How to train

This is a summary of the Standard Wisdom, put together so club members interested in racing well would have easy access to the cumulative insight of leading coaches and athletes. This is about running and racing well; it’s not about cross-training or “Eight weeks to a 10K PR!” The first part, the seven kinds of training, introduces the various kinds of running you can do. The second installment is about “periodization” and having a racing season and a focus race. The third part is on how to construct a training plan for yourself. The final part is a sample schedule with some typical workouts, to give you a worked-out example of how to combine the various elements into a coherent and specific plan.

The seven kinds of training.
The following are the commonly accepted norms of modern distance training. Each kind of running has a particular use, a particular place in a training plan. Next month’s tip will show how to combine them; for now, we’ll look at each type of training individually.
In all of these, remember the principle of minimum effective stress. The easy way is hard enough.
    Recovery. For the serious racer, the most important kind of running. Run real slow. Even walk. Don’t go very far. This should be easy enough to be inviting no matter how beat up you are from other training. Make however easy it has to be for you to look forward to it. At least one world-class runner begins his season by mapping out his recovery days.
    Long distance. Builds endurance, the ability to run well when tired. The most common approach is to run about 20-30% slower than marathon race pace. If you can run a marathon at 7:15 pace, for example, you’d do you long runs at around 9-minute pace. As a general heuristic, the second half of a long run has twice the training effect of the first half. Said another way, it’s only after you’re well outside your average run length that the effects of a long run begin. Long runs take four to six weeks to have a positive effect.
    Tempo. “Tempo” is broadly used, but generally it means fast steady-state running. Two common tempo paces are current marathon race pace (or slightly faster) and the pace at which you could race for an hour. For the former, long sections are possible, of 30 or 40 minutes, up to an hour if you’re very fit. For many people these correspond with 85% – 87% HRR. For the ‘hour-pace’ training, sessions commonly run from 18 to 24 minutes, or up to 30 minutes with short breaks. Completing these sessions should require significant concentration; if not, you’re either having an extraordinary day or (much more likley) you’re not working hard enough. This is the heart and soul of training. This is what Coaches Vigil and Larson have Deena and Meb doing year-round, and moreso in preparation for racing. This is the core of Canova’s training for his half-marathoners and marathoners. Useful effects in from three to five weeks.
    Hills. This is hard resistance work coupled with fast turnover. Find a 200 to 800-meter hill, of grass or dirt. Warm up thoroughly, run up hard, rest only briefly, then run down very fast. Takes concentration and conscious practice of skill, especially running down. Immensely effective when done correctly – the Kenyans and Ethiopians swear by hills. Useful effects in three weeks. Can be done throughout season, though shouldn’t be done all year, and shouldn’t be done on asphalt. Might want to avoid going down any stairs (or possibly standing up from a sitting position) for a few days after the first session of the year.
    Anaerobic threshold. Roughly 3K – 5K race pace, repeat sessions of 3 to 6 minutes, with short breaks. (Six minutes at this pace is an amazingly long time.) As with tempo, should require concentration to complete. Good for road racing speed, pressing up maximum oxygen usage. Useful effects within two weeks, full effects with 6 to 8 weeks, depending on base. More than ten weeks of doing these risks overtraining and burnout.
    Intervals. “Intervals” refer to the time between hard sections, not to the sections themselves. The length of the hard running sessions is less important than the length of the intervals between them, as long as the sections are adequate to create sustained high heart rate. Continuous motion and short jogging breaks define an interval session; in almost all cases, the interval is less than the hard running. For example, five times 800 in 3 minutes with a 2 minutes break between each 800 would be an interval session. Powerful for developing speed and high cardio capacity. Very demanding. This is the tip of the pyramid – if you don’t have a base, this will make you improve quickly, but you’ll plateau well below your potential. Useful effects within a week, no further improvement within 6 to 8 weeks except for experienced track athletes who know how adjust their intervals for specific track distances. As above with burnout.
    Repeats. Useless to road runners when compared to intervals, though this is what the Tuesday night track workout predominantly comprises. Repeats are a set distance at a target time. Repeats are useful for track runners who need to practice running at a specific pace. For instance, a miler might alternate 400 and 800 repeats at 58-second pace. His goal is to practice that exact pace, and allowing himself enough rest to accomplish that means he can practice a precise pace even when tired – a pace he couldn’t achieve in an interval session. If you’re not a track runner, repeats are a waste of your time when compared with the alternatives. (They can be useful, as Tuesday night shows, for runners who aren’t doing the alternatives.)
If you’re an analytic runner, it might be fun for you to pull out your training logs, pick what you consider your best races, and using the above look to see what kind(s) of training in what kind of mix you were doing leading up to those races.
“Running kind of hard, but not that hard” isn’t on the list. That kind of running is fine. It doesn’t prepare you to approach your maximum capacity, but running for pleasure and racing casually is a perfectly good way to go. The above is oriented at runners with specific performance goals they’d like to achieve. That’s not for everybody, and it’s not for anybody all the time. The right use the above is as it best fits your running and racing.

