Components of the week

Battersea Park - photo by David Knight

Battersea Park after work

To maximise your running performance, you need to do training which will improve all the determinants of running performance, and that means doing a variety of different types of workout.  In general, your training programme should include a combination of the following five items:

  • long, slow distance running (LSD)
    this enhances the metabolism of fat; strengthens the heart, enabling it to pump more blood; increases muscle fuel storage; promotes adaptation of your joints and connective tissues; and increases running efficiency and endurance;  LSD running is done at roughly 60-70% of working heart rate, which is about 20% slower than marathon race pace, about once a week;
  • easy running
    easy running also promotes adaptation of joints and connective tissues, and increases endurance; following hard workouts, easy running can accelerate recovery by increasing blood flow;  easy runs are done at about 70-80% of working heart rate – a bit slower than your marathon pace; the bulk of your running mileage will be done at this speed;
  • threshold pace
    running at a pace just below your anaerobic threshold increases your muscle mitochondria, improving your aerobic energy production; increases the blood supply within the muscles; increases blood volume and the oxygenation of the blood; improves stamina; and enhances the body’s capacity to get rid of and accommodate lactic acid; threshold pace is about 88% of working heart rate; it a bit faster than your half marathon race pace, or 10-30 seconds a mile slower than your 10km race pace; your threshold pace runs will last about 20-30 minutes;
  • speed training
    this pushes your cardiovascular system to the limit; it improves your heart’s stroke volume (ie the amount of blood pushed with each heartbeat); increases the blood supply to your muscles; enhances muscular strength; and improves running form and efficiency, so that you can cover more distance for the same amount of energy expended; speed training is done at 90%-100% of working heart rate, or roughly 800m to 5km race pace); you will usually do speed sessions on the track; speed-work should make up no more than 10% of your weekly training distance, and beginners should limit themselves to one interval session per week; and experienced runners to two a week or, at most, five per fortnight;
  • rest – the most important component of the training programme, since this is the time when the body can adapt, in response to the stress of training, and make the repairs that will improve your performance.

These different types of training all produce benefits for all runners, whether they are sprinters to ultra-marathoners. But the right combination of these training techniques will very much depend on your own goals.

As well as improving your running, varying your training in this way reduces the risk that you will get stuck in a rut, and eventually get bored of your running; it also reduces the likelihood of injury and provides options for getting doing good workouts even when time is short.

Should I always run as hard as I can?

There will be times when you feel that you can do a workout faster than the specified pace.  But running harder will not necessarily be more effective training, or make you a better runner. The point of training at different paces is to stress the body in various ways, and thus cause a variety of different, complementary adaptations of your body.  If you want to improve your aerobic system then doing fast, anaerobic training is not going to help you to improve as much as running at your anaerobic threshold.  Apart from the risk of fatigue and injury of making every workout hard, you need to train at different paces to get the maximum all‑round improvement.

Training for fitness

Some runners are not particularly interested in improving their running performance.  For them, the goals of running are primarily to keep fit, lose weight, and reduce stress rather than training to get faster.

If you have no racing goals, it is still useful to train at different paces to get the best effect on your running on your fitness, because different levels of effort develop your body in different ways.

A programme for all-round fitness should therefore ideally include long, slow distance runs, threshold runs, strength training, fartleks, and speed training. As well as providing holistic improvements in your physical fitness, this variety, you will help to maintain your interest in running and reduce the risk of injury.

To maintain a good level of fitness, you should run five times a week for at least half an hour.  If you are designing yourself a training schedule for overall fitness, the 10km and half marathon schedules should be your benchmarks.  These include plenty of aerobic running, including workouts near the anaerobic threshold.  Avoid hard sessions on two consecutive days, since this increases the risk of injury.

It can be difficult to sustain a training programme of this kind, at least at first, if you don’t have a specific goal in mind. If really don’t want to take part in a race (see Chapter 11) then you might want to set yourself a different, measurable goal.  For example, you might want to measure your progress by the fall in your resting heart rate, or by taking a VO2 max test once every three to four months to see how you are getting on.

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