Combining your love of running with working and family life can sometimes be pretty challenging. In these times when you’re under pressure and time is as scarce as a kind word from your boss, it’s a good idea to fall back on simple processes and routines. There’s a good reason why high risk/high consequence tasks like flying a passenger jet, rebooting a nuclear reactor or performing surgery are built on the foundations of well thought out documented procedures.
Humans are not robots and when we’re under the pump we make mistakes, overlook the otherwise obvious and generally tend to stuff things up. A simple process or cheat sheet can prevent the simple, but disastrous from befalling unwitting victims. I was recently watching a rerun of Apollo 13 where a great example of this was played out as the frantically stressed and exhausted astronauts worked through various hashed up procedures designed to get them back to earth.
The ultimate fail-safe was a sticky-note placed over the switch that could decouple part of the spacecraft prematurely with members of the crew still aboard. The word “no” written on it was a great piece of improvised process.
While running isn’t brain surgery and doesn’t require a detailed understanding of subatomic particles, it can be easy to mess up your training when the rest of your brain is swamped with the demands of your otherwise busy life. It’s easy to lose track of what training sessions you should be doing as part of a large or complicated training plan. Then you feel bad because you didn’t follow them to the letter – just remember the training program is just a plan that can and should be adjusted to reflect other demands in your life.
Here’s a simple training structure you can fall back-on when you’re uncertain about which city you’ve woken up in or where you are in time and space. It’s designed for a runner with some base running fitness, so if you’re just starting out this program isn’t for you unless you significantly reduce the volume of running to the level where you can sustain good technique for the duration of each session.
Six weeks of simple running training
This program has three different types of running (easy pace, tempo pace and speed) – each of these is done at a different pace: important for developing the physiological attributes required for running a decent 5 – 10 kilometer race or even a half-marathon at a pinch. On the mechanical flip-side these different types of running also help stimulate and let you practice technical improvements. The hill work helps acquire strength and the tempo pace work provides a great opportunity to practice holding your technique together at a good solid pace.
So while I’ve presented this training structure as a six week plan you can swap each element around to suit your location and even what you feel like you can cope with on any given day. The important thing is to try and do at least one of these different paced runs each week, the actual structure of session you do is less important. Keep in mind this program is your fail-safe plan rather than one you’d follow if you had all the time and head-space in the world to apply to your running.
Notes to the program
The idea with this program is to keep maximum flexibility whilst maintaining the base structure as best you can. If you can do one run of each type every week for six weeks you’ll have done a great job. If you have time to sneak in a fourth easy run, even better, but if you’re really busy and stressed then don’t do any more running than that. Rather than run more, think about doing some strength training or a yoga or pilates class as an additional stimulus and chance to relax.
Warm-up and cool down
Each session (tempo and speed) should be predicated with at least 10 minutes easy jogging. A similar 10 minute jog should be included following the session, plus stretching as needed.
Shorter tempo pace intervals: alternative work-outs
If you can’t face doing long tempo intervals break them up into shorter blocks. This is easier mentally and makes it more likely you’ll run them with better technique for longer. An alternative six shorter interval tempo sessions you could use are:
- 1,2,3,2,1 minute efforts at tempo pace with 1 minute jogs between
- 6 to 8 by 500m intervals at tempo pace
- 4 to 5 by 800m
- 2 by 1000m plus 1 by 800m plus 2 by 500m
- 1 by 1500m plus 1 by 1000m plus 1 by 800m plus 1 by 500m
- 1 by 2000m plus 1 by 1000m plus 2 by 500m
Time based tempo sessions for beginners and slower runners
As an alternative, use time as the measuring stick for each interval – this is a great idea if you’re a slower or beginner runner as it keeps you from spending too long on your feet. Modify or reduce the length of the intervals as needed.
- 1,2,3,2,1 minute efforts at tempo pace with 1 minute walks between
- 6 to 8 by 2 minute intervals at tempo pace
- 4 to 5 by 3 minutes
- 2 by 4 minutes plus 1 by 3 minutes plus 2 by 2 minutes
- 1 by 6 minutes plus 1 by 4 minutes plus 1 by 3 minutes plus 1 by 2 minutes
- 1 by 8 minutes plus 1 by 4 minutes plus 2 by 2 minutes
Allow recovery between each of the harder sessions (speed and temp work) of at least two or more days. Within each training session give yourself as much recovery as you need to get your breath back and be able to start the next interval or running feeling in control. For speed work and hills, walking back to the beginning is a good idea. For the tempo pace running jog easy and/or walk between intervals – a one to three minute jog or more might be needed depending on how fit you are at present.
Easy pace is slow enough so that you could talk while running, and this is exactly what you should do if you have the chance: take a friend of colleague along for a run if you can. Your main easy run for each week should be the longer run, but only go as far as you feel strong enough to run well – there’s no point flogging yourself at a desperate plodding pace.
Tempo pace is a solid pace – close to your 10k race pace or half-marathon race pace. These sessions are about sustained effort and concentration on good technique rather than all out hard running at close to maximum heart rate.
Hills and sprints are to be done fast but in control: 70 – 85 percent efforts so you can maintain good technique and strength.
For more on pace please read this article.
The order as presented in the diagram above does allow you to progress slightly in difficulty, but feel free to modify or swap these training sessions around to suit your needs.
I hope you enjoy your six weeks of simple running – training doesn’t always need to be complicated to bring good results.
I’ll be blogging more infrequently in coming months as I work on a couple of projects that are demanding all of my writing brain functions. I’ll have more to say about these in coming weeks.
Good luck to our friends running in the Melbourne Marathon festival this Sunday.
Words and diagram by Brian Martin