Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Getting the Most Out of Your Mileage

Have you ever trained for weeks or months, doing just the right workouts? You trained hard and had some great sessions leading up to your goal race only to feel flat on race day? Or maybe you’re just getting into running, but you’re not sure how to apply all this information flying your way. Whether you’re trying to run 10 minute miles for 5k or can run 10k at under 5 minutes a mile, you will benefit from multispeed training. You can use this approach to prepare yourself to be ready to run a wide variety of distances, literally from the mile to the marathon.

We have a pile of information on different training plans, but rather than just following a schedule how can you figure out what to do? Below is a simple guide that can be applied to your training to help you reach your goals.

At its simplest, running is about endurance and leg speed. Multispeed training helps you maximize your conditioning while establishing on your leg speed and, if applied correctly, it can be done without mega-mileage or killer workout sessions. You will still need a solid base, and you will tend to improve more by doing higher mileage, but with multispeed training you can get a lot out of a 30 to 40 mile week. Intervals also can help you sharpen, but if you do too many or do them too fast, they can actually set you back–or worse, lead to injury. Let’s get started!

Your Running Gears
Experienced runners know that they have many gears or different paces for different races and training efforts. Your training pace can be divided into five physiological levels, which equate to different running speeds based on your ability.

Easy Running: This is your typical conversational pace. Ideally you want your heart rate to be about 120 - 140 beats per minute. This pace should be one or two minutes per mile slower than your marathon pace, and a good two minutes slower than your 5k pace. Typically the majority of your training is easy running, but to be “easy” these sessions are relatively short, ranging from 20 minutes to 1:00 or 1:20.

Endurance Training: Your endurance pace is often pretty close to your easy pace, but these sessions tend to be longer, and they can include portions that are at a faster pace than easy running. The key with endurance training is to run at a sustained effort for about 1:30 to 2:30 (sometimes more for marathon training), and to keep these efforts aerobic. We used to call this LSD (long slow distance) training, but Arthur Lydiard, who coined the term, would have been the first to tell you that the distance is not always slow, but it is aerobic.

Tempo Training: Tempo training has really come into vogue over the past 15 or 20 years, and for good reason: it works. Tempo runs (also called lactate threshold or anaerobic threshold training) are a little more difficult to understand, and for some runners harder to master. The simplest version of at tempo workout is to run for approximately 20 to 30 minutes at a pace that you could sustain for about an hour. For most of us, the range for your tempo efforts would be from your 10k pace to 10 mile pace. Many training guides suggest that you run these at about your 15k pace (usually about 20 to 30 seconds per mile slower than your 5k pace). When you’re just starting out, it may help to break up your tempo sessions into two or three long repetitions at pace. For example do 3 X 8 minutes with a short rest (1 or 2 minutes), and lengthen the duration of your repetitions and shorten your rest in subsequent weeks so eventually you are running a full 25 minutes at tempo pace (see table for tempo pace that approximates your current level).

Maximum Oxygen Uptake (V02 Max): Now we’re getting into what we call interval training. Some people love it, some hate it. Your 5k pace is the ideal pace for these sessions, but you can also dip part or all of some of your workouts down to your 3k pace (about 6-8 seconds per mile faster than 5k) pace. You want to build up to about three or no more than four miles of running. The distance for each repetition can range from about 600 to 2400 meters. I find that 1000 to 2000 meters are ideal. The interval is the amount of rest you take between each repetition. Generally you want to “rest” (but an easy jog is best) about ½ to 2/3 as long as it takes you to do a repetition (so if it takes you 4:00 to run 800 m, then you would jog easy for 2:00 or 3:00).

Economy: Back in the 1960s and 70s, much of the training prescribed by coaches involved fast intervals with an equal recovery distance. This is ideal training for a miler or 800 meter runner, and if done right it can help you with longer distances. Some training guides simply suggest doing 8 - 12 X 100 m stride outs once a week or so. I have found that mixing in short speed sessions such as 4 X 400 at estimated pace for an all-out mile are great sharpening workouts that help with running efficiency or “economy.” These workouts also build confidence for the ability to kick it in.

How Much, When?
So how can you put this all together and how do you start? Here are two outlines to help you design a training program. One advantage of these is that you can employ multispeed training while keeping your schedule flexible--you can adapt if you are too busy your regular training, or you can move the workouts to suit your recovery. Another key point is to keep these schedules progressive, so you are working toward your realistic time goals several weeks or months out. Ideally, you would want to start into your schedules about 8 to 12 weeks before a key race, but you should have several weeks or months of base training behind you.

Intermediate Schedule: Assuming that you’ve been running for a few months with at least maintenance mileage (15-20 miles per week), you’d want to build up to about 30 miles per week. If you’re not doing any longer runs, this is the time to start. Don’t do it all at once; take four to six weeks to get there. Mix in some hilly runs along the way. Most of this running should be at the easy pace or as endurance runs.

Start the training at your current level of fitness and work toward your goal pace. For example if you are currently running 21 minutes for 5k and you want to break 20:30, you would start your V02 max training at about 6:44 per mile and you would want to work toward getting more and more of those sessions at about 6:35 per mile. Likewise, over a number of weeks the pace of your tempo runs would go from about 7:20 to 7:08. As you get closer to your goal race, more of your pace work is at that goal pace. However, make sure that you are getting adequate recovery training between these faster sessions.

If this type of training is new to you, you might try the intermediate schedule for a season or two. The principles of the training are the same, but with this schedule you will be doing your faster running more frequently, and you would also want a somewhat bigger base (40 miles per week or more) before you start.

How Long Can I Train Like This?
You can maintain a fairly intense schedule like these for about three months (give or take a few weeks). After your goal race it is a good idea to take a break, from a few days to few weeks, before starting on a base buildup phase, which should be at least a month and can be several months of aerobic training. It's advisable to ease up on the intensity, but if you can keep your mileage going, you will find yourself ready to keep improving.
Some Tips for the Road (Trail and Track):
Step away from each workout knowing that you could do more—leave your best running for the race.
If workout recovery takes more than 48 or 72 hours, then you are probably pushing too hard.
Train on the track about once per week, if that—but mix up your workouts so you learn to calibrate your different multispeed paces on the track.
Find a training partner with similar goals—run hard, but don’t compete in the workouts.
Finally, the sample schedules provided are ideal if your goals are in the 3000 meters to 1/2 marathon range; if you want to focus on the mile or marathon, you would want to incorporate some more race-specific training to your schedule (i.e, more mile pace or 800 m pace workouts if you're a miler, and more marathon pace and tempo runs if you're a marathoner).
Daniels, Jack. 1998 The Daniels Running Formula
Dellinger, Bill and William Freeman. 1984. The Competitive Runner’s Training Book.
Pfitzinger, Pete and Scott Douglass. 2002. Road Racing for the Serious Runner


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