Okay, I’ve been sitting on this for a while. Hawaii is done, the season is over, and more and more people are talking about improving their running for next year. I thought it might be nice to try to put everything together into a “one stop” place to lay it all out. I'd like to thank Desert Dude up front for his input as I put this together.
What I really hope to accomplish here is to offer a basic philosophy to cover the standalone 5K all the way to the Ironman. I would like to warn readers up front that this in no way pretends to be the be-all, end-all of run training. There are many right ways to train, and even more wrong ways to train. All I hope to do is give you one “pretty good” way to train. If anything, I hope to get you to think about how training is applied and how it changes from slower to faster athletes, shorter to longer races, lower to higher volume training weeks, and how to adjust everything once swimming, cycling, and LIFE is thrown into the mix.
I also hope that people understand that, though what I write here may be somewhat different, I do not disagree with Lydiard, Daniels, Pfitzinger, etc. If you were to read those three books, you would find on the surface some contradicting advice. All of their advice is grounded in the same fundamentals, as I hope mine is, but they do have slightly different approaches to how they implement them. I plan to offer my own method which helps bridge the gap between the books written for runners and the triathletes who run, as well as offer some common misconceptions and mistakes that are unique to triathletes.
I’d also like to warn you up front. This is LONG, so make sure you have a chunk of time allotted. ; ^ )
For starters, I am not an elite coach nor do I pretend to be. I have no experience coaching elite triathletes or high level runners and though I would like to think that we could share our training ideas, I in no way assume that they should be looking to me or especially this thread for advice. This thread is intended for the other 98% who don’t have years and years of a solid running background and who haven’t pushed their bodies near their potential.
On the other end of the spectrum, this is not intended for brand spankin’ new beginner runners. If you fit into this category, feel free to read along, but note that there are some threads out there that are more appropriate for you (like the following):
Basic Running Recommendations
“Advance Beyond Beginner Stage” Running Program
This plan is intended for runners/triathletes who have at least a modicum of running experience and are hoping to make some improvements in this area.
How Long is the Plan?
5+ months. For everything short of a marathon I feel pretty strongly that a well put together training routine will look 6 months in advance. Marathons and Ironmen can take even longer. I don’t do 3 month training advice! If you are looking for that, this is the wrong thread for you, though I can give you one piece of good advice right here: Don’t think short term.
Notes about Triathetes
It won’t take long for many of you to begin to think that you either don’t have this much time to devote to running, or that your biking and swimming needs are in conflict with what I write below. Continue to read through anyway. I cover these issues and how to make adjustments at the end of this series of posts.
Let’s Get Started – The Need for Structure
My little brother gave me a good piece of advice a few years ago that has stuck with me. You need a plan. He actually told me this with regard to his profession as a trombone player. There are many different ways to hold the slide of a trombone with different philosophies behind each method, but at the end of the day you need to pick one. Once you have picked a method, you can asses how to improve upon it, fix your mistakes, and hone your skills. Without a method, you will be making mistakes with no fundamental basis for identifying them or correcting them (coincidentally I just started taking drum lessons and am going through this process with stick technique).
One of the biggest problems I’ve seen with triathletes is that their running schedules are willy nilly fly by the pants lets see if I’m in the mood to run tomorrow. Get yourself organized! No matter what plan you follow, even if it is the complete opposite of the philosophy I outline below, what is most important in your run training is that you dial in the proper training load. Whether you use a speed approach or a volume approach, the best way to improve is to take your body to 95% of its potential every day. Any more than that and you risk over training. Any less and you leave potential on the table.
What exactly do I mean by 95% every day? You aren’t going to do the same workout every day. Some days will be designed to be harder than others. On a week to week basis, you will need to listen to your body and tell if you are pushing too hard or not enough. In a given workout, however, this can be difficult to tell. How will you know that at the end of a 4 mile run that you’ll be recovered enough to do tomorrow’s workout? If your plan is structured well, you will know this because last week you did 3.5 and sprung out of bed the next day, or maybe you did 5 and dragged yourself through the next workout. Without any structure, unless you have years and years of experience under your belt, you’ll be taking wild guesses, and probably getting them wrong.
Caveat: Don’t Write Your Plan in Stone
I do believe that a solid plan is a great idea and fully support the notion. I also think that if you dial everything in correctly, that you should be able to stick to your plan. However, you absolutely need to listen to your body and make adjustments accordingly. The structure is there to give yourself a basis from which to compare how your training is going. Often times your adjustments will be with regard to training pace or weekly volume, but it is also quite possible that permanent changes will be implemented into the plan. Perhaps my suggested long run hurts you too much every week. Maybe you need to knock it back a mile or two. Maybe the recovery days are just too short for you. Feel free to make theses adjustments, but be smart about it.
Six Days a Week (not a Beatles song)
The first part of my philosophy is to train 6 days a week. I don’t care how busy you are, how hard your bike sessions are, or how old you are, you are going to get the most out of your running by running every day. Do you really *need* a day off? Not really, but I think it’s better to be conservative and also to allow yourself some flexibility. Pretty much the only people who I think should be running 7 days a week are people who are too experienced to be reading this thread. ; ^ )
Unlike swimming or cycling, running is an impact sport and will beat you up. There is a much lower limit for how hard you can push yourself in a given workout before having detrimental effects. Improvement in running comes best from lots and lots of smaller chunks. Many of these days (identified below) can be quite small chunks…..so small that you can do them as a brick, a reverse brick, or even an aqua brick. You would be better off running 10-15 minutes on the treadmill before a swim workout than to not run at all.
