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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Training Programs: Your Map To Success


How many miles you have to run in order to finish a marathon? If your answer was a quick 26.2 miles, that’s not exactly correct. The reality is that most people who decide to run a marathon will run hundreds of miles before completing that marathon. The last 26.2 miles makes up a small percentage of the actual mileage in training that goes into completing that event.


Of all of the trainable aspects related to any sporting activity, endurance is the one that an athlete can affect more than any other. On day one, before any training begins, a runner may be able to run a 100 m sprint at 65-70% of his or her potential speed. This same runner on day one might only be able to run about a mile without stopping. However, after a period of months of training, it would certainly be reasonable for this person to run 26.2 miles. This would indicate a 2600% increase in endurance. Those same sort of gains in performance can simply not been made by any human being regarding speed. 


Distance running is for most people a lifestyle change that provides enormous benefits. In order to accomplish any goal in distance running, whether marathon half marathon or 10K, it takes a great deal of training and daily dedication. In order to achieve any goal, particularly one regarding a distance running event, it is critical to have a training program that can be followed consistently. In a sense, a training program is your roadmap to safely completing a given event. 


The goal of any training programs is to get you across the finish line in your desired time. If your goal is to simply complete a marathon, slowly and progressively increase your mileage at a very slow pace and you will eventually be able to run 26.2 miles. The problem with this strategy is that most marathons have cut-off times. This means that you not only need to complete the distance, but must do so within a specific time frame.  If you have a dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, this timeframe is much shorter. That means that you will need to train not only for endurance but also for relative speed.


Regardless of the specific training program that you choose, they all combine certain elements. The long run is a staple of distance running training programs.  The definition of a long run is relative. It simply must be long enough to stimulate an increase in endurance. 


This brings up a question that I get from beginning marathon hopefuls.  Why is it not just advantageous to go run 20 or 25 miles on a regular basis and just gradually try to increase speed?  There are both physical and mental reasons why this strategy will fail. First, the amount of muscle and tissue damage that occurs on very long runs is significant. Second, it is very difficult to increase speed while running very long distances. Basically speed and endurance are opposing strengths that cannot be built simultaneously. Third, the overreaching limits to maintaining a goal pace is in the brain. And the brain must be trained as well. 


When you run at a fast pace, particularly for long distances, there are very specific physiologic limiters in play. Your body can only store so much glycogen in its muscle. You also only so much fat burning capacity. Your body also has resistance to muscle damage as well as limitations mechanical inefficiency.  


When any of these specific physiologic limits become reached, your brain takes over. Chemical signals are sent to your brain when you are running low on muscle glycogen. Your brain also makes calculations on physiologic set points such as core body temperature and decreases output when your brain fears injury. Your brain is capable of picking up chemical signals related to muscle damage.   We know that these markers exist in your bloodstream and are actually the ones measured when you have a heart attack. When your brain notices an increase in temperature, or an uncomfortable level of chemical signals related to intense exercise or tissue damage, fatigue sets in, and your brain forces the body to slow down.


This does not mean that you cannot adjust each of these given tolerances that your brain will allow. Through training, your body can become used to a higher set-point of core temperature. Through specific speed work and training your body, your brain can become accustomed to higher levels of chemical markers and tissue damage without fear of injury and without forcing your muscles to shut down. This is why almost all training programs consist of base training/endurance phases, progression phases, and peak phases. 


There are five basic workouts that are put together in various combinations in order to comprise a training program.  The first is the long run.  This workout has one specific purpose and that is to get your body used to moving over ground for a very long distance.  The progression is very gradual and you should not do more than one long run per week.


The second workout is the quarter-mile repeat. A marathon runner will typically do anywhere from six to 16 repeats, with two minutes rest in between, during one session. The idea with these runs is that by only going one quarter mile at a time, your body gets used to moving at a very quick pace without taxing the lungs. The main focus is increasing the rate of turnover.


Tempo runs are another workout which are crucial to developing stamina.  These workouts are typically shorter in duration, maybe four to eight miles.  They’re also at a faster pace, typically anywhere from 20 to 45 seconds faster than your desired race pace. Tempo runs will make your race pace actually seem easier.  For a marathon runner, they will typically only lasts four to eight miles.


Recovery workouts are one of the elements that are least frequently utilized. They are also crucial. If you are putting in heavy miles there is no such thing as a recovery run. Running puts enormous stress on the legs. If you are running very low mileage, it is possible that running at a slow pace can serve a recovery function.  However, cycling is a much more efficient and effective recovery workout. A side benefit of cycling is that it breaks up the monotony of running. In a sense it will also provide you a mental break from training.


The fifth workout is a rest day and it is also often neglected.  Most training programs include at least one rest day per week.  The definition of a rest day means that you do not train. You do not go hiking, cycling, or perform manual labor. Think lazy. Rest means rest.


The following is a sample training schedule for a beginner half marathon. This schedule assumes that you already have running for a couple of months 2-3 miles a day at least 3 days per week. 



