Key Running Workouts by Marty Gaal, CSCS

Posted: December 24, 2010 in Running, Training Information

Any competitive running schedule is based on a few main premises.  Volume and intensity comprise the overall themes, while individualization for your age, experience, and goals make up the variables to work around.

However, the components of a good run training plan come down to four (and a half) key types of workouts:
•    fast/speed or intensity workouts done at or over lactate threshold effort
•    tempo or moderate hard workouts done at a sub-threshold effort
•    long runs at an aerobic pace
•    drills sessions

•    Core/strength training

Training zones/paces
There are two main methods to discovering your appropriate training paces.  The first is to use a running pace calculator like Jack Daniels VDOT method.  In this you take a recent race result and plug it into a calculator, which computes your training paces.  The VDOT method is very useful and find yours here.

The second method is to find your lactate threshold heart rate for running and then run based upon heart rate training zones.  Lactate threshold is the effort that a fit athlete can hold for roughly an hour.  Untrained athletes can’t hold this pace quite as long.  The easiest way to find LTHR is to run a 30 minute time trial, take the average of the last 20 minutes, and then use a calculator to discover HR zones.  There are other methods but this is the one we advocate.  A good HR calculator is here.

Note we are not affiliated with either linked site, they are just useful resources.

Fast workouts
Fast workouts are appropriate for all running distances up to the marathon.  These are also the most demanding.  An example speed workout (speed in this article is relative – we’re not talking about the 100 meter dash but 5k and above) would be 4 x 1200s at 5k pace with 200-400 meter jog recovery.  Another common set is 8 to 12 x 400s at 3k pace with 200 jog.  The number of repetitions and recovery intervals are adjusted for experience levels and current fitness.  Older athletes will almost always require more rest after an interval session than younger athletes.  That’s just nature.

Tempo runs
Tempo runs and tempo intervals are run at a sub-threshold effort.  These are not quite as demanding so they don’t require as much recovery post-workout.  All runners will benefit from tempo runs, but they are most useful for 10k and above distances.  A common workout is to warm up and then 20-30 minutes at tempo pace.  Another is to warm up and then run 4-6 x 1 mile with 1-2 minutes rest between each.  (Always cool down at least 5 minutes if not more). This is in heart rate zone 3 if you are using heart rate and the pace is slightly faster than Daniels marathon pace.  Daniels does not advocate running in this ‘grey’ zone, but many runners will run 10k to half-marathon at this pace, so it is a good idea to train at the pace you will race at.  This is the principle of specificity.

 
Long aerobic runs
Long easy to steady aerobic runs are intended to improve your aerobic ability.  Many motivated runners run too fast on these.  Your pace and effort should not be difficult.  The challenge of these is the duration.  Recreational 5k runners should build up to at least a 6-8 mile run, and marathoners will often go up to 22-24 miles in a pre-marathon build up.

Drills sessions
Running drills (like high knee drill, skips, bounds, and strides) and a number of plyometric exercises (like box jumps or jump rope) are all meant to improve your ability to minimize ground contact time – bounciness in other words.  Running consists of concentric and eccentric muscle contractions.  When you lift your leg to stride forward, your hamstrings shorten in a concentric muscle contraction.  When your foot lands, your quad muscles undergo an eccentric muscle contraction.  Essentially, with every step forward your muscles have to fight the downward force of gravity; your muscles briefly elongate while you exert force to begin the upward contraction to step forward again.  This eccentric contraction is why your quads are so sore after downhill runs.  These sessions are not overly taxing on the aerobic or anaerobic system but can result in a good deal of post-workout muscle soreness, especially in less experienced athletes.   You can view a few running drills here.

Core/strength training
Efficient movement patterns and power transfer are dependent on having a stable base to operate from.  If your legs are strong but your back/hip and trunk muscles are weak, a lot of the effort you put into running will dissipate through your body rather than transfer to the ground.  Some runners develop good core strength strictly through run training, but most of us can benefit from supplementary strength training.  Simple examples that you can do anywhere include planks, sit-ups, and bodyweight-only squats.

Generally speaking, most training mini-cycles (like a week) will include all of these in some shape or form, except in very early base building or transition (post race season).  Experienced runners might do a few drills within each training session.

Marathoners will also include a number of longish running sessions with several miles at goal marathon pace (MP).  This pace is not as fast as tempo but faster than easy/long.

Marty Gaal, CSCS, is a USA Triathlon coach and recently completed the USA track and field level 1 coaching clinic.  He has been a runner for twenty years.

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