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A Simple Blueprint for Effective Running Training

From Super Dave - Road Runner Sports

The Four Rules of Running

You've probably figured out by now that running isn't like other sports. For one thing there aren't a lot of rules to follow. There are no "out-of-bounds" or "offsides" or "celebrating too much after finishing." But since it's human nature to want at least a few rules, runners have made some up! These "Four Rules of Running" should become the foundation of your running program. They will ensure your continued enjoyment and improvement as a runner and help keep things fun and interesting as well.

Rule #1: Stress and Rest Your training program should consist of a combination of training stresses followed by recovery. In other words, "hard" one day, then "easy" for a day or two. Then hard again. This "hard/easy" approach allows you to continually improve your fitness level-and stay motivated. "Hard" doesn't mean that you're sucking wind at the end of your run. Maybe it's just a run where you increase the distance or speed slightly. "Easy" can mean a day off or a shorter, slower run that allows your body to refresh itself. Using this method from workout-to-workout, week-to-week and even month-to-month, will help you avoid the beginning runner's #1 Mistake: Doing too much too soon. It'll be easier to get out the door when you're not sore or tired all the time.

Rule #2: Repetition - To improve their free throw shooting, basketball players practice shooting free throws, not jumpers from the top of the key. The same principle goes for runners. Your body improves at what it practices. If you wanna be a better runner, you gotta run. Adding other workouts like cycling or swimming is a great way to maintain or improve your overall fitness level, but putting one foot in front of the other is the only way to continually get better at running.

Rule #3: Variety - The body adapts pretty quickly to a consistent routine. Without stress, there's no stimulus. When that happens, your fitness level plateaus, your motivation weakens and you stop improving. To avoid this, you should vary your training from day-to-day. Use different types of workouts. Vary the amount of training. Emphasize different types of runs for a period of time such as a month.

Rule #4: Gradual progress - Sure, you'd like to be fit and fast tomorrow. But it just doesn't work that way. Doing too much too soon is the highway to burn-out or injury. Instead, think like the tortoise, not the hare. Take it slow. Increase your training gradually. What's the rush, anyway? Be in it for the long haul.

The most common mistake made by runners
As your fitness improves and you start moving along at a good pace, you'll find yourself wanting more and more. More distance, more speed. Don't make the mistake of doing too much too soon. If you run too fast for too long without recovery, your body will break down. Instead, increase your running by no more than 10-15% per week. And every 3 to 6 weeks, take a "rest" week and reduce your mileage a bit. By keeping this simple check on your enthusiasm, you'll stay healthy and steadily improve for weeks, months and years.

"Run-Speak"- a guide to the running training lingo

Long run

Long runs are easy runs that test your endurance boundaries. They are performed at a "conversational" pace, meaning that you can talk and run at the same time. They can be as short as 20 minutes or as long as 3 hours. It just depends on your ability level and time! While building your long runs, feel free to take short walking breaks. Time on your feet is what's important, not pace. Heart rate target zone is less than or equal to 75% of maximum.

Stamina workouts
Stamina workouts are steady runs that will help you feel strong as you go long. These runs are "moderately hard," and slightly faster than conversational pace. A good stamina workout might involve alternating periods of running strong for 4-8 minutes with periods of jogging for 1-3 minutes, for a total of up to 30 minutes. Heart rate target zone is 80-85% of maximum.

Hill workouts
Hill workouts are repeated strong, fast runs up a gradual hill. Your pace is the same as in stamina workouts, but the effort is more difficult due to the incline. Your effort level is hard to very hard. For starters, run up the hill for 45-60 seconds- once, twice...up to 8 times. Jogging back down the hill to the starting point serves as the recovery. Heart rate target zone is 90-95% of maximum.

Stride workouts
Stride workouts help bring your fitness to a peak. They are short, faster runs that are performed once you've developed your endurance (long runs), stamina and power (hill workouts). They're fast and fun. Try alternating periods of fast running (not all-out, though) for 1-4 minutes with periods of jogging for 1-4 minutes, for a total of up to 15 minutes. Heart rate target zone is 90-95% of maximum. Stride workouts are not for beginners. Only attempt them once you've developed your endurance with long runs, your stamina with stamina workouts and power with hill workouts.

Recovery jog
Recovery jogs are slow runs performed in between faster running efforts. For example, you might perform 1-minute recovery jogs between fast runs of 3 minutes. During this 1-minute run, you would slow down to a very slow jog, maybe even a walk. The goal is to let the body "catch its breath." Your breathing rate and heart rate will decrease, and your leg muscles will revive themselves a little in preparation for the next fast run.

Warm-up
Never go into a workout "cold." You'll shock your body (muscles in a resting state aren't very pliable) and increase the risk of injury. Instead, warm up with light jogging and stretching. This increases the blood flow to the working muscles. Begin your 10-minute warm-up with some light stretching followed by very slow jogging. Gradually increase the pace to your normal running speed. A thorough warm-up is required for all runs, especially before workouts like long runs, stamina, speed and hill workouts, as well as road race events.

Cool-down
Mirroring the warm-up, the cool-down is a period of light jogging and stretching designed to protect the body from the shock of a sudden stop. It gradually returns the body to its resting condition (slow heart rate and relaxed breathing). It's a great opportunity to work on your flexibility by spending a few minutes stretching those leg muscles.

Workout formula
Workouts are sometimes described in what looks like some complicated physics equation. Here's the key to breaking the code.