Rusty comments that he considers lactate threshold and tempo to be variations on the same theme, e.g., one varies the speed according to length, but that anything above 85% HRR and below around 90% counts in that category. (3/2)

Racing season
Running goes in seasons and years, and decades. Last month, eight kinds of training were described. The next step is to assemble them into the blocks that build a season. Sometimes called periodization, this is the process of arranging training to first build aerobic capacity, then anaerobic capacity, leading to racing.
Why a season? First, you’ll never run your best if you never rest and never peak. More importantly, if you try to race well year-round you’ll either burn out or become chronically injured. This just seems to be the way it is.
To plan a schedule, pick your goal race or the first important race of your season. You’ll work backward from that date in planning your phases. Each phase is made up of one or more three-week cycles. (Three weeks because our bodies seem to work that way; if it’s known why, I haven’t encountered it.) Some athletes and coaches like four-week cycles, with a rest week built in. For masters athletes in particular, that’s not a bad idea.
There are many variations, but the classic Lydiard way involves six phases:
  Pre-season. This is building your basic running capacity. Daniels calls it the foundation/injury prevention stage. This is where you build up to whatever mileage is the right level for you. Galloway and others suggest running some strides twice a week even during this phase. (If you’ve had problems in the past with hamstring or Achilles, skipping the strides might be safer.) Think of this as “play” running – not in the sense of not being authentic, but in the simple sense of playing. Run fast if you feel like it, run really, really slow if you feel like it – anything but quality junk (running kind of fast, but not really fast, at the same speed every day.) This phase should last until you’ve spent at least three weeks at your target mileage, and you can’t wait to dive into harder training.
  Base. Now you start serious aerobic conditioning. Long distance and lactate threshold are bread-and-butter for this phase. Some long tempo work can be done if desired, and weekly strides for form and leg turnover should be added. This phase should last at least six weeks, nine to twelve is better.
  Hills/Strength. This mixes aerobic and anaerobic work, and lets you practice good form, especially form when tired. Continue the long run. Three weeks of two hill workouts a week, done Daws-style – warm up two miles, half-mile uphill hard, 3 x 200 for speed at the top, down very fast, run two miles, repeat the entire process three times, around 12 miles in all – will increase fitness more than anything I’ve experienced. Six weeks of this is as long as I’d consider doing this.
  Speed. Anaerobic conditioning, relaxation at speed, relaxation when tired. Mix short tempo and intervals. Three weeks is enough to see strong effects. At this point the long run drops off, replaced by occasional lactate threshold.
  Taper/Racing. Lydiard believed you couldn’t hold a peak longer than six weeks. Coe and Martin say ten weeks. (If you’re a serious marathoner, your racing “season” is a single morning.) At this point you may be doing a mix of speed and short tempo to maintain sharpness. Your races are your main conditioning, and if you’re running them as well as you’re now prepared, you’ll spend most of the week recovering.
  Full break. Go surfing every day. Hike. Synchronized swimming. Whatever is most fun, as long as it’s not running. No less than three weeks. If you’re not eager to get back to running, take as many more weeks as it takes.
There are many variations. Daniels, for example, likes to start with anaerobic and then go to aerobic, and as a college coach has to block out a season in 12 weeks. Dellinger liked having his runners go like maniacs (in three-week cycles, of course), then increase the intensity from there. However you choose to structure your season, keep just a few principles in mind:
  You have different sections, with different foci. You don’t do a little of everything, all the time.
  Each workout has a role in your plan.
  Expect to run poorly in any races you jump into early in your season. Races can be great tempo opportunities, but expect to get your butt kicked. Don’t worry about it – it’ll look a lot different in your peak races.
  Have as much fun with it as you possibly can.

