STEP #1: LINKING THE LAB WITH THE RUNNER
As an exercise physiologist, I believe understanding sports science can help you train smarter and achieve your best performances. As a professional coach and full-time runner, I understand that the scientific jargon can be like, well, scientific jargon. There’s often a “disconnect” between what the physiologists say and what those in the real world of training and racing say (and do!).
In this article (the first of many offered on this website), I present a simple method to make the connection between science and reality and show you how to use this connection to improve your running. This way of looking at sports science gives you an idea of the underlying tenets of my philosophy of training. It would be presumptuous to say that this philosophy is a new, “magical” method. It’s essentially just the simple process I’ve used to make sense of physiology and how it relates to the time-proven methods of great runners and coaches – who are our greatest teachers of how to train and race. The result is as close to a foolproof way to plan your training as I’ve found.
GRAPH 1: MAKING THE CONNECTION
The fundamental connection between the lab and your training/racing is illustrated in Graph 1, below. To fully understand this connection, let’s simulate an exercise test and I’ll describe how the variables measured relate to your training/racing.
WIRED, PLUGGED AND READY TO RUN
If you come to an exercise physiology lab for testing, we’ll have you run on a treadmill. We’ll measure several variables that, as I’ll show, are key indicators of how you should train to achieve optimal results and your fastest performances.
Once on the treadmill, we start you running at your slow, easy run pace. Our instruments measure your heart rate, ventilation/breathing rate, oxygen consumption (VO2) and the level of lactate in your blood. We also record your effort level at each speed. These variables are shown on the Y-axis of Graph 1, above. On the X-axis, your speed is charted, starting slow and gradually getting faster and faster. The X-axis shows race pace, described by time. In other words, one-hour race pace indicates that this pace is what you can race for one hour. You don’t need to worry about what exact pace that is for you since the McMillan Calculator does it for you but I want to list these paces so you have an idea of the effort and how these match with changes in the physiological variables. Matching your real world speeds with various physiological variables is essential for applying the results of the test.
As you see on Graph 1, at your slow, easy pace, your effort is easy, heart rate and oxygen consumption are relatively low and your breathing is barely noticeable. There’s also very little accumulation of lactate in your blood. This pace is what for years has been called “conversational pace”.
THE AEROBIC THRESHOLD OR SECOND WIND
Once you’re warmed up a little, we slowly increase the speed of the treadmill to around your two and half hour race pace – marathon pace for some runners, half-marathon pace for others, somewhere in between for most of us. Each of the variables on the graph gradually increases — faster heart rate, ventilation, oxygen consumption, a little more effort and lactate. It’s at this point (around two and half hour race pace) that runners often experience what has been called the “second wind”. It seems that the systems of the body are geared up (muscles pliable with large delivery of blood, energy-delivery systems running efficiently) to the point where the pace seems to get a little easier. Some scientists have called this pace, your Aerobic Threshold. Again, you don’t need to wonder what your two and a half hour race pace is, the McMillan Calculator calculates that for you.
LACTATE, ANAEROBIC, VENTILATORY THRESHOLD
If we increase the pace to around your one hour and fifteen minute to two hour race pace, things begin to get interesting. Your effort becomes moderately hard but you could handle it for an hour or more. Both your heart rate and VO2 continue to increase at the same linear rate as before. At about this pace, however, you may notice that your breathing takes a noticeable increase – this is called the Ventilatory Threshold. The accumulation of metabolic by-products stimulates exhaling more air (and hence more CO2) to remove these products. We also see that lactate begins to accumulate slightly faster than at slower paces. In fact, if we increase the speed to around your one hour race pace, you see that your lactate curve takes a turn sharply upward. This is your Lactate Threshold, which you’ve probably heard about. Also present at this pace is what many call the Anaerobic Threshold. (This is differnet than the Aerobic Threshold discussed above.) The idea is that at the this threshold pace you begin to require increasingly more energy through anaerobic energy pathways.
APPROACHING HEART RATE AND VO2 MAX
Increasing the speed to 25 minute, then 15 minute race pace, your effort becomes harder and harder. Heart rate and VO2 continue their straight-line increase while your breathing is now labored. Lactate accumulates at a very rapid pace. The thighs become harder to lift. Fatigue sets in.
REACHING YOUR ANAEROBIC CAPACITY
When we take the pace even faster, reaching 10 then eight minute race pace, things really get interesting. Your effort becomes very hard, and breathing passes from tolerable to maximum capacity. Your heart rate and VO2 reach their maximum and stay there. Lactate is now accumulating very rapidly.
If we finally kick the pace up to your five or four minute race pace (or faster), effort, breathing, heart rate and VO2 are all redlined and lactate floods the muscles and blood. It will only take a short time before you’ve had all your body and mind can take. You’re now bathing in a sea of lactic acid. You give the STOP sign and straddle the treadmill belt until it slows to a walking pace.
NOW THE FUN STARTS!
While you recover with an easy jog, allowing the fog that is total exhaustion to clear, we now have a clear picture of your physiological status across several speeds. We can link specific effort levels, heart rates, breathing rates, lactate levels and oxygen consumption values with these various running speeds and race paces at various distances. We’ve just made the key connection between the lab and the real world – physiological responses linked with specific race paces. Using this information, we can now prescribe very specifically, the optimal training paces you should use to affect various key aspects of your fitness: endurance, stamina, speed and sprinting.
I’m not suggesting that each runner needs to get a treadmill test performed. On the contrary, I find that Graph 1 is very similar for all high-performance runners so it’s applicable to each runner’s training. In other words, it’s likely that at 30 minute race pace, you and other competitive runners will be operating at approximately the same percentage of max heart rate.
I simply wanted to help you understand the physiological reactions at various race paces so that you don’t have to go to a lab for testing. I want to show that by being able to estimate your equivalent race paces for various race distances (which is what the McMillan Calculator does for you), you can then train very specifically to obtain the desired physiological adaptations.
Effectively, you’ve learned how to link sports science with multi-pace training, the training system that is the foundation of most of the world’s successful training programs.
THE NEXT STEP
In the next section of this article, I’ll take the results of this test one step further and show how the various energy systems of the body are linked to specific types of training. You’re then ready to set up your scientifically-based, yet individualized program that gives you the best opportunity for success and removes all guesswork from your running.
STEP #2: THE 4 KEY TRAINING ZONES – ENDURANCE, STAMINA, SPEED & SPRINT
In the first section, you saw how different physiological responses occur at different race paces. In general, as you increase your pace: heart rate, effort level, oxygen consumption, ventilation and lactate all increase. Some of these variables increase linearly until reaching a maximum level or plateau (heart rate and oxygen consumption). Other variables exhibit a “threshold” after which they increase at a faster rate than at slower paces (lactate and ventilation).
It’s not as if this is completely new information. After all, you’re a competitive runner and have spent some time experiencing all these reactions. Nevertheless, it’s helpful to see it displayed graphically. Visualizing Graph 1 will carry forward into this and future sections to give you a complete picture of the training process.
