Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Four Pillars of Training for Fast Running

   Over the last twenty years of training I have found in my own training and in looking at the training of others with much better success than I've had that there seem to be four types of workouts you should focus on to build a balanced fitness and run up to the maximum of your potential.  These are not the only running you should do but they are sessions that are used regularly in pretty much every program I have looked at that produced unusually good results.

  These sessions are not an exhaustive list of all the types of workouts you should do but they are the four main pillars that hold up all of the other training.  If you are doing these you will do well.  If you aren't you will likely not get the most out of yourself.

  Pillar 1- Fundamental tempos- These have many names, I've used Renato Canova's name for them.  Jerry Schumacher calls them rythm runs, Joe Vigil calls them, fast endurance runs or 30km tests, George Malley or Bob Hodge would probably call it running a bit faster than normal sometimes.  Call them what you want, just make sure you do them. These are longer runs at pace that is faster than training pace but not as fast as tempo pace.  For a beginning, low mileage runner this might only be five or six miles long.  For a competitive marathoner they might get as long as thirty miles.   The key to this session is relaxation at a pace that is not exactly fast but is faster than you do or really could do day in day out for your training runs.   A good starting place for these is a minute per mile slower than your 5k race pace.  These should be done throughout the training year but you would do them much more often during the early phases and much less as you get into the thick of your racing season.  Similarly these are important for all runners but even more so for the developing runner.

  Pillar 2- Specific work/max lass workouts- I combine these because if your event is 1500 to 10k then the specific version of the max lass workouts is your key specific workouts but in the marathon the key is much more just specific paced running and max lass becomes much more secondary.   For me specific workouts mean running within about 1% of race pace.  So if your training to run a ten minute two mile specific pace would be 4:57 to 5:03 per mile.  I would hesitate a guess that more effort is wasted on running, supposedly, specific workouts that are too fast than in any other area of training.  If your goal is a 10 minute two mile and the quarter repeats you are doing feel too easy at 75 you should NOT run them faster.  You should either run them with shorter rest or you should run longer repeats at the same pace.  If it is early in the training cycle then you should focus on embracing the efforts feeling easy and try to make them feel as easy as you possibly can.

  Max lass workouts are workouts that try to create an ability to hold the amount of lacate, ie acid, in your blood at an essentially steady level while running your specific race pace.  For a long time it was thought that you could only really do this at 10 mile to half marathon race pace but it has been found that athletes can produce a defacto max lass at much faster paces, ie 3k to 10k race pace, where they hold lactate levels basically steady for 5 to 25 minutes.  Workouts for max lass in the base phase focus on doing explosive work, like short hill sprints, bounding, sprinting etc., while your body has a ton of latic acid in it.  This can be accomplished through hill circuits or doing hard track repeats with circuits or hill sprints mixed into the rests between the intervals.  As you move to the specific phase these workouts morph to involve repetitions at race pace mixed with explosive sprint reps.

  These workouts, both specific marathon workouts and max lass workouts, are only a small change from traditional or "normal" workouts. Do not fool yourself into thinking that you are fine just doing your regular sessions and working hard.  These sessions are probably the biggest difference in the performances we see today verses the 1980's.   For a long period of time it seemed that the best in the world were sort of pinned into the 13 teens, 27 lows and 2:07 to 2:08 range.  Now I'm not trying to say that EPO wasn't involved in the sudden proliferation of sub 13 men in the 1990's.  I'm not that naive.  That said there were many highly dedicated very hard working and talented men in the 1970's and 80's and only a few slipped under 13:10, notably Henry Rono and David Moorecroft.  Even if you discount some of the best in the world today there are many athletes who I feel very secure in saying are clean who are running well under 13:10.  Ben True, Hassan Mead, Chris Solinsky, Matt Tegankamp, Sam Chelanga come to mind very quickly.  I simply don't believe they are more talented then say Matt Centrowitz Sr., 13:12 or Lasse Viren, 13:16.  When you look at this improved standard and then consider that the vast majority of the training is unchanged in the last fourty years it becomes clear that something subtle but important has happened.  Both generations did high mileage.  Both generations did tempo runs, intervals, long runs.  Both generations ran on mondo tracks and even had pace setters, though admittedly Viren never ran well in a race that was paced.  This leaves the question, what is different?  The answer, to my mind, is in the two types of workouts I have highlighted above.  So if you are asking do I think that if the runners of the past were doing more of these sessions they would have been faster my simple answer is yes.  I do not believe it is likely or even possible that someone like Craig Virgin could have worked harder than he did and he ran 8:40.9 for two miles in high school so it is also unlikely that any number of athletes are significantly more talented than he was.   Yet we have a number of guys running much faster.  Some of this could be chalked up to faster races.  I have no doubt that at times in his career Craig could have run in the 13:10 range if the race had been going at that pace but I find it hard to believe simple pacing would drop him 20 seconds.  So what are the likes of Ben True, 13:02, Matt Tegenkamp, 12:58 and Chris Solinsky, 12:55 doing differently?  I believe the answer is fundamental tempos and max lass workouts.  Though I' imagine that none of them call them by those names.

