Training Ideas

(from World Masters News)

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

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

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


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