THE 4 KEY TRAINING ZONES
In this section, I’ll break Graph 2, above, into four parts. Loosely, these four parts describe the four main categories or zones of training. While many coaches, athletes and sports scientists have different names for each category of training, for simplicity’s sake, I’ve named the sections: Endurance, Stamina, Speed and Sprint. I’ve used these terms before in articles I’ve written.
The first section of Graph 2, on the far left, corresponds to when you’re running at your slow, easy pace. I’ve labeled this as “Endurance”. Science and experience have taught that optimal “Endurance” training occurs when your heart rate is between 60 and 75% of maximum and your oxygen consumption stays between 55-75% of your VO2max. In this zone, your breathing is comfortable and the effort is easy. Your lactate level hangs around 1 to 1.5 millimolar, only slightly above resting levels.
If you follow the paces on the x-axis of Graph 2, you’ll see that the pace range for this zone is rather wide. Appropriate paces can be as fast as your three and a half hour race pace or as slow as your 10 hour race pace, depending on the workout. To see what these paces are for you and your performance level, you’ll just enter your times into the McMillan Calculator. But that’s the next step. For now, let’s discuss these zones in detail.
The goal of Endurance training is simple, to build endurance. To do this, your body adapts in very specific ways. Research has shown that Endurance-zone training results in specific adaptations to your cardiorespiratory and nervous systems as well as to the muscles themselves. The key cardiorespiratory or “central” adaptations that result from Endurance training include an increase in your stroke volume — the amount of blood that is pumped with each heart beat. The result is that fewer heartbeats are needed to deliver the same amount of blood to the working muscles. You experience this as a slower resting pulse and lower heart rates at a given pace.
In the muscles, there is a corresponding increase in the number of tiny blood vessels (capillaries) to deliver this greater volume of blood per beat. The number and size of mitochondria, the power plants of the muscle cells, also increase. You become more efficient at using fat as a fuel source, decreasing your reliance on your limited carbohydrate stores (muscle glycogen). Speaking of glycogen, Endurance training stimulates the muscles to store more glycogen making this fuel readily available for long duration efforts as well as high intensity workouts.
The nervous system becomes very coordinated in its recruitment and use of your slow-twitch muscle fibers, which helps improve your running economy. There’s even a stimulus for your fast-twitch muscle fibers to become more “endurance-like”.
You experience all of these adaptations quickly when starting or increasing your Endurance training. You go from feeling out of breath easily to being able to chatter throughout the entire run. Your breathing becomes easy and the legs no longer feel rusty. They seem completely happy to go for a run and when you encounter hills, there is only a mild increase in effort compared to the full-on lactic acid, breathing-to-the-max effort that you experienced before training. Objectively, you see your morning and resting pulse drop and your heart rate remain lower at a given pace.
The next section of the graph is the “Stamina” section. This zone corresponds to when you are running between two and half hour race pace to about your 25 minute race pace. Optimal Stamina training occurs when your heart rate is between 83 and 92% of its maximum (though this can vary from runner to runner), and oxygen consumption is 85-90% of max. In this zone, your breathing is fast but under control. The effort has been described as “comfortably hard” and your lactate level hangs around 2.5 to five millimolar, right about where your lactate threshold occurs.
Research has shown that training in the Stamina zone helps push several critical thresholds (lactate, ventilatory and anaerobic) to faster paces. The result is that you can run faster before crossing these thresholds. The key cardiorespiratory adaptations that result from Stamina training deal with what scientists call the “Lactate Shuttle”. While we used to think that lactate simply started being produced and eventually accumulated to the point where fatigue sets in, we now know that lactate is always being formed, just at different rates. At rest and during light exercise, only small amounts are formed. During heavy exercise, large amounts are produced. Once formed, the body has mechanisms whereby the lactate is “shuttled” to other tissues to be used for fuel, sort of like recycling. This recycling or shuttling has a maximum capacity, however. Once reached, the production of lactate outpaces its removal resulting in the accumulation of it in the blood. Thus, the lactate threshold is reached.
I should note that lactate has a partner, a hydrogen ion. When the lactate and the hydrogen ion are together, they form lactic acid. Once produced, however, lactic acid readily splits into lactate and its former pal, the hydrogen ion. Like lactate, the hydrogen ion which causes the working muscle cells to become more acidic and begin to fatigue, is controlled, up to a limit, by the body. This process is called the bicarbonate buffering system. This system captures the hydrogen ion thereby forestalling the rise in acidity in the muscles. Once this system is overwhelmed, however, the cells become more and more acidic which interferes with energy production and leads directly to fatigue.
Stamina training helps to improve the efficiency of these two processes and over time, results in less lactate and hydrogen ions accumulating, effectively pushing your lactate threshold to a higher pace.
You experience this adaptation as the ability to run longer and faster before “going over the edge” and suffering from lactic acid overload. Research has shown over and over that the speed at your lactate threshold is the most important factor in distance running success (5K to marathon racing). Push your lactate threshold faster and you will race faster over all distances. It’s therefore critical that you understand Stamina training and how to incorporate it into your program (the next two sections).
Just like in the Endurance zone, to receive the adaptations described above, you simply need to train at the paces that define the Stamina section of Graph 2.
The third section of Graph 2 is labeled “Speed”. This section corresponds to running between your five and 25 minute race pace. As compared to the Stamina section, the various physiological reactions to running at this pace start to redline. Your heart rate and oxygen consumption go from 90% up to maximum. Your breathing is fast and labored. The effort is hard and your lactate level tops four, six and even eight millimolar.
While Endurance and Stamina training stimulate adaptations that improve your efficiency of several systems of the body, Speed training works to actually increase the capacity of several of your body’s systems. Research shows that Speed training increases the enzymes that help liberate energy from our fuel sources, improves the lactic acid buffering capacity, provides a greater stimulation and training of the fast twitch muscle fibers and results in a greater ability to extract oxygen from the blood as it perfuses the muscles.
You experience this as increased speed-endurance, the ability to run fast for a long period of time. The running motion becomes more consolidated as all errant form changes (like flying elbows, funky foot plants) are eliminated. They require too much energy. Your breathing acclimates to fast, constant efforts and your legs begin to feel fast and strong.
Like the other zones, to receive the adaptations described above, you simply need to train at the paces that define the Speed section of Graph 2.
The fourth and final section of Graph 2 is the “Sprint” zone. This section corresponds to running between your one minute and your eight minute race paces. At these speeds, the various physiological responses are all at maximum capacity. Your heart rate and VO2 reach maximum. Your effort is very hard and lactate shoots higher and higher, reaching 12 to 20 millimolar in some runners. Breathing, as you would expect, is at full capacity.
There are two key adaptations that occur from training at paces which elicit these kinds of responses. The first is neuromuscular. Research has found that during this fast sprinting, groups of individual muscle fibers become more coordinated in their “firing” (contracting) so that you can achieve greater power and speed. Likewise, different whole muscle groups (like the quadriceps, for example) get “in sync” with each other resulting in faster turnover and a smoother stride. Basically, the body becomes efficient and coordinated at turning your legs over very fast. Your running economy improves.
