"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

On developing a training schedule

I apologize in advance for the length of this post. It's mostly meant to convince myself I'm doing the right stuff. I apologize somewhere in the middle for how complicated it is as well.

It seems that every magazine devoted to running has the weekly training schedule of some elite runner. I'm sure that most people read them, trying to find out what's missing from their own plans. "If I just train like that, I could run like that." The first problem with this is that the schedules are always a best-case scenario; it's doubtful the runner ever had a week like the one listed, or like a post on Jamie Donaldson's blog, it gets printed because it's an unusual week (the only time she listed what she did, she ran 188 miles). The second problem is that one cannot simply take someone else's schedule and scale it to one's own abilities. The third problem is that people lie; some want you to think they do impossibly hard workouts and some want you to think that they succeed without effort.

Every marathoner I hear from eventually says he or she is on "Galloway's plan" or "Daniels' plan" or "Pfitzinger's plan" or someone else's plan. Then, when they don't meet their goals, they switch to someone else's plan. There are a lot of them available on the internet. (Shockingly, mine is one of only two for the hundred miler and there are NONE for the 5 minute miler) I think it's time for me to try to teach the basics of creating one's own schedule, by showing how I'm creating mine.

Regardless of time goal, a miler should expect to average 40 minutes running per day and have a long run of an hour. [That was hard just to type, given my long runs this year!] A 10K racer would average 60 minutes per day and have a long run of two hours. A marathoner would average 75 minutes per day with a long run of 2:45. I covered this almost two years ago in a post.

Average training pace would be about 1.5 minutes per mile slower than 10K race pace or 1 minute per mile slower than marathon pace. This, with the above, gives one miles per week. Fom my mile attempt, I would be doing less than 40 miles per week, which sounds ludicrous, except that the intensity makes doing more difficult. Because I'm hoping to switch back to longer races, I'm planning on several two-a-day workouts to keep the mileage up and putting two "long" runs on the same day.

One of the most important lessons is: Don't train for what you want to do eventually, rather train to do better what you already can do. If you've just run a 3:15 marathon and want to break 3:00, you don't train harder, you train smarter. No one's training is perfect, so by correcting the training, one ends up going faster. If running really hard workouts were all that were necessary to race well, I'd be a world champion; I spent years (make that decades) leaving my best runs on the track in workouts I shouldn't have done.

I'm currently at a 6 minute mile. Without getting into the details (it comes partly from Gardner and Purdy's book from 1970, partly from experience), this means I should be able to run 200 meters at that pace (45 seconds) eight times with three minute rests in between every day. For those not familiar with the shorthand, that's written 8x200 in 45-3R. Doing that particular workout every day would not be a good idea, however, for many reasons.

There are four variables to this interval workout: number of repetitions, length of reps, time and rest length and each can be changed. The number of repetitions can be increased and 20 is not unreasonable (30 is possible), but if one can do that many reps, the rest interval is invariably shortened to 1 or 2 minutes - usually the time it takes to jog 200 to 400 meters. The length of the reps can be increased up to 500 meters. The time can be decreased to 37 seconds. The rest interval can be shortened to perhaps 30 or 45 seconds (theoretically, it could be 0, as 8 reps without rest would be 1600 meters in 6 minutes, which is a one mile race). It's important to note that one should not alter more than one variable at a time and one can measure progress in any of these directions. The limits I've listed make them equivalent to a race and therefore could not be done often, requiring rest days between hard workouts.

That should be thoroughly confusing. If you're lost, don't worry. You're not alone. There's another, more rational way to look at the same thing and that is breaking the race down into components.

I can do a full sprint for between 5 and 10 seconds; this has entered the argot as "phosphate system" training (a misnomer), that exercise which utilizes creatine phosphate and adenosine triphosphate without burning sugar anaerobically. Training for that gets me through only a small part of the race (but it's significant in the mile, as opposed to the marathon).

After the phosphate system is used, sugars are turned anaerobiacally into lactic acid which is then transported to the liver. This is "LATT" or lactic acid tolerance training (another misnomer). I can run at top speed at this level for 45-60 seconds, but can also run up to 2.5-3 minutes at this level at a slightly lower speed. This now leaves me with a couple of minutes of the race to cover.