Pillar 3- Threshold workouts.  Traditionally this would be your half marathon paced tempo run.  I would include those but I personally focus much more on alternation style intervals.  I believe these are far more effective in improving threshold as well as overall fitness.  Your threshold or steady state pace is the single most important fitness maker in deciding your success in races from 3k to marathon.  If you have a high threshold you will race well.  If you have also do some decent specific workouts with that high threshold you will race very well.   Raising your threshold is how you make a pace that is hard to run for longer than a few hundred meters into something you can run easily for a few miles.
  Alternation workouts for threshold included things like Aussie Quarters, http://nateruns.blogspot.com/2014/12/workout-wednesday-australian-quarters.html, Moneghetti Fartleks, http://nateruns.blogspot.com/2015/01/monaghetti-fartlek.html, or Renato Canova style alternations, http://nateruns.blogspot.com/2015/02/workout-wednesday-alternations-for-5k.html.  Basically any workout where you mix in intervals of faster than half marathon paced running with quick, faster than regular training paced, recoveries.
 Threshold workouts are closely related to the fundamental tempos in terms of the changes that they create in your body.  Improvements in one of these workouts will lead to improvements in the other.  If you find yourself plateaued in either of these work types very often the answer is to focus on the other.  For more than a year early in my career I could not find a way to run a threshold run under 5:10 per mile or so.  If I did one mile at 5:00 pace it felt painfully easy but somewhere between 3 and 5 miles it became incredibly hard. Then I found fundamental tempo's and within a few months I could do 5 mile tempo runs at 4:50 per mile.  In the more then a decade that has past since I have seen this connection in my training again and again.

Pillar 4- Speed work.  This is NOT anaerobic work.  This is work focused on teaching the body to run fast while remaining relaxed.  This can be as simple as strides.  It can be done in great volume or in very low volume with great regularity.  I try to never let a week go by where I don't do at least some session for speed.  Joe Vigil, who is a much better coach then me, tries to never let a day go by where it doesn't get touched on.
   Nearly everyone runs fast in their training but too often we fall into the trap of thinking fast and hard are the same thing.  Much like the workouts in pillar one speed sessions should not be hard. They are more than an easy day but not nearly a hard day.  You can address the need for this type of work in a ton of different ways.  You can do sets of strides, 4 to 15, as often as daily or you can do short hill sprints, under 15 seconds.  I often do longer sessions like 30x100m or mix 10 to 20 second high speed bursts into a regular run with full recovery between efforts.  The two keys to this type of work are a focus on good, relaxed, powerful running form and taking full recovery between efforts.  It is easy to slip into not taking enough rest between these sessions, it is all but impossible to take too much recovery.

  There you have it.  As I stated above I don't expect this to be the only training you do but I do expect that this is what your training schedule should be designed around. If you are regularly working on all of these systems you will do well.  If you then start to put them into a well designed progression of increased volume and periodized adjustments you will be truly training and not just running and you will see some impressive results.


Philip Hantschk said...

Hi Nate,

can you explain pillar 2 alittle bit more? What could workouts look like for a runner focused on 5k races?
Do I understand it correctly, that the goal of the workout is to keep lactic acid levels constant for a period a little shorter than race duration? Let's say, a 15' 5k runner might shoot for 10', holding a level of lactic acid comparable to the level during a race.