The second adaptation affects the bicarbonate buffering system that we discussed in the Stamina section. Since training at this pace creates large accumulations of lactic acid (lactate and its compatriot, the hydrogen ion), it challenges the body’s ability to remove these by-products. With repeated exposure to elevated lactate (and associated hydrogen ion) levels, the body improves its ability to quickly remove it.
You feel these adaptations (improved neuromuscular function and acid buffering) as a smoother, less jerky stride when running at full speed. You feel that you are powerful and can simply fly across the ground. You begin to imagine yourself looking like the sprinters, smooth and powerful. Sprint zone training seems to greatly affect the torso of the body as you begin to run not just with your legs but to generate power through your core, pelvis and hips.
Incorporating some training at the paces that cause these reactions is often overlooked by distance runners who think that sprinting ability doesn’t help them, except maybe in the final kick to the line. However, I’ve found that athletes who incorporate a small amount of Sprint training into their programs are less likely to be injured, tolerate Speed and Stamina training better in addition to having more powerful “kicks” at the end of racing.
NOW YOU HAVE A PURPOSE FOR EACH RUN
Pretty simple, huh? Train within the pace ranges that categorize the different zones and you’ll derive the specific adaptations that those zones offer. By understanding these adaptations, you now fully understand what each run is doing for you. This is a very important but often overlooked part of the training process. Each and every run must have a purpose and you should know it! This isn’t meant to take the fun out of your training but more to help you decide what is most appropriate for each workout so that you have more fun, reach your potential and race your fastest.
When I make a training schedule for a runner, each and every workout lists its particular purpose. The purpose doesn’t have to be overly detailed but it should convey the goal of the workout. For example, if a runner is doing a long run (i.e., Endurance training), the goal is clear: to improve endurance, fat-burning, etc. It reminds the runner of the Endurance zone and that in order to receive the optimal stimulus that will result in the appropriate adaptation the run must feel easy (assuming that things will get harder as you run longer even at the early easy pace). This makes things easy and improvement a virtual guarantee. Runners usually mess up when they either 1) don’t know the purpose of a workout and then run too fast or too slow or 2) they don’t abide by the rules that govern optimal training in a particular zone.
You, of course, will now avoid this common trap because by knowing the specific race paces that define the parameters of each training zone, you can simply set your pace to match the zone and voilà, the adaptations will occur. (Of course, it’s more work than that which is why there are several important sections to follow!)
Step #3: The McMillan Calculator
Okay, before we go any further, I know what you’re saying. “This is great but I have no idea what my two hour race pace is and I certainly don’t know what my 8 minute race pace is! Help?”
Wonder no more. For the past 20 years, I’ve been working on a method that estimates your equivalent race performances using a current race time at any distance.
While there are lots of other methods for estimating race performances (and I’ve tried most of them) I haven’t found one that is specific enough, is laid out in an easy-to-read format or that is based on what runners in the real world are capable of doing. So, I created my own and now I’ll share it with you – the McMillan Running Calculator.
What is an Equivalent Performance?
When I say “Equivalent Performance”, I mean what would be an equivalent race time at one race distance based on your recent race time at another distance. For example, if you run 41:24 for 10K, you might wonder what you could run for a 5K or for the marathon or for a 30K or 15K. Using my McMillan Calculator, you’ll now know. Of course, I must say that these are “estimates” of what you can run. Actual results will vary depending on the course, the weather, if it’s your day or not and a myriad of other factors. However, I think you’ll find that within a small variation, these estimates are accurate. (Do keep in mind that a 5K runner is unlikely to run the equivalent time in the marathon off of 5K training. The runner would obviously need to train for the marathon to accomplish this equivalent time.)
Naturally, knowing what you could run at an upcoming race based on a recent performance can help take the guesswork out of your race planning. You’ll be able to set more realistic race goals and judge an appropriate race pace better. The results are performances that are more consistent and fewer “bad” races.
The Link with Optimal Training Paces
The second, and I think most important function, of the McMillan Calculator is that it also calculates your Optimal Training Paces. As was discussed in the last section, there are certain specific race paces that govern certain training zones. And as you’ll find out in the next section, you can even break these training zones down into specific types of workouts which have even more defined training pace ranges for optimal development. So included in the Equivalent Performance calculations is your Optimal Training Pace ranges.
Believe me, this will really take the guesswork out of your training and give you the confidence that every time you lace up your shoes, you are doing the best training possible to make you faster. The challenge is simply to be patient, obey the optimal training pace zones and sit back and wait for the adaptations to occur.
The McMillan Calculator
To determine your Equivalent Performance and Optimal Training Zones, click here. Simply enter your goal distance and time then choose a recent race distance, making sure to choose a distance for a performance which accurately reflects your current fitness level. In other words, put in a good race, not a bad one.
Next, enter your time in hours (if necessary), minutes and seconds of that recent race. Hit Calculate and voilà! your equivalent performances for every race distance from the 100m to 100 miles as well as your optimal training paces for all the key workouts.
Go ahead and print a copy of your worksheet )there’s a little print icon at the top right) as this will be helpful in the remainder of this article.
How to read it
Cool huh? In your hands is now complete information on your optimal training paces and on what you can expect to run at different distances based on your current fitness level. In the Race Times section, you see your equivalent performance for distances of 100m to the marathon along with the pace per mile. (You can change to pace per kilometer with the Mi/KM toggle at the top right). The paces will be helpful in planning your pacing strategy for upcoming races.
Again, I should point out that these are estimates of what you can run for other distances. As you know, terrain, weather and simply if you’re “on” or not can affect your final time. But, I think you’ll agree that having a close estimate makes race planning and goal setting much, much easier. Over the past several years, I’ve had many athletes evaluate these estimates based on their real world performances and think you’ll find that each equivalent is accurate.
Really for fun more than anything else, I’ve listed equivalent performance for distances you probably will never run, the 100m, 200m, 400m and 500m (and even ultramarathon distances of 50K, 50 Miles, 100K and 100 Miles). While I’ve had a lot of success with equivalent performances at distances from 800m to the marathon, these sprint and ultra distances are just educated guesses. After all, it’s likely that your genetic endowment of fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers plays a greater role in your pure sprinting and ultrarunning ability than any training that you do. But hey, it’s fun to think about your sprinting speed and your endurance capabilities.
On the Training Paces tab are listed four boxes: Endurance Workouts, Stamina Workouts, Speed Workouts and Sprint Workouts. These boxes contain the optimal training pace range for each of the key workouts that I recommend. No more guesswork as to the proper pace for your best training and racing. Just look up the workout and read across to find the fastest and slowest paces you should run to receive optimal training results.
For the Endurance Workouts box (sample below), I’ve listed the optimal pace ranges for three types of workouts: recovery jogs, long runs and easy runs. Remember in an earlier section where we defined the parameters for ideal Endurance zone training? Well, here it is specific to you and your current fitness level. Just keep your pace in the appropriate range for the workout you’re doing and the results will amaze you.