Designing a training plan
We now consider possibilities for designing a training plan.
The biggest step is deciding you want a training plan. Many runners are happy to simply do whatever they do and enjoy the fitness benefits. Assuming you want a plan, whether because that’s how you train, or because there’s a focus race coming up, or just to try it out, then…
  Pick a time cycle. This can be as long as six months, or as short as six weeks. For master’s runners, remember that adaptation to training is less rapid than for younger people. Many like a 13-week cycle. It’s long enough to have the right periods, but short enough to provide variety and have a visible climax.
  Work backward from your goal race to block out the sections and decide when to start.
  Then simply fill in the sections, remembering that base takes longer to build than strength or speed.
For example, for a 13-week cycle, you’d likely schedule six weeks of base, three weeks of strength (hills), three weeks of speed, and a taper week. Simple and straightforward. Once you’ve got that outline, you refer to the training types to fill in the workouts that achieve your week-to-week emphasis.
None of this is complicated. The key is to execute. Trust your training. During the base phase, don’t waste a workout by going to the track. During the speed phase, go to the track or to Shoreline Park twice a week and do speed. Don’t get nervous and think you have to get in a long tempo run ‘just in case.’
Design your plan, execute it, and enjoy the benefits.

Sample schedule. In the past three sections, we’ve discussed the basic kinds of running training, how they fit together to make a season, and how to combine the various types into a training plan. Here is a sample plan, to illustrate the points, and for those of you who just want to know, “what should I do?”

We’ll assume a 13-week training cycle, and that about five hours a week is the most you can spare for training. We’ll futher assume your target is a 10K, and that you’re in good shape to start. The first step is to break the 13 weeks into four sections: base, hills, speed, and taper.

Base is six weeks, in two three-week blocks. Long runs and long tempo is the mix here. To aid assimilation of training – you get fit when you recover, not when you run – the third and sixth weeks are easier. For instance:

Week Mon Tues Weds Thurs Fri Sat Sun
1 Off Long tempo 25-30 min easy 40 – 45 min easy Cruise intervals 20 min easy Long (90 min)
2 Off Long tempo 25-30 min easy 40 – 45 min easy Cruise intervals 20 min easy Long (90 min)
3 Off Long tempo 35-40 min easy 60 min easy 25-30 min easy 25-30 min easy Tempo cut-down
4 Off Long tempo 25-30 min easy 40 – 45 min easy Cruise intervals 20 min easy Long (90 min)
5 Off Long tempo 25-30 min easy 40 – 45 min easy Cruise intervals 20 min easy Long (90 min)
6 Off Long tempo 35-40 min easy 60 min easy 25-30 min easy 25-30 min easy Tempo cut-down

Sample long tempo:
    25 min warm-up, including 6 sets of strides, 24 minutes at 15K race pace (reality race pace, not what you wish you could run), cool down by jogging out to the hour mark
    20 minute warm-up with strides, 3 x 10 minutes at 15K pace, one minute break between, jog ten minutes

Sample cruise intervals:
    20 min warm-up with strides, 3 x 8 minutes at 10K race pace (reality!) with 3 min jogging intervals, jog out to complete the hour
    20 min warm-up with strides, 5 x 1 mile at 15K race pace, 1 minute break, followed by cool down out to 60 min total. Some people like to do this workout based on the mile start times, e.g., if you can run 15K at 7:00 pace, you’d use 8:00, and vary the speed of their miles, running some at 5K race pace and some at half-marathon race pace; it’s a more demanding workout, more fun mentally
    20 min warm-up with strides, then two or three times 2K/1K contnuous, with the 2K at 15K pace and the 1K at 5K pace – practice changing pace when running hard; ten minute jogging break between sets

Tempo cut-down:
    “The Kenyan”: 20 minute warm-up, then 30 minutes at current marathon race pace, 12 minutes at current 15K race pace, 4 minutes at current 5K race pace, with no breaks in between, then 10 minutes of jogging and five minutes walking.

