Ready, set, go! Whether a race begins with these timeless words or a whistle, horn, gun or cannon, there is no greater heart-pounding excitement than being in a race, no greater thrill than winning it. But before the medals and trophies come the running training program, the workhorse that paces steadily toward his/her elusive goal of finishing or winning the race.
The author, T. Alan Armstrong notes that
“Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.” So let’s pick a running training program that will make a champion out of you.
Before you select a program, you should have been running for fitness for at least 6-12 months and following these basic principles.
Principle #1—Start every running training session with a warm-up and end with a cool-down. The purpose of a warm-up is to loosen the body, energize it and prepare it to work. Do this with a slow jog, very gentle stretching (save the static stretches for after your workout as part of the cool down when your muscles are warm), and some shaking of the arms and hands, and a few shoulder and head rolls just to loosen everything up and get mentally sharp so you can focus on your training. After the run, cool-down with some slow, sustained stretches. This will increase your range of motion and help rid the muscles of lactic acid. Skipping the cool-down means paying for it the next day with extremely sore muscles and fatigue.
Principle #2—Every endurance running expert will advise increasing mileage gradually, only 10% of your longest training run every week. This will prevent injury by allowing the body time to adjust to the new level of work load on the muscles and joints. The large numbers of people running marathons today as opposed to 20 years ago is because more people are following this method of increasing their endurance. The racetrack wisdom is that anyone can run marathons—men and women in their 50s and beyond can run marathons as long this principle is followed as part of their training program.
Principle #3—Work days and Rest days—In the late 70s, runners prided themselves on running EVERY day, and were often sidelined with injuries. With three decades of endurance training behind us, experts verify that rest days are important for the muscles to have time to rebuild, repair, and strengthen the long muscle fibers—where endurance is built. Most training methods start endurance programs running 3 days, alternating with 4 days resting or cross-training with no-impact exercise, and one longer run on your last day of the week. As endurance goals are met and races of 3K, 5K, 10K and half marathon finished, other training methods are employed to push past physical limits. The “rest days” become a lighter running day, when you are taking it at a easier pace. By the time you are ready for a marathon, you will be running 5 days and racking up 40-60 miles a week.
Principle #4 Believe it or not, walking when you are running can help push you to the next level. If you plateau in your workouts and can’t go any farther, then stop running and walk 10% farther. Alternate running and short walks and you will push past that ceiling. There is no rule that says “runners can only run”. If your muscles fatigue, you may be saving yourself an injury and building more endurance with a short walk. (runningadvisor.com 3/17/12)
Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare. -Japanese Proverb
As you’ve establish these principles daily and build a running base, you are ready to look at different running training programs. Keep your dream in mind; set your goals and make a plan of action. Are you running a 5K, 10K, half marathon or more? The length of race you run will determine the type of training program you need. The best programs build an endurance base and spice up the daily routine with several types of speed workouts to teach your muscles different skills.
An endurance base will consist of the aforementioned principles. The running distance usually begins at 3 miles every other day and on the 6th day, a longer run of 4 or 5 miles. This distance is gradually increased 10% a week, and every 2-3 weeks, the longer run is increased by 150%. The week following, the longer run is reduced by 10-15% and then the schedule resumes.
Speed and tempo training are valuable tools in a running training program. Running champions use fartleks, intervals and tempo runs to increase speed and time.
A fartlek is a Swedish word meaning “speed play”. They are timed bursts of speed for varying distances. During your regular paced workout (after the first mile), suddenly put on the jets and go for it! You can slow down and resume your standard pace at any time.
Intervals are usually run on a track or on a course that can be marked for distance. Run a mile, then race at top speed for 200 (1/2 lap), 400 (1 lap) or 800 (2 laps) meters. As you improve, the length of your intervals can increase. Many runners choose to do intervals on a rest day. Run several sets.
Tempo Runs are timed runs and the easiest of the speed workouts. Rather than employing bursts of speed, tempo runs are sustained racing speeds over distance. A regular workout pace is 80% of your racing speed. Run your workout at racing speed and see how long you can sustain it. The goal is to increase the time (and therefore distance) you can maintain the faster tempo. This helps the body learn to conserve and use its fuel more efficiently.
Find a running training program with these elements and you will succeed.