Like the Endurance Workouts box, the appropriate pace ranges for the three other training zones are listed (see samples below). In addition, I’ve given a breakdown into appropriate paces for varying distances of repeats so if you’re doing a variety of different repeats then you know exactly what times you should run. For example, if you are doing a Speed workout of 1200m, 2 x 800m and 4 x 400m then you simply need to look for those repeat distances within the Speed workouts box. This will give you a goal time range for each of these distances. The same goes for some of the stamina workouts and the sprint workouts.
Also, note that there are two options for the Speed and Sprint Workout boxes. One for Speedsters and one for Endurance Monsters. Click the Endurance Monster | Speedster toggle at the top right to change between each. I’ve found that these two types of runners need slightly different Speed and Sprint Zone pace ranges for optimal training. Simply click on each type of runner to see which one best describes you. Then, choose the pace ranges for your type.
Finally, it’s important to note that there is an optimal pace “range” not just one target time. This takes into affect your day-to-day performance variations, meaning that if you feel “on” one day you may run near the fast end of the range while if you feel sluggish, you may run near the slow end. As long as you stay in the listed pace range, you’re training optimally.
I always suggest that during your first workouts, just shoot for the slow end of the range. Training too fast, too soon is the quickest way to failure. As you do more and more workouts, you should find that the same effort level results in faster and faster times until you are running at the fast end of the range. If the slow end feels too fast or the fast end feels too slow, then it’s likely that you are in worse or better shape than the race performance you entered in the calculator. Another race or time trial might help refine your estimates of your current fitness level.
Now that you have a detailed worksheet for your optimal training zones, in the next section, I’ll discuss the intricacies of the 12 optimal workouts, most of which are listed on your worksheet. Armed with this information, you can start today to create an optimal training program that will lead to your greatest success.
Step #4: The 12 Key Workouts
As we get into section 4, it’s a good idea to print out (or open in a new browser for quick reference) your McMillan Calculator worksheets that you calculated in the previous section. In this section, you’ll learn the details of each of the key workouts listed on the worksheet along with some information on a few other recommended workouts.
At this point, you should see things coming together. It’s becoming clear that the training process can make sense and be individualized to your particular fitness level. This knowledge will begin helping you today as you head out for your run. You’ll have a complete understanding of the how’s and why’s of each workout.
Delving Ever Deeper
Now that you’ve learned the basic adaptations that occur from training in the various zones, let’s get a little more practical and specific and define the key types of workouts that result in optimal improvement in your running. While there are a multitude of names given to workouts in books, magazines and through conversations with scientists, coaches and athletes, my goal is to provide the specific parameters which define each type of workout. Consequently, you’ll be able to read or hear anyone talking about any type of workout and make comparisons to the workouts defined below.
My experience has been that most runners don’t focus enough on the details of the key workouts that they do. They peruse the internet or books or magazines and find a plan to follow. They see speedwork or intervals or a tempo run and just go to the track or roads and run as hard as they can for the number of repeats or for the distance listed in the schedule. This is missing the point. You must know exactly what the purpose of each type of workout is and exactly what pace range, heart rate and effort level is appropriate for you. This is the only way that you can improve the quality of workouts and thus receive the greatest adaptations to the training.
While Endurance is the overriding theme behind endurance training, there are actually three distinct purposes for endurance workouts. The first is to recovery within and from a previous workout (or after a race). The second is to improve your endurance – the ability to run for longer and longer, and the third is to maintain your aerobic fitness level and maximize your aerobic capacity.
These goals are consequently represented by three distinct types of workouts: Recovery Jogs, Long Runs and Easy Runs. We’ll discuss each in detail so that as you venture out for a run, you’ll know how to train optimally for the particular workout you are doing.
You might find it helpful to think of a recovery run as a slow jog. In fact, I usually list recovery runs as recovery “jogs” just to reinforce that the run is very slow. The correct pace is 7:00:00 (seven hour) and 10:00:00 (ten hour) race pace and your heart rate must stay below 65% of maximum (though it’s okay for it to reach around 70% by the end of the run). Believe me, you’ll find it difficult to run this slow at first, but you must. If you want to improve and get more from your training you must keep the effort very, very light.
Recovery jogs are used during the recovery interval in Speed and Sprint workouts and should be used the day (or two) after a really hard workout or race where you are very, very tired. Intuitively, this makes sense, but I’ve found that recovery jogs are severely lacking in the training programs of distance runners. We seem to get caught up in our normal pace or the pace of our training partners and end up running too fast on our recovery days. Slow down. What’s the rush? Remember, the goal is simply to get the muscles warmed up and blood flowing to deliver essential rebuilding nutrients to the muscles. These jogs work out the tightness that occurs from hard running. There is no other goal of a recovery jog. Therefore, these runs last only 15 to 45 minutes – the shorter the better.
Long runs need no introduction as most of us include one every seven to 21 days in our training programs. The purpose is simply time on your feet. Challenging your ability to keep running improves your endurance and is a cornerstone of distance training. While there are debates on just how long and fast your long run should be, the general recommendation is that you keep your heart rate around 70% of maximum (though it will drift upwards toward the end of the run). The appropriate pace is between 3:45:00 and 8:00:00 race pace with the runs lasting at least an hour and up to three and a half. They are slow runs with the challenge of simply running a steady pace for the entire duration of the run. Keep the effort easy and resist the temptation to increase the pace just to get home sooner. Give the body time to really feel the stimulus of a long run. It will reward you with greater endurance adaptations that will serve you well in later workouts and races.
The final true Endurance workout is the easy run. The majority of your training is likely to be comprised of easy runs and the purpose is to fully develop your aerobic fitness and then maintain it. The pace for easy runs can be as fast as your 3:30:00 and as slow as your 6:45:00 race pace. Your heart rate is around 75% of maximum though it can reach 80 to 85% near the end of the run. Easy runs last anywhere between 15 minutes and an hour and a half. Again, one of the common mistakes we make is running our easy runs too fast. Keep them steady but don’t get into a pace where your breathing becomes noticeably faster.
Stamina workouts introduce steady, medium-paced running into your program. The goal is to develop your ability to run a steady pace for long periods of time. Specifically, you increase your lactate threshold pace which leads to faster race times. The challenge with each of the four types of Stamina workouts is to keep from running too fast. These are moderate efforts and running faster does little but shorten the amount of time that you are in the correct zone. It’s much better with Stamina workouts to challenge yourself to go longer at a given pace than faster. I’m going to say that again. It’s much better with Stamina workouts to challenge yourself to go longer at a given pace than faster. I also find that its beneficial to do these workouts without constantly looking at your watch. Go by effort. Learn your body.
Steady-state runs were once a staple in the training programs of U.S. distance runners but somehow fell out of favor. Runners now seem to have only two speeds, slow and fast – no in-between. But the steady-state run is one of the most beneficial types of workouts especially as you complete your base training and during the initial parts of your Stamina phase. The appropriate pace range for steady-state runs is between your 1:15:00 and 2:30:00 race pace. Your heart rate will likely be between 83 and 87% of maximum and the runs should last at least 25 minutes and can go as long as an hour and 15 minutes.