Nate Jenkins said...

of course, really at some point I should do a blog on them. Using your example a runner aiming or a 15:00 5k. In the base phase workouts like a hill circuit of alternating sprinting and bounding and springing exercises something like 200m sprint into 100m bounding, into 100m steady, into 100m butt kicks, into 100m sprint, doing 4 to 6 repeats of that with slow jog down recoveries. Or on the track 5 to 8 x 800m run at around race pace- 2:25 to 2:30, but run them stupid go out way to hard and just drive the acid up in your legs then after each 800 you take 2mins recovery then do 4x60m max effort hill sprints, if you don't have a hill near the track you could do bleacher sprints if they are substantial- say 40m or more, or you could do a mix of bounding and flat sprinting.
As you move into the middle phase of training you want to start doing a bit more running around goal pace during the sessions. Things like 2 sets of 5 to 6 x 1k with 1:30 recovery. Each rep gets faster so that the first rep of each set is at around half marathon pace and the last is at about 5k pace. Between each set do 10 to 12 x 60m max effort hill sprint or fast 150m sprint on the flat. You could also do shorter reps of 600m to 1k at goal 5k pace with 200 jog after each rep then a very fast 200 to 400m rep, taking about 3 to 4 mins rest between each set like that and doing about 6k of total volume.
In the final stages of race prep you want to run as large of volume as possible at goal pace. For the 5k this is probably 1200m to a mile but some people can do 2k's. Similar to last time a session might be something like 4xmile at 5k pace (4:48) 200 jog 400m fast say at least sub 68, probably more like 65/66. taking 4 to 5 mins between sets.

The goal of the workout is to teach the body to keep lactic levels for a period during the race so that you can enter the last portion of the race, say the last 1k, at a much faster pace because you have room, so to speak, to increase the lactate in your blood. If you think of any international level 3k to 10k track race these days, even the paced time trials, you can sort of take it for granted that the leaders will run the last K in under 2:30 for the men with a last lap in the 55 range. Generally a 5k sees the pacer out a bit quick but the lead group running 2:34 to 2:36 for the first k then they settle and run in the 2:36 to 2:38 range for the next 3k, ie goal pace, but then even though they are running hard their bodies have room to drive up the lactate so they often cover the next 600m at about 60 flat 400 pace and ratchet up the last 400 to run a bit under 13'. In a 3k or 10k the paces and distances change slightly the the last k is basically the same. Now lets put this in the context of our 15' guy. He gets out in 2:58 to 3:00 and then settles in and runs 3:00 to 3:02 for the next 3k getting to 4k in 12:00 to 12:04. For most guys on that level I know this would be disaster because they are going to run the next 600m as the slowest of their race before, hopefully, raising a kick in the range of 70 for the last 400 giving them a last k of 3:00 to 3:04 and a time in the low 15's. Now our guy with max lass work hopefully is able to start a long sustained drive to the finish at 4k and runs the next 600 at 70s pace, 1:45, and then is able to ratchet up even more on the last lap and runs in the low 2:50's for the last k and ends up with a time in the low to mid 14:50's.
-Hope that helps clarify.

Philip Hantschk said...

Thank you for the clarification. I think you could copy/paste your reply and make a post out of it :)

Zach T said...

This is a goldmine of information. Thanks, Nate. I had the same question as Philip for Pillar 2 workouts for the marathon. I am currently a 249 marathoner on low mileage 30-40 miles per week. But have run 2:27 seven years ago now training 80-90 miles per week consistently. What would some pillar 2 workouts be for say a 2:30s marathoner, or simplify it and say a 6:00 min/mile (3:40 min/km) race pace?

Nate Jenkins said...

