Like every coach and runner, I learn (and re-learn) new lessons all the time. Here are 6 lessons I’ve learned over the years and the training ideas that I recommend applying more often in training.
#1: YEAR-ROUND LEG SPEED TRAINING
Staying fast, yet avoiding anaerobic training is the key to building your basic leg speed year-round. Perform leg speed workouts across the year and you’ll see significant improvements in your speed and finishing kick.
The four-week rhythm in the table below is repeated two to three times throughout the 12 to 16 weeks off-season/base building and into hill training phases. The only adjustment is that the volume increases to 10-12 laps during the second and subsequent times through the series. Note that none of these workouts should involve “heavy breathing”, but are controlled, fast strides. You should feel no effects from them on the following day’s run. If you do feel fatigued or sore, you are doing the repeats too fast. Slow down and keep the strides under control.
A track isn’t required for working on leg speed. You can just insert surges that mimic the duration of the 100m, 200m, or 300m strides on roads or hard-packed trails.
I recommend adding additional leg speed training like six to 10 x 100m strides after two to five runs per week during your competitive training phase. You’ll be amazed to see how much volume of fast running you’ve added to your year without the stress of anaerobic, lactic-acid producing intervals.
Week 1: 8 to 10 laps of 100m “on” follow by 100m “off for a total of 16 to 20 strides. The key is to run fast, but under control. Use your best running form and play around with your technique to find your most relaxed, fast running form.
Week 2: 8 to 10 laps of 200m “on” followed by 200m “off” for a total of 8 to 10 strides. These will be run slightly slower than your typical 200m interval workout. Slow down a little to keep from building up large amounts of lactic acid and jog very slowly on the “off” interval.
Week 3: 8 to 10 laps of 300m “on” followed by 100m “off” for a total of 8 to 10 strides. With the short recovery interval, you’ll be reminded to run fast, but not hard on the 300s.
Week 4: 4 sets of 300m, 200m, 100m “on” with 200m jog rest and 400m jog between sets. I added this for variety and find that it is very beneficial for your leg speed and basic fitness level.
#2: LONGER TEMPO RUNS FOR FAST MARATHONERS
Most Japanese marathon training programs are filled with long tempo runs of up to 40K (24.8 miles). While I think 40K is too long for most of us, I’ve had good success using tempo runs of 25K to 30K for competitive marathoners.
In this workout, you begin at just 30-60 seconds per mile slower than your marathon pace for the first 5K to 10K. Then progress to running faster and faster, parceling out your effort so that you can finish the last 10K to 20K at or slightly faster than goal marathon pace.
Long tempo runs are especially beneficial for athletes that find stamina training (efforts at 10K to marathon race pace) to be their forte. Speedsters may find that the long tempo run is especially difficult and tiring (Learn your runner type). If so, then stick with fast-finish runs (which start a little slower and progress the pace only for the last 10-25 percent of the run), and only occasionally do a long tempo run.
Complete four to five long tempo runs in your next marathon training plan (you can always jump in a race to use as a workout), one every two to three weeks, with the last 30K tempo run three to four weeks out from the marathon as detailed below.
9-10 Weeks Before Marathon: 20-25K Tempo Run. Start at 30-60 seconds per mile slower than goal marathon pace. Finish last 5-10K at or slightly faster than goal marathon pace. This will be a very hard workout.
7-8 Weeks Before Marathon: 25-30K Tempo Run. Goal marathon pace will feel harder than you wish it did while in training. It will feel easy on race day. Trust me.
5-6 Weeks Before Marathon: 30K Tempo Run. Prepare for this like you will for your marathon – equipment, nutritional plan, course, time of day, etc.
3-4 Weeks Before Marathon: 30K Tempo Run. This workout puts the finishing touches on the stamina needed to race a fast marathon. Run hard, but don’t leave the marathon in training – save something for the race itself.
#3: ADD FREQUENCY, THEN VOLUME TO BOOST MILEAGE
Running more usually leads to running faster. But running more can be tricky due to injury risk. The best plan appears to be adding additional runs (double runs in a day) to your week, not adding more miles to your currently daily run. In other words, if you want to increase your mileage by one hour per week, then try adding 2-3 double runs of 20-30 minutes, instead of tacking on additional time to your current running schedule. This method of increasing the frequency of running allows more volume with less injury risk.