These are pretty tough efforts not because of the pace but because of the duration of running so be prepared to increase your concentration to stay on pace and to take a good recovery day afterwards in order to reap the full benefits. Begin with shorter steady-state runs of 25 minutes at 2:30:00 race pace and build to one hour runs with shorter (25- to 45-minute) steady-state runs at 1:15:00 pace.
Unlike the three Endurance workouts discussed above, steady-state runs are the first workouts that require a warm-up. For all the remaining workouts, you should begin the run with 10 to 20 minutes at an easy pace. Following this warm-up (which may also include stretching and faster “strides”), you can proceed into the continuous steady-state run.
Tempo runs are slightly more intense than steady-state runs and are designed to increase your stamina. As the name suggests, you really improve your running tempo or rhythm with these workouts. They last between 15 and 30 minutes and are run between your :40:00 (40 minute) and 1:15:00 race pace. Tempo runs are meant to be “comfortably hard” so don’t push the pace. Your heart rate will likely be between 85 and 90% of max.
Like the steady-state run, tempo runs are continuous efforts but you must preface them with a thorough warm-up.
Tempo Intervals are like fast tempo runs broken into repeats with relatively short recovery jogs. The appropriate race paces for tempo intervals are 0:30:00 and 1:00:00 race pace and they should last between eight and fifteen minutes. Unlike the previous workouts, Tempo Intervals are the first workouts to allow for a recovery jog between hard efforts. In this case, you jog two to five minutes between each repeat then start the next one.
A tempo interval workout that I’ve had particular success with is two (or three) times two miles at 0:40:00 race pace effort with three minute recovery jogs between repeats. Following a thorough warm-up, these provide a great training stimulus to prepare you for an upcoming 5K or 10K race. The effort required, the pace judgement and the mental discomfort all help immensely when race time comes. Do this workout seven to 14 days before your next 10K.
The Cruise Interval workout was popularized by running coach, Jack Daniels. They, like the other Stamina workouts, are meant to increase your lactate threshold pace. Cruise Intervals are like shorter and slightly more intense tempo intervals. They last three to eight minutes and the pace is between 0:25:00 and 0:45:00 race pace. Like tempo intervals, they are followed by short recovery jogs (30 seconds to 2 minutes). You’ll probably find that it’s easy to run too fast on these. The tendency is to treat them like regular long intervals. However, keep it under control and work on a smooth, fast rhythm. Control in training is key to improvement.
Here’s where we get to the fast stuff. These workouts are what most of us think of as “speedwork”. They last between 400m and 2000m and are run between 0:05:00 and 0:25:00 race pace. The goal here is to spend time at your maximum aerobic capacity (or VO2max). Because the pace is faster, you must take a recovery jog of about half the distance of the repeat (or jog for the same duration as the faster running). So if you run a 1200m repeat, you would jog for about 600m to recover. These workouts allow you to maintain your speed over a longer period of time.
You can slow down a little and take shorter recovery as you get fit. (For example, you may hear of experienced runners doing 20-40 times 400 meter repeats with just 100-200m jog, which would turn the workout into more of a Stamina Zone workout). Just be cautious of whether the workout is turning from a Speed Zone workout to a Stamina Zone workout. Both are beneficial, of course, but just make sure you know the purpose of the workout.
The final workouts are Sprint Workouts. These help your top-end speed and consolidate your stride and form.
Anaerobic Capacity Intervals
Anaerobic Capacity Intervals comprise the first workout. Like the Speed Workout described above they are repeated hard efforts with recovery jogs in between. They last only 100m to 400m and are run at about your 0:02:00 to 0:08:00 race pace effort with very long recovery intervals. It’s usually recommended that you take two to five times the duration of the fast running as a recovery jog before starting the next hard effort (or one to two times the distance of the repeat). For example, if you run repeat 200m, then you would jog for 200 to 400m before beginning the next one.
The goal is to flood the muscles with lactic acid and then let them recover. Your leg strength (and mental strength) and ability to buffer lactic acid will improve, allowing you to sprint longer.
You’re probably familiar with “Strides” though you may call them windsprints, pickups, striders or stride outs. They’re not unlike the fast accelerations that you do right before a race. Strides work to improve your sprinting technique by teaching the legs to turn over quickly. It’s really the neuromuscular system that we’re trying to develop here which is why they are shorter than anaerobic capacity intervals. They last only 50-200m because unlike the anaerobic capacity intervals, we don’t want lactic acid to build up during each stride. This inhibits the nervous system and interferes with the neuromuscular adaptations that we want. Accordingly, after each stride, you must jog easily for a minimum of 30 seconds and up to a minute and a half to make sure the muscles are ready for the next one. Not allowing for sufficient recovery after each stride is a common mistake. Take advantage of the longer recovery. It will allow you to put more effort into each stride which really helps develop your speed.
As you might imagine, the pace for strides is very fast – 0:01:00 to 0:06:00 race pace. Note that this is not all-out sprinting. Run fast but always stay under control. These are quick efforts where you practice good form. You’ll be amazed at how much your finishing kick improves with these workouts.
You can incorporate some strides or “pick-ups” during the middle of your run or at the end. To perform, run fast for 15 to 25 seconds then jog easily for 30 seconds to a minute and a half before beginning the next one. Begin with four strides and build up to ten to 20.
Obviously, there are other workouts that don’t fit as nicely into these training zones. For example, hill workouts aren’t run at the same race paces as the speed and sprint workouts but have the same effect. And, there are other workouts, progression runs come to mind, that are multi-zone workouts in that you tough more than one zone during the workout. But, your understanding of the zones, helps you get the most from these types of workouts.
Now that you have all the ingredients for your training program:
- an understanding of the link between physiology and training adaptations,
- your individualized McMillan Calculator Worksheet and
- an understanding of each type of key workout,
it’s time to put the pieces together to create your best training plan.
Step #5: Building Your Plan, Part I
The first four sections provided the building blocks for optimal training, now you just need to arrange them in the proper order to build an individualized and optimal training schedule. In this section, you’ll do just that. You’ll first learn how to critique yourself. You’ll examine how your body responds and adapts to different types of training. Then, in Part II, you’ll see how I develop training programs “from the ground up”. Using what you learn in Part I of this section, you can then build your training plan. Finally, in the last section, you’ll learn how to continually mold the plan as your body and performances progress.
3 Steps to a Perfect Plan
In building your training plan, I believe there are three important steps. First, you have to evaluate your particular strengths and weaknesses as a runner. How can a program be optimal if it doesn’t take into account your individual physical and mental traits?
Second, you must evaluate the physiological and psychological demands of your chosen race distance as well as the race’s physiological and psychological limiting factors. Training for a marathon necessitates a slightly different approach than training for a 5K.
Finally, you need to account for your particular goal, whether the goal is achieving a certain time, executing a new race strategy or simply placing has high as possible. For example, if your goal is to win a championship in the 5000m, you will need to prepare not only to have a fast time but also to execute or react to varying race strategies (surging, negative splits, going out hard and hanging on, etc.). Since championship races are often tactical, you’ll also want to improve your finishing kick. Of course, most of us are more focused on simply running our best time.