A final IMPORTANT note about 6 day training – do not increase your mileage when initially adopting this plan. In other words, if you are running 15 miles a week on 3 days of running, then you should begin with 15 miles a week on 6 days of running. The workouts will seem ridiculously short at first. Just be patient. It won’t be long until it feels natural.
Base Training - 1:2:3
The structure I have adopted is centered around the concept of 2 workouts, a long run, and 3 recovery run days. It follows the basic easy-hard approach. During the base building period (the earliest part of your training) these will be long, medium, and short runs following a ratio of 1:2:3. A medium run is twice as long as a short run, and a long run* is three times as long as a short run. In my experience as a coach and an athlete, amongst all the different ways I have experimented, this formula seems to work out quite well, whether you are doing 10 mile runs with 5 mile recovery runs and a 15 mile long run, or 20 minute runs with 10 minute recovery runs and a half hour long run. Definitely space the long and medium runs out evenly with the recovery runs sandwiched in between. Play the day off by ear and see where it fits best into the routine.
*Many have asked about how the “25% rule” applies to triathlon. It has taken me a few years to figure out how to answer this question, especially considering that a long run that is 25% of the weekly mileage makes no sense for a triathlete who runs 3-4 days a week. As it turns out, if you take my 1:2:3 plan and work it out over 7 days, the long run is 27% of the weekly mileage. So as long as your long run is about 50% further than a typical run, you are in the right ball park.
How long should this base training phase be? It depends on a lot of factors and this is where the art of training and the concept of individualization come into play. I typically like to have at least 12 weeks worth of workouts before any race shorter than my longest run. If you haven’t developed the base big enough such that your long run is at least 80% of your race distance (ie 10 mile for a half or 21 miles for a full), you may want to extend the base period to attempt to develop this much needed base. For athletes that are in better shape, the base period can be as short as 4-6 weeks.
Before I get ahead of myself, let me introduce you to a very, very valuable website. This is Greg McMillan’s pace calculator:
Plug in your best estimate of a stand alone race time, and calculate the paces you should be training at. For the base training phase you should be looking at recovery run pace, long run pace, and easy run pace.
Many triathletes are shocked at how slow they should be running. All of these runs should be at a pace where you can comfortably carry a conversation. How can this make you faster? You don’t run slow for the sake of running slow. You run slow so that you can run more. Hammering through 25 miles a week for an above average male triathlete is only going to hinder improvement. You shouldn’t be thinking about how to get more out of the running you do, but rather what you can do to run more. As your mileage builds toward 35-40 miles/wk, your paces will naturally come down as your aerobic system improves.
Building Volume (phase 1)
Now that you have your structure down, a concerted effort at slowly and gradually increasing your weekly volume should implemented. Add no more than 10% from one week to the next. Keep in mind as well that many weeks should be repeated with no increase in mileage at all. It won’t be long before you hit a plateau where mileage increases don’t occur for months at a time. What ever you do, be conservative and think long term.
Introducing Threshold Training (phase 2)
For all race distances shorter than 80% of your long run, many many weeks of threshold paced training are going to be essential to running faster times. You may have heard many terms to describe this time up training: lactate threshold training, T pace, LT training, Maximum Lactate Steady State (MLSS), sweet spot training, tempo runs, zone 4, steady state runs, threshold runs, etc. No matter what you call it, it boils down to a solid hard but controlled effort for an extended period of time.
Jack Daniels has a nice chart on page 114 of his 2nd edition Running Formula to cover the different paces one should run for different durations. Greg McMillan also covers these paces in his pace calculator.
The chart in Daniels’ Formula is pretty self explanatory. Regarding McMillan’s site, use the tempo run pace to describe sustained 20 minute runs, and the steady state pace to describe threshold runs from 40 minutes (lower range) and to 60 minutes (upper range).
Once you have moved out of the base phase, I recommend throwing in a single threshold workout each week in place of a medium run. I recommend a mix of the lengths described above (20 to 60 minutes) at the corresponding paces. However, the entire workout, including warmup and cool down, should be at least a mile or two shorter than your medium run. For many of you, this will limit you to shorter workouts (20 minute range). I also recommend giving yourself at least 2 weeks to adjust to this workout, starting off with half the distance the first week, and then ¾ distance the next. Overall weekly mileage should not be increased at this time as the added intensity will lead to an increased training load. In fact, a *reduction* in mileage may be necessary and should be considered the day or two after this workout is introduced.
Racing Phase (phase 3)
This is the last phase of training when race specific workouts are added in addition to the prior training presented above. I will talk in more detail about this later as the second workout will depend entirely on what the race distance is. As you might have guessed from above, depending on the race distance and your fitness level, it is entirely possible that you will never get to a point where you are doing two running workouts a week in addition to your long run. In fact, for many Ironman athletes, and a lot of other long course athletes, your training may consist entirely of base training.
Coming soon: Part 2 - Description of differnt types of training
-----------------------------Baron Von Speedypants
-----------------------------RunTraining articles here: