Work Your Weakness



All runners have strengths. All runners have weaknesses. For a competitive runner moving to the front of the pack (or your age group), it becomes increasingly important to correctly identify your strengths and weaknesses and to use this knowledge to maximize your performance.

Runners can be divided into three general types — Speedsters, Endurance Monsters and Combo Runners. Think about your training and racing history and see which description below sounds most like you.


The Speedster (S) dominates her peers in any workout where the repeats are short and fast (5K race pace or faster). Track workouts, fartlek runs and short races get S excited and leave her fatigued but not trashed. However, long runs, tempo runs, marathon training and longer races take more out of S than a day of hard intervals on the track. When comparing race results with her peers, S is often frustrated that she can perform so well at short races but as the distance increases, she gets left behind.


For the Endurance Monster (EM), long runs, marathon training, tempo runs and any workout slower than 10K are no problem and usually revitalizing. The more miles per week the better: recovery is quick from long workouts, and the EM feels strength growing proportional to the volume covered. However, EM finds it very difficult to get her legs to go fast. Short, fast training like 200m-400m track workouts and hard fartlek runs leave EM feeling deflated. Short races like 5Ks also leave EM wrecked for days. EM also finds that she can almost double her 5K PR in a 10K and nearly double her half marathon PR in her marathon.


The Combo Runner (C) is the most common type of runner. He performs well in all types of workouts -short/fast and long/slow. C also performs equally well in races of 5K to the marathon, placing nearly the same compared to his peers in each distance. He’s not perfectly balanced, however, and may find some subtle tendencies towards one type of workout or race. A comparison of race times over distance, compared to “standard” curves also reveals a trend toward better performances at shorter or longer races.


Follow these simple rules to get the most from your unique body.

  1. Weaknesses First, Strengths Second
    As you start your training program, focus first on workouts that are your weakness. For example, if you are a Speedster and tempo runs are your worst nightmare, then do some of them in the early stages of your program. As the race nears and you reach the meat of your training, shift the emphasis to your strengths. Speedsters should include more 5K-type training (track workouts, fartlek runs, etc.) as their race approaches. Endurance Monsters should include more tempo runs and long repeats closer to the race.
  2. Small Doses of Weaknesses
    One caveat: workouts that focus on your weaknesses take a great toll on you. Therefore, insert only small doses of these workouts into your plan and space them out by several days. For example, if you are an Endurance Monster, you should include some track workouts and shortraces in the early stages of your training. But, you must keep the workouts short (low volume) and infrequent (once every two weeks). You need only four to six workouts that focus on your weaknesses during your training program; otherwise, your body can get overly fatigued and the mental strain of these workouts can erode your confidence.
  3. Large Doses of Strengths
    You will, however, want to include a heavy dose of your strengths in the later stages of your training, as your key race approaches. You want to go into your peak race(s) with great workouts and a load of confidence. Running workouts that are your strengths in the final eight to 10 weeks before your key race is one of the most important strategies for successful racing. For example, if you’re a Combo Runner but tend to like tempo runs and marathon-pace runs before your longer races (10K to marathon), then insert them weekly (and sometimes twice per week) in the last few weeks before your big race.
  4. Variety
    You should sprinkle some strength workouts into your plan in the early part of training and some weakness workouts into the later parts of the plan. Just remember that including weakness workouts as the race nears is tricky: Perform them just once every three weeks or so and keep them very short. For example, if you’re an Endurance Monster, go to the track for a few (6 to 8 repeats) 200s or 400s every three to four weeks, even in the later stages of the training. This keeps your body working on its weaknesses without being negatively affected by the workouts.
  5. Know When to Throw in the Towel
    Some runners are so extreme that they must totally abandon weakness and work only on strengths. I see this a lot with marathon runners. Some are pure Endurance Monsters. If mileage is your key to success then just run mileage. It’s OK. You need to do what makes you the best runner you can be. The same goes for Speedsters. If tempo runs and long runs/races completely destroy you mentally and physically, then avoid them. Go to the track more often and work on your speed. That’s where your greatest benefit lies.

Read more of our “Best of” Workouts.

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Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

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