Utilizing these three steps may seem like common sense, but in my experience, these easy steps are lacking in most runners’ plans. The tendency is to find a training program in a book, magazine or on the internet and simply follow it. This may work for the general population but not for goal-oriented athletes like you. You require (and deserve!) better. You deserve a schedule that will help you fulfill your potential and race your fastest.
For example, you should know why there are four weeks of speedwork instead of six. You should know why for you, more stamina training is needed but your training partner needs less. In an earlier section, I stated that you should know the purpose for each and every run you do. This idea carries over into this section as well. You should know why your program is designed the way it is.
Step #1: Evaluating Your Strengths and Weaknesses
The first step is critiquing yourself. Are you a “speedster” or a “the-longer-the-better” runner? Do you easily handle lots of miles per week or do you get fatigued? Do you adapt faster to speed training or stamina training? Love the 5K, hate the marathon? Love the marathon, hate the 5K? Here is an article on determining your runner level.
These are the types of questions that you need to answer to get a handle on just what your strengths and weaknesses as a runner are. In general (and this is a big generalization), you’ll find that most people are either tortoises (Endurance Monsters) or hares (Speedsters). Tortoises are those who race better the longer the event. They often enjoy long hard runs but find that speedwork is difficult and leaves their legs flat for a few days. You know them. They are the runners who seem to just roll along effortlessly for long distances but seem to have trouble generating much power on the track.
Hares on the other hand, like the shorter races. They run can run well off lower mileage and find that speedwork invigorates their legs. They may not be as “effortless” as the tortoise at the long stuff but get them on the track for some fast running and the power is impressive. They will simply eat you alive.
Knowing whether you tend to be a tortoise or hare plays into how your training program will be created. They are related to how much of each type of training you should include, the amount of recovery time necessary after a certain type of workout and how to avoid overtraining. That’s why my training plans have different versions for Speedsters and Endurance Monsters (and for those of use who are a combination of both).
For example, if you are naturally more of a “speedster” than an “endurance monster” runner, you will likely excel at faster speed- and sprint-type training. You will perform well in the workouts and find that you quickly adapt or gain speed, power and sprinting ability. However, you may find that longer, more endurance training is more demanding on your mind and body. You may find it more difficult to execute these workouts and adapt to the training.
In this case, it will take longer to fully develop your stamina (lactate threshold pace) since you must take longer between workouts for your body to adapt to this type of training. On the other hand, you won’t need to plan as many weeks of speed training since your body needs less time to “consolidate,” or recover, from the workouts. It may only take six or eight workouts over three or four weeks to reach your full potential in workouts that match the type of runner you are.
I’ll use myself as real life an example. My individual strengths as a runner are my high aerobic capacity and natural sprint speed. (My VO2 max has been recorded as high as 78 ml/kg/min and I’ve run under 53 seconds for 400m and 4:13 for the mile.) As such, I develop my speed with only a few speed workouts and can always perform well at 5K and shorter distances.
However, my individual weakness is that my lactate threshold speed is very slow. If my goal race is the marathon where the key demands are a high lactate threshold and the key limitation being glycogen depletion, then I would need to alter my training plan to include more lactate threshold-building workouts. I would spend more time on my base phase and my stamina phases and less on my speed. After all, I only need three to five speed workouts to optimize this aspect of my running. So for me, a stamina phase lasting eight weeks works well. However, for a person with a high lactate threshold speed, eight weeks might be too long. They would get stale. This happens to me with speed training. Since my body adapts readily and quickly to speed training, I find that I can’t tolerate too much speedwork, too frequently or I get fatigued and feel “flat”.
You can probably think back across your training and notice some of these trends in your training. It’s likely that your favorite types of training are the ones that take advantage of your strengths, while the training that you dislike indicates your weaknesses. You should build your schedule to maximize your strengths but also to begin to overcome your inherent weaknesses. Using myself again, I now spend much more time building a base and doing stamina training to begin to overcome these limitations. My speed continues to develop quickly so across my training plan, I can now very easily maximize all my energy systems and peak on demand. Though it may take a little experimentation, you can now do the same.
Understanding what type of runner you are and how your body tolerates each type of training (as evidenced by how you perform in workouts and how your body recovers from them) is a fundamental key to optimal training.
Step #2: Evaluating Your Race Distance
Step 1 is just the start though as you’ll also need to account for the physiological and psychological demands and limitations of your chosen event. It’s no secret that the demands of a 5K are quite different from a marathon. Likewise, the limiting factors in your success are also different. The table below lists a few of the most common race distances and describe their demands and limitations. From this overview, you get an idea of what every race distance requires and what limits performance. You’ll adjust your training plan to address these issues in order to maximize your chance of success. For shorter races, you’ll emphasize more speed and sprint training while for longer races, you’ll emphasize more endurance and stamina training. For all races, you’ll need to include some of each type of training but the table gives you insight into which types of training deserve emphasis.
Step #3: Evaluating Your Goal
The third step involves your goal. Is it to run as fast as possible or to achieve a certain placing? Are you trying to execute a different approach to racing this year, maybe going out easier and running negative splits versus your normal front-running tactic?
Whatever your goal, you’ll need to adjust your training program to address this. It will be important to set up specific workouts that teach your body how to achieve your goal (e.g., Goal Pace Workouts). Running fast is pretty easy and simply is about training the body to maximize its speed over your race distance. You will, however, benefit from some goal pace training so that the body and mind are familiar with this pace come race day.
When it comes to achieving a certain place or executing a particular race strategy, runners often forget to adjust their plans accordingly. For instance, say you are going to compete in a championship race and you know that (1) the race will most likely be tactical with the finish time slower than your maximum performance at that distance and (2) that you want to employ the strategy of surging at the two-thirds point in the race with a long finishing drive to the tape. In addition to the normal training to maximize your finish time for this particular race distance, you would need to include training that teaches your body and mind this method of starting even but then surging at the end. It’s helpful then to structure your workouts to mimic this trend. Interval workouts can always begin slowly and get faster and faster with each repeat. You might run your tempo runs evenly for the first two-thirds then finish with the last one-third as an aerobic capacity interval.
There are, of course, a myriad of strategies that can be used in racing and thus you will have to develop some workouts to address these. The main point is that your goal should also factor into how you build your plan.
Using this Information
I know that this first part is a little vague with respect to offering specific recommendations but it has to be. We’re talking about the individuality of you and your racing. However, with a little evaluation of yourself and your chosen race distance, you can better modify and adapt the general techniques for building your plan described in Part II of this section. Always go through this critique before you build each of your training plans. With several cycles of optimal training, you’ll find that your body changes and you will need to “tweak” the quantity, quality and “flow” of training in successive plans.
Step #6: Building Your Plan, Part II
1 – How Many Weeks till Race Day
Now we get to the nuts and bolts of how to build your training plan. To get started, take out a calendar and locate the date of your key race (or series of races). Next, count backwards by week until you get to the current week. You now know the number of weeks of training you have leading up to your key event. At this time, it’s important for you to evaluate if the number of weeks is reasonable. You don’t want to do “crash training” nor do you want the training cycle to be so long that you feel like the event will never arrive.