Start with one to two double runs and build to two to four, depending on your injury history and mileage goal. Run 20 to 30 minutes on each secondary run and work harder than before on taking care of your body to avoid injury. Once your body acclimates to the double runs, you can increase the volume of your primary daily run, if desired.
By adding double runs on your key workout days, all the stress of training is placed on the same day and the recovery day can be truly a recovery day. So, if you do a key workout on Tuesday and Thursday with your long run on Sunday, I recommend adding a double run on Tuesday and Thursday.
#4: DON’T BE AFRAID / DO WHAT’S NECESSARY
Every coach is nervous about overtraining or injuring an athlete. As a result, we often keep the training short of the “red line.” But with competitive runners who have high goals, it’s important to not be afraid to spend some time of the year in the “red zone” as you get ready for your big race(s). Nothing instilled this more than a conversation I had with Coach Shigeo Watanabe, who coaches Yoko Shibui – one of the few women marathoners who’s run under 2:20 for the marathon (2:19:47 to be exact). When asked about their training, his answer was simple: “We do the training that is necessary to win the race.” Wow! How simple.
No ifs, ands, or buts with Coach Nabe. Just an acceptance of the work that is necessary to win. For Shibui, that means up to 150 miles per week with lots of marathon-specific workouts. She doesn’t do this year-round, but when it comes to the three months before her goal race, the gloves come off. Is it dangerous? Could she get injured? Absolutely. But as I’ve begun to push the elite runners I work with a little more into this “don’t be afraid” mentality, new personal bests and breakthrough races are becoming commonplace.
This “no fear” strategy requires a heightened focus on recovery – including massage, stretching, nutrition, sleep, and the like – but you can do it. Pick your period where you want to make a breakthrough, clear your life schedule as much as possible, then go for it! Be smart about how you progress the training, building up to your “red zone” level gradually, but then hunker down and get to work. I bet you’ll find yourself not only physically jazzed for racing; you’ll also be mentally pumped knowing you did the work to achieve your goal.
#5: USE HILLS TO PEAK ON TIME
The biggest mistake I made in 2009 was with peaking the Olympic hopeful track athletes I coached. Since they were young and didn’t have fast times, I rushed the race-specific training so they would achieve fast times early in the season (something high school and college coaches have to do frequently) and thus earn their way into faster and better meets later in the season.
The problem, of course, is that the athletes often peak too soon. I knew this was a risk, but felt the athletes needed the race-specific training to build their confidence and their fitness for these important first meets. While the athletes certainly ran fast and earned their way into better races, they peaked too soon – more mentally than physically I think, but with the same outcome.
The following year I added more hill training instead of the race-specific training in the early season. The athletes ran fast after their short hill training phase in 2009 and by extending their hill training to later in the season, I could also extend the base period two to three weeks longer as we headed into track season. High school and college coaches can apply this idea to their training schedules, and road races who want to run well later in a long season can also use more base training and hill training to help them peak on time. Here are my hill training plans.
#6: DELAYING FATIGUE WITH AEROBIC RUNNING
Related to peaking too early, another mistake I made was to add too much recovery to try to keep the athletes fresh. Once I saw that the athletes might peak too soon, I inserted a “down” week of just easy jogging for 30-45 minutes twice each day to allow them to recovery. They recovered, but they lost their mojo. Their training after the down week was good, but the interruption in training stole their momentum. The break from the training routine was just too much.
When I discussed this with the athletes after the season, they suggested that maintaining their normal weekly mileage, but avoiding speed and strength workouts would have been better. They would have maintained the feeling of being “in training” and getting ready to race.
Instead, I took them out of their routine and had them focusing on the wrong thing – recovery instead of racing. Lesson learned. Inserting a recovery week to delay peaking may be needed, but be sure it includes a lot of long, aerobic runs and full weekly volume. This can keep you physically and mentally fresh to you can charge until the end of the racing season.