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Fundamentals of Workout Planning for Runners

by Claudia Piepenburg, editor of Road Runner Sports Run Today Newsletter

  • MAKE A PLAN - Pick a race then build your base. See two training plan samples that you can follow depending on your current mileage.
  • BUILD ENDURANCE - Improve your endurance so you'll stay strong ‘til the end. Check out these training tips and take to the hills.
  • BUILD SPEED - You want to do more than just finish. These tips will help you add speed to your workouts and have fun doing it.
  • KNOW WHEN TO SAY WHEN - Training for a race doesn't mean over-training. Find out how to determine when you're pushing it too hard.
  • RACE WEEK & BEYOND - Learn how to prepare as your race day approaches. Then set your sights on future goals.
Make a Plan

First things first…pick your race! Ideally, you'll want to choose a 5K or 10K the last weekend in April or the first weekend in May. Remember this is the first race of the season. You'll use this event as a springboard to the spring, summer and fall racing season. Don't expect a PR the first race of the season. Your goal is re-acquainting yourself with speed and competition.

Next up… build your base. That's what you'll do in the first six weeks. Even slight increases in mileage will make you a better runner. If you averaged 15 miles through the winter months, increasing your average weekly mileage to 25 or 30 will be sufficient to acclimate your body to slightly harder training and the rigors of racing. Gradually increase your mileage so you won't get injured.

Sample Six-Week Build-up from 15 Miles per Week to 25:

Week 1              
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
2 4 0 4 0 4 3 17
               
Week 2              
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
3 4 0 4 0 5 3 19
               
Week 3              
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
3 4 0 4 0 4 3 18
               
Week 4              
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
3 5 0 4 0 5 3 20
               
Week 5              
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
3 5 0 4 0 6 4 22
               
Week 6              
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
3 5 0 5 0 6 5 25
               

In weeks 7, 8, and 9 maintain 25 miles a week, but feel free to "play around" with the daily mileage. For instance, you might run only four miles on Thursday, and six on Sunday or seven miles on Saturday and only four Sunday. It doesn't matter as long as you're running consistently five days a week and maintaining 25 miles total. You may want to take Monday off instead of Wednesday. Just make sure that you always schedule an "easy" day after a "hard" one.

If you were running more than 15 miles per week during the winter, gradually increase your weekly mileage in the same manner. For instance, if you averaged 30 miles per week through the winter months, try this six-week build-up schedule.


Sample Six-Week Build-up from 30 Miles per Week to 40:

Week 1              
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
5 4 0 5 0 8 10 32
               
Week 2              
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
5 6 0 6 0 9 10 36
               
Week 3              
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
4 5 0 4 0 9 10 32
               
Week 4              
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
5 6 0 7 0 9 10 37
               
Week 5              
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
5 7 0 7 0 8 11 38
               
Week 6              
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
5 7 0 19 0 9 12 40
               


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Build Endurance

Running hills is the best way to build endurance. Try these workouts:
  • Find a hill that will take you about one-minute to run up. Warm-up at least ten minutes, then run from the base of the hill to the top at the same pace you run on flat ground. Concentrate on form: lift your knees, keep your head up and pump your arms more than usual. Continue running for ten to twenty seconds beyond the crest. Then very slowly jog, or even walk, back down.
  • Run the hill four times in week 7. Weeks 8 and 9 run it six times.
  • Run the hill on Tuesday, your longest mileage day during the week. Warming-up, running the hill and cooling-down should total five miles.

OR:

  • Find a one-mile stretch of road with two or three rolling hills. Run the course out and back after warming-up for at least ten minutes. Run slightly slower on the flat portions of road between hills, then pick your pace up a bit on the hills.
  • Run the hilly course on Tuesday. Your warm-up and cool-down should total three miles.
  • Run the course in weeks 7, 8 and 9.