For intermediate and experienced runners, if you’re just getting started after your recovery from your most recent peak racing season or a marathon, then you’ll need 16-28 weeks before your next peak performance. This is because you need at 4-12 weeks to rebuild your base before you begin to work on specific training phases for racing. And, please, don’t skimp on the base building. It’s much better to include more base (endurance training) and less stamina, speed and sprint training than the other way around. Believe me, you can still run well in races off of prep training and the more prep training you do, the greater your potential for success in your important race(s).
If you’ve put in the necessary 4-12 weeks of base and preparatory training, then you’re ready for specific training phases. In general, I like the specific part of the training cycle to last anywhere from eight to 16 weeks. My experience has been that this length of time is short enough to keep your attention and motivation yet long enough to allow the necessary adaptations to occur.
New runners with the goal of finishing will also require several weeks but obviously, they will be more focused on building basic running fitness (endurance and stamina).
For Step #1, I’ve developed a worksheet for you to use as you follow along with this section. The worksheet is an Excel file that you can download and print out. Click here to download this file. Print it out in landscape format.
The illustrations below show this worksheet and how it’s used to create a training plan.
**CAUTION: KNOW THE ATHLETE**
As you review the plan I’m building here as well as any other training plan you see, you absolutely must know the athlete for which the plan is made. That should go without saying but I’ve seen many young coaches look at one plan (say a 10K plan like I’m going to build) and think that is the 10K plan for ALL runners. Not so. A 10K plan for a new runner with no athletic experience, who is also 40 pounds overweight and has the goal of finishing the race is VERY different than a 10K plan for an elite runner trying to win a National Championship. You simply must understand who the plan is for so you can properly evaluate its worth.
That said, the 10K plan I’m going to use as an example is for an intermediate runner (experienced, runs 4-5 times per week, accustomed to 1-2 key workouts per week plus a long run, goal is to break 40 minutes for the 10K). So, this plan will be different than the plan I would build for a new runner and will be different than the plan I’ve used for the Olympic athletes I’ve coached. But, I think this is a sort of middle ground plan and you can alter the concepts to fit more advanced and less advanced runners. Again, the point is not the specifics but the concepts as I hope you’ll individual the program for yourself or the runners you coach.
For Step #1, insert the start date of each week leading from the start of the upcoming week to the start of my race week. This starts what will become your skeleton view of the training cycle. This will give you, on one page, an overview of the entire training cycle – week by week. I find that runners often get too caught up in the details of workouts when doing long-term planning instead of starting with an overview of the training and filling in the details later.
As you can see in the sample below, this athlete has 16 weeks until his goal 10K race. The training will begin the week of January 29th with the goal race held the middle of May.
2 – Assigning Phases for Each Week
For the remainder of this discussion, let’s assume that you’ve built some base and are finishing off this phase. Given this assumption, the next step is to divide up the weeks from now until your race(s) and assign different “phases” to each. Following the system I’ve outlined in earlier parts of this article, I’ve categorized training phases by their purpose – to develop Endurance (also called Base), Stamina, Speed or Sprinting ability as well as the race-specific phase for your goal race distance. Therefore, you should assign one of these phases to each week of the training plan. The specific phase will indicate the training on which you will focus for that week.
Step #2 is where you’ll really need to put some thought into your training. It’s not as easy as saying, “I’ve got 16 weeks until my 10K so I’ll do 4 weeks of Base, 4 weeks of Stamina, 4 weeks of Speed and 4 Weeks of Sprint”. When portioning out the weeks for each type of training, you need to use the information from the previous section of this article. Are you a Speedster or Endurance Monster? Are you training for a 5K or a marathon? Training for shorter races like the 5K and 10K are somewhat different than training for longer races like the half-marathon and marathon. Plus, maybe you need to improve your stamina in this cycle more than your speed or vice versa. Whatever your situation, think it through and play around with different proportions of each phase until you are comfortable. Taking a look at the sample below gives an idea of how, at least for this sample runner, the phases are proportioned.
One note, I always designate the final 2-3 weeks before a peak performance as Peak – a time when training volume is reduced in order to allow the body to achieve its best performance. I sometimes also include a few more weeks of Endurance/Base training to serve as a transition to more intense training. If I want to use Hill workouts to serve as the transitional phase, I sometimes list it as well. This is all part of the “art” of designing a schedule and varies with each athlete.
Also, my experience has been that you should not have more than eight weeks of any one type of training excluding Endurance training. In other words, don’t list 12 weeks of Speed training. The body and mind simply can’t take it. You get stale, your performances begin to suffer and your risk of injury increases. Keep the number of weeks for each phase within a reasonable amount and consider even moving out of a phase to another phase then coming back to it later if you feel you need more training in that training zone.
For the remainder of this article, I’m going to use, as a specific example and as outline earlier, a program that I designed for an athlete who was training for the 10K. He was a good athlete but wanted some direction in his training so he could produce a peak performance at an important regional race.
He had good speed so I knew that he would not need too many weeks of Speed training. Instead I wanted to shift emphasis of this training cycle to Stamina – an area where I thought he could most benefit. Plus the race course for his goal race was hilly so I wanted him to be especially strong to match the demands of the course. In his program which will be outlined in the next few images, I used the first three weeks of Base (aka Endurance and Leg Speed/Form) as a transition to more intense training. He was just completing his base period and I wanted to ease him into the faster workouts. The Stamina phase lasted six weeks, the 10K-specific phase five weeks followed by a two-week Peak phase.
Note: Some young coaches don’t like the periodization system (breaking training into phases) but I find that most athletes lack preparatory training to be able to do their best in the race-specific (10K training in this case) so I like the idea of breaking the training into phases so runners are focused on what the purpose of that period of training is. Otherwise, the runner might get ahead of themselves and peak too soon (a common error when runners do too much race-specific training too early in their plans).
3 – Your Long Run
I am a big believer in the long run and I use that as the cornerstone for building each plan. My experience has been that being consistent with your weekly long runs throughout your training will result in better performances than if you miss long runs but get in all the other training. In my own training, I will rearrange my schedule, omitting secondary workouts during the week at times, just to get my long run in.
The long runs listed in the sample program will be appropriate for this 10K runner (varying from 80 minutes to 105 minutes, depending on the week). Obviously, if he were training for the marathon, the long runs would be considerably different. Also, I should note that the term “long run” as I use it means a run lasting at least one hour and 15 minutes. You have to run long enough to get the metabolism of fat cranked up, and this won’t occur until after an hour. Two hours is better and for experienced runners, should be the rule during the base-building weeks prior to beginning the specific training part of your program.
Sometimes a long run will conflict with a race. In these circumstances, I’ll move the long run to earlier in the week if possible or with some races, I’ll omit the long run as you will see later in this article.
I usually offer a distance or time range for the long run so the athlete can adjust as he feels on the day. As with weekly mileage, I will reduce the long run as the race nears for shorter distance runners. This is different than for marathoners who increase their long runs as the race nears.
