Welcome to the Coach Carl “Training Tune-Up” — thanks for joining me! I’m looking forward to providing you with realistic, actionable advice and tips to help you run your best.
To kick things off, I want to start with the two core principles of improving as a runner: consistency and progression. Understanding how these concepts play into your training will make the information in the coming days much more useful.
So, let’s get started …
Distance running is a patient person’s game. No one great workout, week of training, or even month of training will allow you to reach your potential in distance running.
Consider these two examples:
3 runs of 3 miles and a long run of 8 miles
2 runs of 3 miles and a long run of 9 miles
3 runs of 3 miles and a long run of 8 miles
4 runs of 5 miles and a long run of 12 miles
1 run of 4 miles
1 run of 5 miles and a long run of 8 miles
At the end of these three weeks, each runner will have run the same number of miles (49), but Runner 1 will be in much better shape because of the consistency of the training.
Of course, as busy adults there will be times that you need to be flexible with your training. That is normal, and totally to be expected.
So let’s look at how to prioritize your training when life gets hectic. Using this hierarchy will help you make sure your training is effective and consistent even when you need to improvise:
Training Priority Hierarchy
1) Long Run
The most important training run every week. Period. This is true for everything from the 5k up to the marathon. If you can only get one run in during a week, this is the one to do!
2) Speed Workout #1
You get good bang for your buck with speed work, and that can help on a busy schedule. Do your best not to do this back-to-back with your long run so that you have recovery time built in, too.
3) Medium-Long Run (if applicable)
If you are doing a mid-week medium-long run, you’ll get more benefit out of it than your shorter easy runs. Aim to space this out from the long run and your speed workout as much as possible.
4) Easy run the day before your speed workout
A shorter, easy run the day before your speedwork will help get your legs ready to run well the next day. If you have time for one easy day, this is the best one to do. Bonus points if you add a few strides after the run.
5) Other easy runs
These are all of relatively equal value, so fit them in when/where you can.
6) Other speed workouts
If you’re doing more than one speed workout a week and are pressed for time, slide the extra workouts to the bottom of your priority list. That will help make sure that you still have a good balance of hard running and easy running in your training week.
But being consistent with your training isn’t enough by itself. Your body will eventually fully adapt to the training that you’re doing and your fitness will plateau.
To keep that from happening, let’s look at the second key to improving …
To keep improving as a runner, it’s important that you progress the training that you’re doing. The training that got you to the finish line of your first 5k won’t get you to the finish line of your first marathon. And the training that got you to the finish line of your first marathon won’t get you to a BQ (if it will, give thanks for some great genes!).
But progressing too quickly is a prime contributor to injuries and burn-out, so it’s important to have a plan in place.
To help you plan your progression better, I want to bust two big myths that I hear over and over:
You can increase your mileage 10% each week
This is one of the most common pieces of running advice that you’ll hear. It sounds good because it’s based on a percentage, so beginning runners are increasing smaller amounts than higher-mileage runners. But in the real world it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Instead, I would make two recommendations regarding how to increase your mileage safely and effectively:
1) Don't increase every week
We already talked about the importance of consistency. And increasing your mileage every week greatly increases the risk of injury. Instead, I recommend two to four weeks at a mileage level before you increase it. The higher the mileage is compared to what you’ve done in the past, the longer you stay there before you think about increasing.
When you feel comfortable at the mileage level and you’re confident that you have gotten all the fitness gains that you can at that level, bump it up with this rule …
2) Increase weekly mileage one mile for every run
Instead of the 10% rule, bump your total weekly mileage one mile per run that you do in a week. So if you consistently run three times a week, you’re safe to increase three miles. If you are a high mileage runner going seven times a week, you can add up to seven miles.
This is a much more realistic and effective way to increase your mileage than just focusing on 10%. Note, however, that you don’t need to add one mile to EVERY run — you may want to increase your long run by two to three miles and keep some of your other runs the same distance.
And speaking of increasing your long run …
Your long run should increase each week
You see this time and again in the cookie-cutter marathon and half marathon programs that are available for free online. You start your long run at six miles, add one mile per week until your race and you’re good!
You can probably guess by now how I feel about that approach. But, humor me and let me go into some more details …
Much like increasing your weekly mileage each week, this approach continually adds stress to your body — and it may not have time to adapt. If every long run is the longest distance you’ve ever run, you are asking for an overuse injury.
But there is a more practical reason that I don’t like this approach: it’s hard to schedule around your life. Instead of needing to schedule in a big block of time every weekend for a long run, it’s much more realistic to alternate a long run weekend with a shorter recovery run the next weekend. That gives you a physical break, but it gives you a mental and scheduling break, too!
With proper planning, you will still be able to get your long run distance up high enough to be ready for race day even with down weeks. And the recovery time they provide will provide a boost to the rest of your training.
Now that you understand the two key concepts to improving as a runner, tomorrow we’ll be taking a look at another concept that goes hand-in-hand with being consistent and progressing — staying injury-free!