The next level of effort is described as "MVO2 training." This is theoretically running at the point at which one is inhaling oxygen at the highest rate possible, burning sugar mostly aerobically, but with a small amount anaerobically - that amount which, turned into lactate, can be reconverted back to pyruvate within the muscle cell. This is not just a misnomer, it's a fallacy, a fantasy - but it's still useful to the athlete and coach as a construct. I can run at this level at near top speed for almost two minutes and up to 10 minutes at a slower (roughly 2 Mile race)speed. This covers my race time. Those running longer races have additional energy levels - real or perceived - to cover. ["Anaerobic threshold" for up to an hour, "aerobic threshold" for another two hours, and unnamed levels for ultralength races.]

This, then, gives me things I can address specifically in workouts. There's the sprint workout. There's the LATT workout of one minute, done three times. There's the LATT workout of 3 minutes, done once. There's the MVO2 workout of two minutes, done 5 times and the MVO2 workout of 10 minutes done once. The trick is knowing how much time should be spent resting between repetitions and how frequent hard runs should be.

It turns out that the rest for the LATT interval workout is immaterial; one rests until one is ready, however long that turns out to be. Rest intervals for MVO2 training is usually kept short; coaches typically call for a 2:1 ratio of work to rest, though that is only a rough guideline.

The frequency of hard workouts is dependent upon the runner. Many, many athletes burn out by trying to run too hard too often. Gradual progress is best (remember, though, that I gave myself only six months until my goal!) Two hard workouts per week is the standard. Most runners try to sandwich in another, medium, workout each week, some successfully, some disastrously; if the workouts are stressors of differing types, the likelihood of success increases.

One last way of looking at training is to see what others have done, which brings us back to the schedules I denigrated at the start of this post. Before everyone started following gurus, there was still some innovation in training. Milers from the 1930's to 1950's, according to Fred Wilt's "How They Train, vol. 1" typically did the following as they aimed for 4 minutes:

10x400 in 57-60 - 2.5R

5x800 in 2:01 - 7R

3x1200 in 3:10 - 10-15R

60 minutes fartlek

5 miles in 30 minutes

10-20x200 in 26-27.5 - 1-3R

10x300 in 38-42 - 2-4R

4-6x600 in 1:24-1:29 - 6R

1200 in 3:00-3:04

30-40x100 in 11-12 - .5-.75R

The point (at last)!

So here's what my training looks like. You should be able to see a particular workout and know what I'm trying to achieve by it.

Monday: AM 60min. w/ 20-30x200 in 46-1.25R or 2400 in 10 or 5x1200 in 5-3R; PM 75 min.

Tuesday: AM 40 min., PM 25 min.

Wednesday: AM 40 min. w/ 8x200 in 37-3R or 12x50 in 7-1R or 16x100 in 23 - .5-.75R; PM 25 min.

Thursday: AM 40 min.; PM 25 min.

Friday: AM 40 min. w/ 8x500 in 1:55 - 3R or 3x800 in 3 -5R or 3x400 in 75 -4R; PM 25 min.

Saturday: AM 30 min.

Sunday: AM 30 min.

It's odd to have weekends be easy, but the track races are all on Mondays.


Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

Apology NOT accepted! Words are cheap. If you MEAN it, buy me something nice. And NOT a kitchen or cleaning appliance!

... a miler should expect to average 40 minutes running per day and have a long run of an hour. [...] A 10K racer would average 60 minutes per day ... . A marathoner ... 75 minutes per day with a long run of 2:45.

ZOMG, Dr. Nic was right! You ARE a quota addict! Go peddle your ideological agenda on your own blog! Er ... I mean your own blog that I don't read!

Dr. Nic for President!1!

Jean said...

Your paragraph talking about the various marathon training plans reminded me of a trail encounter I had last winter. I had this other running join me and struck up a rather one-sided conversation (him talking, me listening), and I learned more about the Galloway Plan that I ever cared to know. When he did ask me a question about my training, he looked at me almost incredulously when I told him I designed my own that worked for me and my schedule! :)

A very interesting post. I like what you said about training to do better what you already can do. I had never really thought about that, and it makes a lot of sense to me. Good luck to you!