As you build your program, make sure to be consistent with your long runs and try to get in at least one run per 7-14 days that lasts one hour and 30 minutes to two and a half hours (again for intermediate and experienced runners). The distance of this run, of course, will vary based on your running pace.
4 – The Primary Workout
The primary workout should match the phase/focus for each week. If the phase is Stamina then the primary workout will be a Stamina workout. If the phase is Speed, then the primary workout will be a Speed workout. In an earlier part of this article, I discussed the many different types of workouts within each phase of training – Endurance, Stamina, Speed and Sprint. Use these varying workouts to create your primary workout for the week. I suggest you include many different types of each kind of workout in your plan to keep your training exciting.
Along with the variety of workouts, I like to insert a “marker” workout which is repeated from time to time throughout the program so that the athlete can see objectively, how he is progressing toward his goal. It’s very motivating to see your times getting faster for the same effort in workouts. For our sample athlete, shown below, his performance in the Goal Pace workout that occurred in weeks 8, 11, 13, and 15 was his marker workout. In this workout, he saw that he could hit his goal pace and do it for longer as the weeks advanced. This was a very good sign that he would hit his goal in the race. This was matched by a drop in heart rate during each repeat as well. It was a nice way to track his improvement through the program and gave him a lot of confidence in the training and for the race. It also gave me an idea of what pace would be attainable for his goal 10K at the end of the program. You should also schedule a “marker” workout every few weeks throughout your program.
As you’ll notice in the sample below, at this point in the planning process, you should not worry about the specifics of any workout. That comes later. Right now, just focus on the general overview of training – the types of workouts you want to do.
5 – The Secondary Workout
I use the secondary workout as a reminder of the previous training phase or to round out the total fitness and a look forward to the upcoming training phase as well as an opportunity for some race-specific training. Often, the secondary workout for one week will be the same type of training from the previous phase then the next week will be a workout for the upcoming phase. This helps maintain the results from your previous phase as well as preparing your body for the upcoming phase. This also keeps you from pounding one system too much. While there are times when the primary and secondary may be the same type of training, I more often use them as a bridge from past to future workouts. This works quite well, in my experience.
Another use for secondary workout is for race-specific training. In the case of the sample runner, his race was going to be held on a course that went up and over two large bridges so you’ll see hill workouts (and I’ll instruct him to do many of his easy runs over hilly terrain). The Hill Workouts will simulate this race challenge and get specific adaptations that he would need in the race. You can also use the secondary workout to practice with different racing strategies – going out fast, pushing in the middle, sit-and-kick, etc. You’ll also note that in the “meat” of the training plan, I will often just have a primary workout and not a secondary workout (or may make the secondary workout optional). Sometimes, athletes get very tired around that time and a little extra recovery allows them to avoid over training and injury and to really “crush” the mid-plan workouts.
6 – Notes, Races, etc.
Now that you have most of the skeleton plan filled in, you get to some of the specifics for which you may have to adjust what you’ve just planned. One of the first things to do is insert races which are listed in the “Notes” column. Sometimes, I list a race where I want it to occur and sometimes an athlete already has a race schedule so I’m just filling in the races on the appropriate weeks. No matter what the case, the insertion of a race necessitates that you take a look at the week of training leading up to the race. First, you may want to lower the weekly mileage. Second, you may have to move or omit the long run if the race conflicts with it. And third, you may want to adjust the type of secondary workout that was planned since this workout may negatively affect the race.
For our sample runner, you’ll notice that we planned several races during this training cycle and that on race weeks, the weekly mileage was lowered – using them as “down” weeks, the long runs were decreased or omitted if necessary and that the secondary workout was often a lighter workout that wouldn’t overly tax the runner yet gave him some training stimulus. And, I may include some notes on the type of tune-up race (at distance, under distance or over distance).
Also for this runner, I included the prehab/drills in planning his training. I am a big fan of prehab (strength, core, mobility, balance, etc.) and form/strides as this type of running (1) improves your overall fitness, (2) helps remind you to use good form while running and (3), in my experience, helps keep injuries away by keeping the muscles strong and loose.
7 – Weekly Mileage
The final step is to insert the goal mileage levels for each week across the training plan. This is the best part of assembling your schedule using this system. You’ll find that you are much more reasonable with your mileage increases when you fill them in this way instead of going on a whim from week to week or simply saying, “I’m going to run 50 miles per week this time.” And please realize that the mileage levels in this example are just for this athlete. I coach athletes that run 15 miles per week and some that run 150 miles per week. What you need to take from the example is not the actual mileage but the pattern of the mileage and then adapt this to your particular mileage level.
As you’ll notice from the example below, the weekly mileage will often cycle up and down. I’ve found that this works very well and allows the body to handle more mileage across the training plan than if you simply increased your mileage and held it there. Most often, I cycle three “up” weeks followed by one “down” week though this can vary with the athlete. If you’ve had injury problems or are trying to increase your training to new mileage levels, I recommend one “down” week for every “two” up weeks. Also, I like to include a race once every three to six weeks, and race weeks offer a great time for your “down” weeks.
One final note specific to the sample plan below, I will often reduce the weekly mileage slightly for the Speed and Sprint phases since these are harder on the body. I’ve noticed a reduction in sore muscles and injuries by doing this.
8 – Go for a Run
Once you complete Steps 1 through 7, close your notebook and go for a run. This gives things time to settle in and for the brain to “get off its track” or line of thought which invariably skewed the planning process. After a run, stretching, eating, etc., come back to the plan and look it over. Usually at this point, things will start to jump out at you. Mileage too high here, conflict between long run and race, feel like there needs to be more Stamina training, etc. Whatever the case, begin to edit the program, switching things around, increasing, decreasing until you get it where you’re comfortable.
The next step I recommend is to sleep on it. Come back to it the next day. You’ll be more objective. It’s also a good idea, unless you’re doing “super secret” training, to get someone else to take a glance at it. Choose someone you trust and who knows you. They may help in areas where you’re being too aggressive. Remember, it’s a lot harder to actually run the workouts than to simply right them down on paper so be realistic.
Well, there you have it. In a few easy steps using my Training Plan Worksheet, you can create the road map leading to top performances. The next step I take for my runners is to fill in the specifics making a detailed, day-by-day training schedule incorporating the ideas from the skeleton plan. Life schedule, injury history, time availability, etc. all plan a role in finalizing the plan. Once you get the skeleton plan finished, it’s fun to think about the details. You can decide on the specifics of the workouts and you can decide on the runs on the non-workout days. Again, this will be very individual and you can read about all the different workouts in other articles on this site. Or, you can join the McMillan PRO RunKit and I provide the recommended workouts (with all the details and paces) based on your goal race and time.
As you go through this process with yourself or others you coach, you’ll begin to see how putting thought into the why’s and how’s of training and, like I have seen with my runners, blending art with science can lead to personal records, top places and even National Championships. Good luck!
Remove the guesswork from training to achieve your best performance with McMillan Running Training Plans.
For every distance between 800 meters and the marathon, these scientifically-based training plans include your McMillan Calculator training paces integrated, coach’s notes, and access to our prehab routines. Plus, the plans are delivered on a runner-friendly training log platform. Learn more.