Run Faster Than You Thought Possible

(Without Increasing Your Risk of Burnout & Injury)
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You have a goal. You want to set a new personal record at your next race. You are determined to make this happen. And the only way to achieve that is training. There's only one problem. You don't know if you have the potential to get much faster. 

Why? Because you tried to run more miles or to run those miles more intensely, but you lost the battle with injury and burnout - or perhaps you just didn't have the time. You felt uninspired. Disillusioned. I myself have been there. 

But the truth is, it doesn't have to be that way. All you need is a proven, reliable, powerful training structure. The exact same structure used by elite athletes and recommended by the world's top exercise scientists. 

Did you know that elite athletes have the ability to run 10K inside 32min on 30miles/week (50km) and a marathon inside 2:30h on 40miles/week (64km)?  

Although elite athletes commonly run 120 - 150miles/week (190 - 240km) to achieve world-class level, the bulk of improvements comes from low-mileage training.

You, too, can achieve amazing performance feats with the structure of the elites.

Hi! I’m Sandro Sket, a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and author of RUN4SPEED. I have won multiple awards in sprint (400m), middle-distance and long-distance running events. With some 21 years of training and racing experience (first half marathon at age 17 as a triathlete), I help runners optimizing their training to race faster from the 5K to the marathon. As a German - and a perfectionist character trait - I obsess about structure.

How to Individualize Your Training

The first (and only) question people usually ask me is how often I run. My answer is typically 4x/week and I can see the confusion in their eyes. They thought I’d be running at least daily, if not twice daily. Competitors usually add a dimension by asking for my weekly mileage, which is typically 30miles/week (~50km), depending on my next event.

But to get a complete picture of my training you would have to know about the intensity of my runs. More precisely, the fine-tuned intensity for each workout, the intensity distribution for each training week, and the progression of intensity within each training plan towards my next race.

The 3 training variables are frequency, volume, and intensity.

After having studied more than 40 books on running training (and several textbooks on exercise physiology) one thing becomes clear. There is no training plan that features the ideal balance of training frequency, volume, and intensity for all runners alike. We are all individuals varying in age, body type, muscle fiber type ratio, injury resilience, and available time. The following paragraphs help you identify your optimum training balance to increase your performance.


Type 1: You’re young, light <165lb (<75kg), with genetic pre-disposition for long-distance events, you have no considerable injury history, and you have time on your hands.

Recommended optimum training balance = Frequency: 6 runs/week. Volume: 30 – 50 miles/week (~50 – 80km). Intensity: 80% easy, 12% moderate, 8% high.


Type 2: You’re a master (age 40+), muscular >165lb (>75kg), your genetics favor middle-distance events, you’re susceptible to injuries, and/or you have time constraints.

Recommended optimum training balance = Frequency: 4 runs/week. Volume: 20 – 40 miles/week (~30 – 65km). Intensity: 70% easy, 20% moderate, 10% high.


Of course, none of us fits perfectly into either group outlined above, but you will find yourself more in one category than the other. All of my training plans feature both options. When you train only on the 4 key running days, mileage and intensity adjust themselves by default.

At this point, you may ask yourself why not just 3 runs/week? After all, these programs exist. The thing is, if you’re a serious competitor chasing fast race results, you will have one VO2max and one tempo session in your typical training week. That leaves only one session for easy running, which would have to be your long run. But you can’t run 70 – 80% of the total weekly mileage in one session. You will need to add at least one mid-week medium long run.

On the other hand, what about more than 6 runs/week? Now this, of course, is what semi-professionals and elite runners do. But keep in mind that one of the things that make elite runners special is their ability to keep improving above 50 miles/week, and doing so without getting injured or burnt out. Though the additional gains in performance, as aforementioned, are marginal and are coupled with a disproportionate increase in injury risk.

 

See also: Training Plans for Faster Race Results

 

How to Progress Your Training

Performance enhancement doesn’t happen by accident. Just because running is a simple activity doesn’t mean running training can be simplistic. Your body is an incredibly complex biological machine that responds best to cyclic, systematic, progressive, and logically sequenced training with a balanced interplay of well-timed training stress and recovery. For that reason, athletes distinguish between macrocycles, mesocycles, microcycles, and purposeful workouts.

 

The macrocycle is typically the duration of a training plan roughly ranging from 8 – 20 weeks, depending on your event and current training level. It culminates in a temporary peak performance for your chosen distance. Experience has shown that it is not possible to improve beyond 24 weeks without strategic downtime from race-specific training.

5K & 10K: These race distances require a macrocycle of ~12 weeks.

HM and marathon: These race distances require a macrocycle of ~15 weeks due to a longer taper period.

 
The mesocycle is typically a focus block of 3 – 6 weeks that emphasizes one or two aspects of your running. In my training plans, I distinguish between Twin Base, Max-Conditioning, and Race-Specific. I’m an advocate of non-linear periodization in which the training progresses from general (top-end speed and general endurance) to race-specific paces.

Twin Base: This phase emphasizes general endurance and top-end speed. That’s a pre-condition to ‘training’.

Max-Conditioning: This phase emphasizes the development of your VO2max and your lactate threshold.

Race-Specific: This phase improves your running economy and stamina for your goal race pace (e.g: 10K specific-pace).

 
The microcycle is typically your training week. There are two things to consider. The overall intensity of your training week should feature at least 70% easy mileage at all times. And secondly, never schedule two hard back-to-back sessions. For instance, it would not be wise to schedule a VO2max session the day after a long run.

Easy: 70 – 80% of weekly mileage = 2 – 4 easy runs/long run

Moderate: 12 – 20% of weekly mileage = 1x tempo run and/or add-ons to long runs

Hard: 8 – 10% of weekly mileage = 1x VO2max interval session. 2x in the race-specific cycle of 5k and 10K athletes.

 
The workout is the smallest unit in the entire training process. The 4 basic zones of workouts are neuromuscular, anaerobic, threshold, and aerobic. Each workout typically targets one zone and serves the clear purpose of enhancing a subset of physiological variables that lead to more speed, endurance, and/or specific-endurance.

Neuromuscular: These are your sprint repeats to develop speed –  e.g.: 100m at 400m race pace or 400m at 1500m race pace.

Anaerobic: These are your VO2max intervals e.g.: 800s at 3K pace, 1000s/1200s at 5K pace and 1600s/2000s at 10K pace.

Threshold: These are your tempo runs at 15K – HM pace which are typically 20 – 40min in duration.

Aerobic: These are your easy runs/long runs and on the high-end aerobic spectrum marathon paced runs.

 
With all of the above in mind, it is possible to plan for your next event (e.g.: a 10K in 12 weeks from now) and then work backward until you arrive on today’s training day. Of course, you can include ‘tune-up’ races of lesser importance along the way. Once you have reached a peak, you can generally hold it for about 4 – 6 weeks. As for the marathon, you will have to schedule downtime in the weeks following your race to ensure adequate recovery before embarking on a new goal.

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