Stamina Workout: 4 x 3 min w/1-min easy jog.

This means, after your warm-up of 5-10 minutes, you run for 3 minutes at your stamina effort (moderately hard). Then you slow to a jog for 1 minute to let the body recover from the faster running. After the minute, you begin another 3 minutes at your stamina pace. You repeat this combination of faster running and slower running for the number of times listed, in this case 4. You then cool-down for 5-10 minutes. In total you have a 36-minute run: 10-minute warm-up, 12-minute workout (4 x 3), plus recovery jogs totaling 4 minutes, and a 10 minute cool-down. If you were supposed to run for 40 minutes, then just add 2 minutes to both your warm-up and cool-down.

Heart rate training zones
By using a heart rate monitor, you'll actually be able to train less and benefit more. Before attempting heart rate training, you'll need to get the okay from your doctor for a maximum stress. Training is more effective when it's done at the proper heart rate.

How to determine your maximum heart rate
First, get permission from your doctor to run a maximum-effort test. Next, buy or borrow a heart rate monitor. Then head for the nearest oval running track. Warm up for 10-15 minutes. Then run a mile (4 laps), going all-out during the final laps. As soon as you finish, note the highest reading on your monitor.

Achieving your peak fitness level

The four building blocks of peak fitness are:

  1. endurance training
  2. stamina training
  3. stride training
  4. peak fitness training

1. The Endurance Phase
During the first 5 weeks, you'll concentrate on improving your endurance. Endurance, how long you can run comfortably, is the foundation of any runner's program. During this phase, you'll gradually increase the length of your longest run. Your heart and lungs will become stronger and more efficient at delivering the oxygen and fuel required by your muscles. A good rule of thumb is to increase your long run each week by about 5-10 minutes. By the end of 5 weeks, you could add 20 minutes or more to the length of your long run! Piece of cake, huh? You'll notice that at the end of the phase (the fifth week), the lengths of your workouts will decrease. That's because of the first rule of running. (Remember Rule #1? Stress + rest = progress!) You'll follow the hard/easy approach on a monthly, as well as a weekly, basis.

Warming up before each workout
Make sure your muscles are limber so you'll be ready to perform your workout safely. Your training session should be preceded by an easy 10-15 minute warm-up followed by several minutes of light stretching. Don't forget that warm-up and cool-down distances should be calculated as part of that day's total running time.

2. The Stamina Phase
In the Stamina Phase, you'll move your attention away from strengthening the heart and lungs to developing the muscles in the legs and rear, just the places you'd like to see a little more toned-up! Because you'll be focusing on a new type of training, your total running for the first week of this phase will drop slightly (around 10%). This will give your body time to adapt. You'll also continue the stamina workouts started in the Endurance Phase. For hill training, any hill (or part of one) will do. Find one that's away from traffic and has a nice gradual slope with no major obstacles. Your runs will last from 45 seconds to a minute. You don't have to sprint, but try to increase your effort slightly above your normal training pace. Start by warming up, then tackle the hill 2 or 3 times. Recover by jogging back down to your starting position. As your fitness level improves, gradually add more runs. Remember Rule # 2: If you want to be better at running up hills, then run some hills. After this month of training, you'll welcome hills instead of dreading them.

Proper Hill-Bounding Technique
Find a quiet dirt, grass or paved hill that is at least 100 to 200 meters long, with a moderate to steep slope. Move up the hill by springing powerfully off the balls of your feet and your toes. Use an exaggerated high knee lift and equally strong ankle drive and arm swing. The key is not how fast you get up the hill but how strongly you push off and how well you maintain your form. Rest briefly at the top of the hill by walking for about 30 seconds until you are somewhat recovered. Then jog lightly and slowly back down the hill. Rest for about 5 to 10 seconds and run up with crisp form again. Finish with a 10-15 minute cool-down.

3. The Stride Phase
Now, this is not all-out sprinting-at least, not at first. It's gradually increasing your pace for small portions of some workouts to help your body get a little more efficient and faster (your legs, stomach and even your arms will also get stronger). As in the Endurance Phase and Stamina Phase, you'll gradually increase the duration of the workouts. This will provide jolts of variety and motivation, along with improved fitness.
Work on concentration and relaxation!

Great golfers and baseball players have the unique ability to blend total concentration with total relaxation. Great runners are no different. Stamina runs are designed to help you learn to relax, while holding your concentration, for long periods while running at a somewhat challenging pace.

4. The Peak Phase
In this phase you'll "top off the tank," and have some fun while you're at it. With your stride training increased and everything else reduced, you'll feel like a kid, and zoom around like one. As in the Stride Phase, you'll run fast for a short while, then rest until recovered, then do it again. You'll boost your fitness level and burn tons of calories. The workouts are intense, but loads of fun. They'll leave you pleasantly exhausted. At the end of this phase, you'll reach a peak in your fitness level. So why not take the time to participate in a local running event? Your legs will be fresh from the reduced training load and the faster workouts. And, you'll enjoy the satisfaction of reflecting on all the great training you've done over the last several weeks.

Eating during the Peak Phase of training
Contrary to popular belief, a huge carbohydrate-rich meal the night before a race isn't the only nutritional requirement for peak performance. Throughout the entire peak phase, remember to eat a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates, as well as protein and fats in moderation. Ideally, your diet should consist of about 50-70%carbohydrates, 10-20% proteins and 20-30% fats. Stay hydrated every day, drinking one ounce of water for every two pounds you weigh.

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