Wk Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total mi 

1 2 mi easy Rest/XT 2-3 mi easy Rest/XT Rest/XT 3 mi long Rest 7-8 mi

2 2 mi easy Rest/XT 3 mi easy Rest/XT Rest/XT 3-4mi long Rest 8-9 mi

3 3 mi easy Rest/XT 3 mi easy Rest/XT Rest/XT 4 mi long  Rest   7 mi

4 3-4mi easy Rest/XT 3-4 mi easy Rest/XT  Rest/XT 4-5 mi long Rest 10-13mi

5 4 mi easy Rest/XT 4 mi tempo Rest/XT Rest/XT 5 mi long Rest 13 mi

6 4 mi easy Rest/XT 4 mi tempo Rest/XT Rest/XT 6 mi long Rest 14 mi

7 4 mi easy Rest/XT 4 mi tempo Rest/XT Rest/XT 7 mi long Rest 15 mi

8 4 mi easy Rest/XT 5 mi tempo Rest/XT Rest/XT 9 mi long Rest 18 mi

9 3 mi easy Rest/XT 6 mi tempo Rest/XT Rest/XT 11 mi long Rest 20 mi

10 3 mi easy Rest/XT 7 mi tempo Rest/XT Rest/XT 7 mi long Rest 17 mi

11 4 mi easy Rest/XT 8 mi tempo Rest/XT Rest/XT 12 mi long    Rest 24 mi

12 4 mi easy Rest/XT 9 mi tempo Rest/XT Rest/XT 8 mi long Rest 21 mi

13 4 mi easy Rest/XT 8 mi tempo Rest/XT Rest/XT 10 mi long Rest 22 mi

14 4 mi easy Rest/XT 8 mi tempo Rest/XT Rest/XT 13 mi long Rest 25 mi

15 3 mi easy Rest/XT 4 mi tempo Rest/XT Rest/XT 6 mi lo ng Rest 13 mi

16 3 mi easy Rest/XT 2 mi tempo Rest/XT Rest/XT Half MarathonRest 18.1 mi

Easy: means run at an easy pace.

Tempo: means run at a pace 20-45 seconds/mile faster than your goal race pace.

Long: runs should be run 1-2 minutes/mile slower than your goal race pace.

Rest/XT: means rest if you bad, cross train if you feel good.

Rest: Rest is best the day after your long run. 


Next is a sample training schedule for an advanced half marathon runner. This schedule assumes that you already have been running for at least a year, have already run at least one half marathon, currently run 4 days a week and can comfortably run 8 miles as long run.  



Wk Mon  Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total mi

1 4 mi easy XT 20 min 3 mi tempo 4 x 400 Rest/XT 3 mi long Rest 11 mi

2 4 mi easy XT 30 min 4 mi tempo 4 x 400 Rest/XT 3-4 mi long Rest 12-13 mi

3 4 mi easy XT 30 min 4 mi tempo 4 x 400 Rest/XT 4 mi long Rest 13 mi

4 4 mi easy XT 40 min 5 mi tempo 6 x 400 Rest/XT 4-5 mi long Rest 14-16 mil

5 5 mi easy XT 30 min 5 mi tempo 4 x 400 Rest/XT 5 mi long Rest 16 mi

6 5 mi easy XT 40 min 6 mi tempo 6 x 400 Rest/XT 6 mi long Rest 18 mi

7 5 mi easy XT 60 min 6 mi tempo 6 x 400 Rest/XT 7 mi long Rest 19 mi

8 5 mi easy XT 60 min 7 mi tempo 6 x 400 Rest/XT 9 mi long Rest 22 mi

9 5 mi easy XT 40 min 8 mi tempo 3 x 1600 Rest/XT 11 mi long Rest 26 mi

10 5 mi easy XT 45 min 6 mi tempo 6 x 400 Rest/XT 7 mi long Rest 19 mi

11 5 mi easy XT 45 min 8 mi tempo 3 x 1600 Rest/XT 12 mi long Rest 27 mi

12 5 mi easy XT 60 min 6 mi tempo 4 x 800 Rest/XT 8 mi long Rest 21 mi

13 5 mi easy XT 60 min 8 mi tempo 6 x 400 Rest/XT 10 mi long Rest 24 mi

14 5 mi easy XT 40 min 8 mi tempo 4 x 1600 Rest/XT 13 mi long Rest 28 mi

15 5 mi easy XT 30 min 5 mi tempo 3 x 800 Rest/XT 6 mi long Rest 18 mi

16 3 mi easy XT 20 min 3 mi tempo Rest Rest Half Marathon Rest 19.1 mi

Easy: means run at an easy pace.

Tempo: means run at a pace 20-45 seconds/mile faster than your goal race pace.

Long: runs should be run 1-2 minutes/mile slower than your goal race pace.

Rest/XT: means rest if you bad, cross train if you feel good.

6 x 400: (Quarter mile repeats) means six separate 400 yard runs 

with 2 minutes rest in between.

Rest: Rest is best the day after your long run. 


Notice that both training schedules include a great deal of rest. There are also weeks where mileage ramps up, then decreases slightly before ramping up again. The difference between the beginner and advanced versions are the quarter mile repeats. Repeats are a great way to increase speed.  They are also a great way to get injured if you have not been running for a year or so. Proceed with caution. The beginner program includes much more rest and less speed work to emphasize the fact that building raw endurance is the primary aim to making sure you can go the distance on race day.


There are virtually thousands of different variations on the themes that we have created here. You can find many different training schedules in books, running magazines and online. The key to finding a race program that works for you is to make sure that the person who designed it shares the same philosophy as you. Some trainers think that you should run the entire race without any rest at all.  Others think that it is a good strategy to walk through the water stations only. There are still other proponents of walk, run programs where you may run four miles and walk one mile throughout the race. 

Regardless of which type of program you choose, sticking to the training s the most important step you can take to making sure that you can have a successful event come race day.



Dr. Christopher Segler is an Ironman Triathlete and award winning foot and ankle surgeon with a podiatry sports medicine practice in Chattanooga. He specializes in running injury prevention, sports medicine and surgical treatment of elite athletes. You can learn more about common causes of foot pain while running as well as sign up for a FREE monthly newsletter with tips to increase your running speed and efficiency at http:www.AnkleCenter.com or http://www.MyRunningDoc.com


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