Hills last three weeks:

Week Mon Tues Weds Thurs Fri Sat Sun
7 Off Hill workout
(2 sets)
30 min easy 60 min easy Hill workout
(2 sets)
30 min easy Long tempo
8 Off Hill workout
(3 sets)
30 min easy 60 min easy Hill workout
(3 sets)
30 min easy Tempo cut-down
9 Off Hill workout
(3 sets),
plyos (1 set)
25-30 min easy 30-35 min easy Hill workout
(3 sets),
plyos (1 set)
25-30 min easy Long and as easy as humanly possible (90 min)

A hill workout is not just running loops in Hope Ranch. Find an approximate half-mile hill on a soft surface (grass, wood chips) – Shoreline Park or Hope Ranch are good. Warm up thoroughly, inlcuding some strides. One hill set comprises: run hard up to the top (mile race pace); short break (less than the time to the top); run hard down the hill, concentrating on relaxation at speed, leg turnover, keeping your hips in front of your knees; short break; 3 x 200 fast on the flat. Take a ten-minute jogging break (continuous motion) between sets.

Sample plyometrics (plyos):
    One set: 20 stride-pairs bounding for distance, break, 20 stride-pairs bounding for height, break, 20 stride-pairs skipping for height

Speed is three weeks:

Week Mon Tues Weds Thurs Fri Sat Sun
10 Off Long speed,
plyos (3 sets)
25-30 min easy 60 min easy Short speed,
plyos (3 sets)
20 min easy Short tempo
11 Off Short speed,
plyos (3 sets)
25-30 min easy 60 min easy Long speed,
plyos (3 sets)
20 min easy Short tempo
12 Off Long speed,
plyos (2 sets)
35-40 min easy 60 min easy Short speed,
plyos (2 sets)
25-30 min easy Tempo cut-down

Sample long speed:
    Twenty minute warm-up, 8 x 100 strides, then 800 – 1000 – 1200 – 1000 – 800 at 5K race pace with short (~2 min) breaks, ten minutes jogging (continuous motion), 5 x 200 at 800 race pace
    Twenty minute warm-up, 6 – 8 x 100 strides, then 6 x 300 at faster-than-mile pace with 2 min breaks, ten minutes jogging (continuous motion), 4 x 1100, with first 800 hard aerobic (3K – 5K pace) and last 300 at 97%of as fast as you can run, 2 minute breaks
    Twenty minute warm-up, 6 – 8 x 100 strides, then 1 mile, 1200, 800, 400, as close to mile race pace as possible, recovery half the distance of the interval (half-mile for the mile, 600 for the 1200, etc.)

Sample short speed:
    Twenty minute warm-up, 8 x 100 strides, then 400 – 600 – 400 – 200 at 800 race pace, 15 minutes jogging (continuous motion), then 6 x 300 cut-downs (“cut-downs” – each one faster than the previous)
    Twenty minute warm-up, 8 x 100 strides, then in a total duration of ten minutes run one mile 30 sec faster than your best race pace, using any combination of intervals you like, just as long as the combined distance is a mile and the combined time is 30 sec less than a mile race for you
    This one can be done on grass in a park. Twenty minute warm-up, 8 x 100 strides, then 20 times 30/40, 30 seconds at 800 race pace, 40 seconds at 15K pace. The 40-sec section is at least as important as the 30-sec section, probably more. You might want to break it into 12/8 or some other combination.

Sample short tempo:
    Twenty minute warm-up, 8 x 100 strides, 4 x 5 minutes at 5K race pace with 3-min breaks, fifteen-minute cool-down jog, Do on grass or other soft, irregular surface

Taper: Week 13. Assuming a Saturday race, on Tuesday you’ll head to the track and do about half of a speed session, and at target race pace, not at ‘speed’ pace. This will seem too easy. Don’t worry about it. Take Thursday off, run easy Friday with some stride-outs. If your legs feel heavy and you start thinking you’ve forgotten how to run – you’re good.

Race day: Run with your brain in the first half, with your heart in the second. Use up everything you have in the last mile.

Noes on the schedule:
    The hard days are really hard – if you don’t gulp looking at some of the workouts, then this schedule will be your introduction to what hard workouts are – and the easy days are really, really easy
    Every third week is (relatively) easier
    If you have even the slightest hint or feeling that you can’t attack a hard workout, cancel it completely and take an easy day or a day off. Do NOT try to make up for it later.
    You could have planned this out. You’d plan a different schedule for a half-marathon, or for a mile, or for a marathon. But now you have all the tools you need except to find out from your own experience what works best for you.

Have fun with it!

jk, 6/2/04

A few of the workouts came from Michael Sandrock’s book Running Tough, reviewed here; the mile-in-ten-minutes from Terry Howell.

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