We can assume that at this time of year people are either rebuilding fitness after a summer break or moving from short fast races to longer slower events. In the long term, they may be thinking of serious cross-country running in February/March, or maybe a spring marathon. In all cases this involves an increase in mileage.
Every training plan should meet the following criteria:
- It should be fun. It may also be challenging and involve hard work, but for the committed runner that is part of the fun.
- It should be progressive. Your training should always have a purpose – increasing your endurance, increasing your running speed, or , at the least, maintaining your fitness during unsuitable weather.
- It should, if possible, include something new.
The first important decision you have to make is how much time you are going to spend on your running. I prefer to think in terms of weekly mileage. If you are going to race over distances of not more than 10K, you can get away with a minimum of 20 miles per week, but you should really be thinking of 30 mpw if you want to approach your full potential. If you are putting in a long weekend run, with a view to a long race in the distant future, then you will be building up to 40 mpw or more. Increases in mileage should be gradual – an increase of no more than 3 miles or 10% of your previous mileage, whichever is the greater, and it is sensible to stay 2 or 3 weeks on the same mileage before moving up.
To start with, you will just be going out and running easily, getting bones, muscles and joints used to the regular running routine, but after 3 or 4 weeks you should start to include faster running. The whole basis of training relies on the principle of ‘Stimulus and Response’. The stimulus is making an effort – making your body work a bit harder . Just going for a run provides some stimulus, but after a few weeks your level of fitness will flatten out. You have to push harder – in other words run faster.
The key to successful training is knowing how long to allow for the body to respond , before you put in the next effort. You might start with a Fartlek session – that is, putting in fast bursts of between 100 and 300 metres, and jogging after each until you feel recovered. Let us say you start by doing 10 minutes of warming up, 15 minutes of Fartlek and 10 minutes of easy running. You will probably feel a bit stiff the next day, so you just jog for 20 minutes . The next day, if you are not stiff, you can do a 30-minute run and the day after that you can try some more Fartlek.
After a couple of weeks of doing 20-30 minutes Fartlek, twice a week, you should move up to doing either interval training or hill running. These are the fastest ways to improve your running fitness. A typical interval session might be: 4 x 200m, 4 x 400m, 4 x 200m, allowing an easy walk- jog of the same distance before the next fast run. You can build this up week by week until you are doing 12 x 400m, then you can cut down your recovery time.
How fast should you run? I have found that 5k speed is the most effective form of training, to start with. Later on, if you were building up to 10k and half marathon, you might do a session of 6-8 x 1000m, or 4 x a mile.
The crucial thing about interval training done on a track, is that it tells you exactly where you are . You should record the number of runs, the time of each and the length of the recovery interval, e.g. 12 x 400m, av. 75 secs, 200m jog recovery
If you are doing hill sessions, you might start with short hills – 50 secs to a minute in duration. The slope should not be so steep as to affect your normal running action – a 1 in 5 (20%) slope is ideal and your recovery will be jogging back down. They should be run fast – and they will relly make you work, lungs, heart and legs.
The other items in your week should include one long run, for endurance – starting with 40 minutes and building up to an hour. If you add in one run with the club and the occasional race, you will have a full week.
I suggest that you work on a 12-16 week programme , culminating in one or two races, and then re-vamp the plan. Things you could add are long repetition runs – a mile or more – threshold runs, doing 3-8km at your half-marathon speeds, or long hills – 2 minutes or more. If you work to a 2-week cycle you can fit in a wide variety of training, some of it solo and some with a group.
A last thought – never neglect speed.I like my runners to include a session of fast 200m runs in the week before a race. John Anderson, one of our most successful coaches, always had his runners doing 8 x 300 on the track, fast, all through the year. It reaches parts which long slow running will never reach – and it’s fun.