believe that personal reinvention is possible. That it will be necessary, even. For now though, I am happy to run long after the sun has set and pass on some other joys in life.
Speaking of personal reinvention - there is an entire message board on Let'sRun.com dedicated to the subject of promising soccer players becoming renowned runners. I am sure that for sport X there have been many who transitioned to sport Y. Despite this, I think that the soccer-to-running connection is special. Galen Rupp (fastest American-born runner in a myriad of distances) was actually on his high school's Varsity Soccer team before being swooped up by legendary running coach Alberto Salazar at the tender age of 14. Off the track, recent breakout phenomenon Zach Miller aka "The Cruise Ship Kid" was a soccer player in high school and recently won arguably two of the most competitive 50 mile races in the US. He hung up the boots after his sophomore year in high school, but like Rupp, he loved it. Finally I want to highlight Wade Barret. Those soccer friends of mine reading this may recognize the name from MLS, or his stint in Europe. Barret was a professional soccer player for twelve years, and after retiring in 2009 he picked up ultra running. Admittedly, he hasn't torn the ultra field apart, but finishing his first 100 miler in 13th place isn't too shabby for a recently picked up pastime.
All three of these guys have reinvented themselves. It's not the specifics of your dream that matter, but the pursuit of it. Go get it Mafia.