OR:

  • Warm-up at least ten minutes on a treadmill set at a 1% grade. After you’ve warmed-up, raise the grade to 2% for one minute. Lower it to 1%. Then raise it to 3% for one minute and lower it again to 1%. Raise it to 4% for one minute, lower it to 1%, then raise it to 4% again. Cool-down. Do this workout on Tuesday in week 7.
  • In weeks 8 and 9, run a total of four minutes at a 4% grade, with a one-minute rest (at 1% grade) in between each.



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Build Speed

Hill workouts are great for making you stronger. Now all you need to do to get ready for that first 5K or 10K of the season is to throw in some speed. Here's how you'll do it.

Run harder than your regular training pace for a total of ten to fifteen minutes during either your Saturday or Sunday workouts in weeks 7, 8 and 9. Don't run the ten or fifteen minutes all at one time. Break it up into short segments, two to three minutes max. For instance, if your Saturday run is scheduled for six miles, warm up at least a mile, then run hard to a certain point such as a fence or maybe a tree. Run easy for a few minutes, then run hard again to another spot, perhaps a stop sign. Continue with hard/easy running until you've run a total of ten to fifteen minutes. Your warm-up, speed play and cool-down should total near the six miles scheduled for the day.

Have fun with these workouts! This type of training is known as speed-play for good reason. Enjoy yourself; don't worry about trying to run a specific distance in a certain amount of time. Pretend you're running your race. Make believe that the tree half a block down the road is another runner you're trying to beat. Run hard to that point, then back off.

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Know When to Say When

It's a good idea to monitor your heart rate when you're training. If your resting (morning) heart rate varies more than a beat or two per minute, you're working too hard and not getting enough rest. Here's how you determine your resting heart rate.

  • First thing in the morning, measure your pulse at your wrist (or better yet, use your heart rate monitor and see the visual readout.) CAUTION: take your pulse after you've relieved your bladder. Once you've used the bathroom, lie back down and rest for a minute or two so your heart rate can go back down. Place your index finger and middle finger (DON’T USE YOUR THUMB!) against the inside of your wrist, count the beats for ten seconds and multiply by six. Voila! You now know your resting heart rate.
  • Measure your heart rate three mornings in a row to get an average. If you notice an increase in beats per minute, back off on your training. You may be running too hard on your easy days.

You’ll know how hard your heart is working, if you wear a heart rate monitor while training. To determine how hard you should (or shouldn’t) be training, use this simple formula.

  • Subtract your age from 220
  • Multiply that number by .6 and .9.

These figures are your training ranges. For example, if you’re 32 years old, your theoretical maximum heart rate is 188. Your training ranges, therefore, should be between 113 beats per minute and 169 beats per minute.

On your easy days, try to keep your heart rate from going higher than 120 beats per minute. On the harder days, when you’re running hills or running fast, your heart rate could go as high as 168 or even 170 beats per minute. When you’re running hills, your heart rate may creep up even higher, but it will quickly fall once you have crested the hill and start jogging back down.



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Race Week and Beyond

Drop your mileage down a bit during race week. Run no more than fifteen miles in the five days prior to race day. Don't do the hill workout, but do some quick pick-ups the day before your event. Pick-ups are fast bursts of speed lasting no more than ten to fifteen seconds. Do six to eight pick-ups after you've warmed-up at least two miles.

Once you've run the first spring race, focus on races later in the season. Use 5K's as speed-work to prepare for a future 10K. Replace your regular speed-play workout on Saturday or Sunday with a 5K. As long as you don't run too hard during the week, you can safely run a 5K two or even three times a month. Happy running!

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Run Today Contributor's Information

Claudia Piepenburg:


Claudia has been running for 21 years and is the current editor for Peak Running Performance. She holds or has held state age-group records in Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia. In 1990, she was ranked 18th fastest masters woman in the world and 8th fastest masters woman in the U.S. in 1990 and 1991. She competed in the 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials, was 20th woman overall in the 1987 Boston Marathon and women's winner of the 1986 Virginia Beach Marathon.

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