One of my favorite parts of my healthy living lifestyle is learning and trying new things, whether it’s a nutrition “hack”, a training tip, a mindset/ attitude about food or exercise or rest or whatever. I’m very interested in learning how to maximize the results of training in the shortest possible time. I’m busy like everyone else, so training and exercise needs to fit into the rest of my hectic calendar. Early this year, I adopted a new training philosophy that turned my previous training methods upside down. Thanks to TriDot, Beachbody, and other reliable resources, I’ve been able to train smarter, in less time, be injury free, and achieve great results.
When looking for run specific training programs online, you can find all kinds of generic free plans, or worse, pay for a generic plan. Yikes! These programs don’t know YOU, they rely on self assessment of your ability (which is rarely accurate), and they almost always push too hard too fast leading to frustration, burnout, and injury. I know, because I spent nearly 5 years of triathlon training and endurance running trying many different training programs I could get for free from the ‘experts’. I want to share a few notes with you about run training to help you from having to learn the hard way as I have.
A key concept to understand about any training program is Progressive Overload. The gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training is progressive overload. The focus must be on the “gradual” and not the “increase.” When starting out, make the first workout easier than you think is necessary. Then keep increasing the workload incrementally over the previous effort. A rule of thumb is to keep your weekly workload to no more than 10% of the previous week and keep your long runs to no more than 25% of your weekly volume.
I like to measure my workouts by time, not distance, as it helps me to focus on how I feel – my form, breathing, heart rate, perceived effort, etc. Simply logging miles because the program says so is a waste of time and increases injury risk. Due to the strain on your body and lengthy recovery time, I recommend making your longest runs no more than 2 hrs. I made the mistake of including 20 mile training runs in my marathon training plan. These 3+ hour runs require many days to recover and do not fit the progressive overload training model. This overtraining of “junk miles” led to a nasty foot injury that nearly derailed my marathon experience. Lesson learned: Don’t get hung up on a mileage milestone like the “20 mile run”. Stick to progressive overload. Strong before long; fast before far. Let me explain.
Another key concept to understand is TriDot’s “Strong before long; fast before far” philosophy of training. Put simply, your ability to sustain effort over a long duration is dependent upon the strength you have built up in training. It’s perfectly logical. Over time in an endurance run, you will naturally slow down as you fatigue. Imagine graph with a vertical a scale of 1-100 of strength (power) and a horizontal scale of time in hours. If you are at a strength of 50 the duration of your effective stamina is far shorter than if your strength was 80. The curve will follow the same basic shape regardless of strength level. See chart below from TriDot.
So how does that translate to a training program? Thanks for asking. It means you need to build strength to be able to run faster and longer. The most effective way to do that is through interval training and functional strength training. Rather than do 5 shorter mileage runs a week and a ‘long’ run on the weekend, you should do only one or two different interval workouts, 1-2 short (30 min) functional strength workouts and maybe one longer easy run a week. Interval workouts come in many good formats, but the idea is to warm up first, then do repeated higher intensity run efforts with working rest between each set.
For example, I recently did a tough sprint interval workout consisting of 3 sets of 7 sprints (all out effort) for 20 seconds, followed by 20 seconds walking rest between each sprint then two minutes rest (light jog) between sets. It seems easy at first, but after four of five sprints you begin to see that the rest is not quite long enough to fully recover. This is a great workout because you teach your body how to go really hard, but then you rest before your body gives out on you. Muscular strength is built, lung capacity (VO2 max) is built, and all those fast twitch muscles are fully engaged. This is the kind of workout that takes 40 minutes and will make you much stronger and faster than simply logging mileage at a static pace.
My favorite functional strength training program comes from Beachbody’s PiYo. It’s a mix is Pilates and yoga that stretches and strengthens your whole body thru a series of dynamic movements using only your body weight. The stretching is amazing for my hamstrings and calves especially, but the core and balance work along with hip strengthening movements are what I believe has really helped my running the most. Whether you do PiYo or not, you need to incorporate some form of regular stretching and functional strength work in your routine. Thirty minutes a couple times a week will go a long way to helping you stay injury free too.
Long runs are still part of any endurance running program. You need to teach your body to run for increasingly longer durations with good relaxed form. The long runs should be run at an easier pace, (not race pace). You are working on efficiency with long runs. Speed will come with the interval sets. Just enjoy the cruise on the long runs. Remember to gradually increase duration week to week. There’s nothing wrong with taking a 1 min walking break during the long runs. It can be a mentally and physically therapeutic break in the monotony of the long workout.
I hope this helps. There’s so much more to cover in a good run training program. I’ve purposely not touched running form, nutrition, periodization in training, rest, or gear this time. Look for future posts on these topics or connect with me for free individual help.