Zach- Pillar 2 for the marathon is very much specific work. Also a disclaimer if the 1990's vs. the 1980's proved anything it is that high volume vs smarter low volume = high volume wins. Not to say that if you run 10 miles a week more than someone you'll always beat them but in your case we are talking 2 to 3 times as much volume when you PB'd. So you can run faster than 2:49 with good training but a pb might be a bit out of reach. Also marathon specific, and fundamental work tend to be long so doing them may drive your weekly mileage up. If you have the time to spar one day a week for these sessions the pay off is good. However if you don't you may be better off targeting shorter distances as you can train pretty effectively for them on 30 to 40 a week.
Looking at two specific workouts through the phases, these are both the lowest mileage options I could think of for specific work. I will use your paces for both.
Session 1 alternations. 21k of 1k/1k (this could be anything from 800/800 to 1600/1600). At the start of the base phase you go very easy and run the reps at 3:40 and recoveries in the 4:10 to 4:20 range. Over the base phase you try to improve both the reps and the rest, but only drop one at a time. By the end of the base phase you are looking to be somewhere close to 3:30/4:00, averaging 3:45 to 3:50 for the full run. Do this session once in the special phase targeting 3:20 to 3:25 on the reps and it is ok if you slip back 5 to 10 seconds on the rest so that your overall pace is the same. Basically you are just trying to introduce some higher amounts of lactic acid into the system and it is ok to have to run a bit slower to flush it out.
Do this session twice in the specific phase. Target the same pace both times, 3:30 for the reps, 3:50 for the recovery so you average marathon pace for the whole session. If you fall a little short of that pace the first time it is ok you have a second shot.

Session 2 marathon paced tempo. Run at your exact goal pace over terrian that simulates your goal race. IE flat for chicago, rolling for NYC, super hilly for MDI. At the start of the base phase this only needs to be 5 or 6 miles which should be pretty easy. Try to go a bit longer each time out. By the end of the base phase you want to be around 10 miles, by the end of the special phase you want to be around 12 miles and during the specific phase you want to go 13 to 16 miles. Some people can manage 18 but that is unusual. I would suggest doing this twice during the specific phase. It can be done more often however.

Now I want to squeeze in a bit on fundamental tempos for the marathon, which are pillar 1. These are super important to marathon performance and their final form in the specific phase is a specific extensive workout. IE you will be running just a bit slower than MP, 3:50 to 4:00 per K, but you will try to run it for the full time of your marathon- ie around 2:40. If you are trying to keep the volume lower on these in the base phase keep your pace to the low end. The range for you would be 4:00 to 4:20 per k. So aim for 4:00. You can start with a 10k in 40, which should be pretty easy. During the base do this weekly, then once during the special and once during the specific phase. Build up by increasing by a mile or two each time out. hopefully your running 14 to 16 by the end of the base and 18 to 20 miles in the special. Obviously in the specific it would be be very long, 24/25 miles. Do this workout 4 to 6 weeks before your marathon and be prepared to take the week after lighter than usual and you may not want to do a hard workout the following weekend. Also if you haven't done the build up of workouts to it don't attempt this session as a one off as it is almost certainly going to derail your marathon.
- Hope that helps, also if you read between the lines I have basically laid out your specific workouts for the specific phase, just add a two week taper at the end.

KAV said...

Hey Nate, this is awesome, thanks very much for sharing all this.

I have a couple of questions, the first regarding the Fundamental Tempo - is it worth to make it maybe a tad shorter but make it a progressive one (you start from say 5k+60" pace and and finish to 5k+30")? I came across the other day a schedule that Solinsky followed during his amazing career and it was a staple workout that his group use(d) to do all year round. They had a loop of some kind with hills, where they ran between 8-12 miles. I think it is also something that Jager still does quite often.

And, how would you adapt all this if you are a (some kind of) competitive Age group guy? I am 48, been running for over 35 years, mid 15' in the heydays and i am still getting a low 17' on a 5k, but i have seen for instance that my tolerance for volume has gone down the drain as well as workouts with anaerobic components in them (it takes me a good couple of days to flush out a Mona...). I have seen that i tend to be able to get by increasing the frequency of intensity workouts (ie. i do specific sessions all year round)- and I have found that progressive tempo works quite well for me.

Thanks a lot!

Nate Jenkins said...

KAV -yup what Schumacher'so group does works great though it isn't ideal for marathon prep. In terms of the issues with aging I would just really stress being willing to give time for recovery if you have to do a few days of 3 mile shuffle jogs or even cross training after a quality session that is fine . As you get older the workouts become more important and the regular running becomes less important but staying healthy is most important. Even if this means you only do a quality session once or twice a week that is fine as long as you do some drills and strides on your easy days to keep the range of motion and the strength.


banglacow said...

Really appreciate all your sharing of the knowledge. This is very very awesome content. Aspire to have a mind like yours someday.

Love from Singapore
3 hour marathoner training to be a 240

Nate Jenkins said...

Banglacow- Thanks and good luck!