The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result – Unknown
I have been corresponding with a couple of runners lately. They have been suffering either with injury, or a combination of frustration and burnout. They were wondering what could be the cause. Running just wasn’t very fun lately.
When glancing at their history, I noticed that all their paces were the same. Even worse, the paces were remarkably close to their latest race times. That sent up alarm bells. There was no variance in training. This was likely the problem.
Sure enough, as I looked at the history, a pattern emerged. They would run at a particular pace and it would decline over a few days. Then they would be off, the pace would get a little better and the process would repeat. Overall, their pace was staying the same or getting worse. They were at a plateau.
This is very common, especially with very new runners. When I started running, I worked my way up to a 5K distance and then raced the distance every day adding a little bit more each time. I didn’t know how to run slow.
My only experience was in the military and I thought back to Army Physical Fitness Tests. I ran these tests as hard as I could to pass with the required time. My method – start out running hard, and hold on for dear life. Of course the splits were ridiculously positive with a drop off of several minutes.
In fairness, the army didn’t outright teach me improper running, I just selectively remembered the APFT. That was the only time I ran on my own while in the service. In actuality, we ran a lot. But it was longer, slower and in formation. That of course made it slow for the fastest runners and brutal for the slowest. I wouldn’t recommend doing it the same way now. We also mixed in different types of runs that I learned years later were speed work. The most common were fartleks and last man up (Indian) runs.
The most important factor in training is variety, or at least to not run fast all the time. There are times where you may run slow consistently — base-building and recovering from injury — but you should never run consistently at a high intensity. That is begging for injury or burnout, whichever comes first.
Each run should have a purpose. They should be essentially one of four types, endurance, speed, strength, or recovery.
Endurance is typically served with the long run and tempo runs (tempos cross over to strength as well). Strength has a heavy focus on hills. Speed typically involves intervals and fartleks. The article 3 Key Workouts Runners Should Do Every Week shows a nice balance of the quality workout types to run.
The quality runs tend to get a lot of focus, but often recovery runs are neglected. Some think of them as filler, or junk miles. When run correctly, they not only are not junk but actually an integral part of training. Matt Fitzgerald has written a great article, Workout Of The Week: Recovery Run, that explores them.
When you are training and find yourself in a rut, you may want to consider a nice varied routine. The one I fall back on is 4 days a week. I will do this for a month or two to help reset my motor and start building endurance and strength or as a maintenance routine if I am between training cycles. It was originally influenced by the Lydiard Foundation and the site running-wizard.com.
For simplicity sake, I like run on the Ts and Ss as in Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. I like to run my tempo and long back to back so I can run long on slightly fatigued legs. This helps me develop fatigue resistance for later miles in races.
My schedule is as follows:
Tuesday: Recovery – Run in High Z1 – Low Z2 if using Heart Rates or 50-70% of 5K Pace. Distance of 1/3 Long Run
Wednesday: Cross-train – I will either ride my bike or use an elliptical trainer
Thursday: Easy – Run in Z2 or 50-75% 5K Pace. 50-70% of Long Run distance.
Saturday: Tempo – Run in Z2 for 10-20 minute warm-up. Run 30-60 minutes in Z3. Run 10-20 minutes Z2 cool down.
Sunday: Long Run. Run in Z2 or 50-75% 5K Pace.
Jeff Gaudette of Runners Connect has written an excellent piece that will help you determine your easy paces and offers a calculator in his article How Do Easy Runs Help You Race Faster (and what exactly your easy pace should be). Another great calculator for figuring out training times can be found at http://www.mcmillanrunning.com.
By running with variety and keeping the intensity down, you can prevent injury and maintain a healthy and fun lifestyle. Running doesn’t have to always hurt. To quote the legendary coach Arthur Lydiard, “Train, don’t strain.”