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Training Ideas

Article By: Jack Farrell
Retired boys & girls cross country coach,
Thousand Oaks High School, Thousand Oaks, CA

Many of the ideas I promote in training actually come from the observation of adult runners, many of whom are self-coached and have achieved significant success using prolonged periods of steady-state running. I also looked at the training schedules of professional road racers, those who need to run 28 minutes for a 10k, week-in and week-out, pretty much the whole year, with only an occasional half-marathon thrown in. Their training is pretty much the same year round. Only in runners who have defined seasons, as in track races in the summer and cross country in the fall, followed by some road races in the winter and spring, will you find periodizing in their training.

The coached runner still relies on some kind of periodizing in training, as in the long buildup of mileage over the summer, followed by a reduction in mileage and attention to repetition training, followed by intense bouts of speed, and culminating in a period of rest right before the big competition. This approach rarely serves adult runners and I would argue is not even the optimum way to train runners. The theory assumes that once something is achieved, it can be banked. Thus the 1000-mile summer will still be there when you need it in the championship race in November. I would argue that the benefit of a base dissipates the minute you stop paying attention to the base that is within 48 hours of cutting back your mileage. The base is certainly gone by November.

There is a bigger problem that periodizing training. The training itself is based on the hard-easy approach, which is definitely modeled on weight lifting. The muscular skeleton system is exposed to a significant load and made to overwork; then a period of rest follows where the muscles repair themselves and overcompensate, thereby getting stronger. The problem for runners is the main muscle involved is the cardiac muscle and the real goal of training is to increase oxygen uptake. I argue that the cardiovascular system best achieves fitness through a gradual increase of training load. I think this approach works for any runners but is particularly suited for adult runners, many of whom already do this intuitively. The principles then are the following:

1) Maximum fitness is best achieved by gradually increasing training duration at a steadily decreasing training rate. [In other words, over time, a runner gradually runs further (or longer) as he steadily runs faster].

2) The rule of thumb for training, after a certain level of fitness is achieved (after a month or two), is that the training pace is about 1 minute per mile slower than the racing pace (for 5 k). [As an example, an adult runner, after a couple of months of training, who can comfortably and consistently run a 7 minute pace on his training runs, can probably race 5k at around 6 minutes a mile. Likewise, a runner at 6 minute training pace, can race at about 5 minutes a mile.]

3) Never steal from tomorrow. Runners who run themselves into the ground periodically in training probably set back their over-all progress. Done right, a runner should never be especially sore or dead-legged. He should feel the same almost every day.

4) All runners train and race at about the same stride frequency. That's why marathon runners on TV don't look like they are running that fast, even though they are moving at below 5 minute pace. The implications for training are huge. Since all runners strike the ground under their center of gravity, then an increased pace is the result of an increased bounce. What allows an athlete to sustain a greater bounce is an increased oxygen uptake, some increase in muscle strength and coordination, and an increase in running economy. Of these factors, the most important is oxygen uptake, which is the goal of training. The other factors are more byproducts of training. [If you want to test this theory, count strides. The best way to do this is on a treadmill. After a couple of minutes of warm-up, begin counting just one foot strike for 1 minute. You should get a figure somewhere between 80 and 90 (that's a rate of 160-180 strides per minute). Use the treadmill dial to gradually increase the speed. Once you adjust to the new rate, count strides again. A runner gradually dropping from 9 minute pace to 7 minute pace over a 15-20 minute run on a treadmill will find that his stride frequency stays the same. What allows him to drop his pace is a greater bounce.]

The program outlined in the training on the coaches' website is ideal for adult runners, in my estimation. And, as I have already said, most are training this way already, although intuitively.

One last piece of advice. What I observed in runners I trained was the jump from 6 to 7 miles a day, produced the biggest jump in fitness level and the largest drop in racing times. After achieving and sustaining 7 miles a day, the gains above (8 or 9, for instance) were not as pronounced. My suspicion is that somewhere between 6 and 7 miles per day, there is a threshold achieved that maximizes the benefit to oxygen uptake.

Please feel free to e-mail me at

Jack Farrell

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