So, you’ve been running for a few months and may have completed a fun run or two or perhaps a 10km race. Or perhaps you are a seasoned old-timer who grinds out the same old runs day after day. Then today is the day you start to rejuvenate your running and lift it to the next level.
KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)
One of the nice things about running is its simplicity as it doesn’t need a high degree of technical skill or expensive gear – and we all know that the more we run the fitter we become.
In its simplest form – and even the most complex training programmes are simply variations on how to do this – improvement in running comes about from progressive adaptation in your training load. All you need do is stress your system by either increasing the amount of time you run, or by increasing the intensity at which you train, and follow this with recovery sessions during which your system responds to the added stress by becoming stronger and better able to cope with the additional training load.
The sum of the parts is greater than the whole
If you normally have a diet of steady running which remains unchanged day after day, month after month, you will find that your performance reaches a plateau once you have adapted to the training load. You would be better off including some variation in your week so that, for instance, instead of running 8km a day, you stress your system more by doing a 12km run followed by a 4km recovery run the following day. And while the total distance for the two days remains 16km, the second option would stress the system better while allowing for a recovery day.
Ok, now listen up, I’m going to let you into a secret. And its good news for everybody except those who have already trained hard to reach their potential. It’s called Pareto’s Principle or the 80/20 Rule. The 80/20 Rule states that 20 percent of what you do is responsible for 80 percent of the results. If we apply this to our training, we see that just a small change in our training (adding quality) can mean a substantial improvement in our running performance.
By incorporating quality sessions once or twice a week in your training you can improve your running significantly. Let’s say your best time for 10km is 50 minutes which has been achieved by a diet of steady running without specific quality sessions. This already shows that you have a fair amount of natural talent. But if you substitute two normal runs a week with quality sessions you could without an increase in your weekly mileage, after a reasonable period, expect to bring your 10km time down to about 45 minutes. Now that’s a good return on investment!
The Law of Diminishing Returns
So why do I exclude top runners from this bonanza? The reason is the Law of Diminishing Returns which simply states that at some point increasing the effort and distance results in less and less gains, but greatly increased risk of over training and injury. Top runners are already training at their optimal level, and the gains become less and less when training beyond their optimal point. So, while a 60km/week runner may make substantial gains simply by increasing her mileage to 80km/week or by introducing one or two quality sessions a week, a 100km/week runner who is already doing between 2-3 quality sessions each week would derive only marginal improvement by pushing her weekly mileage up to 120km or by trying to squeeze in another quality session. And while a small improvement in performance can be expected, it would carry with it a disproportionate increase in the chance of injury. This added risk for a marginal return may be justified for a top runner for whom a few seconds can mean the difference between winning and losing. But the rest of us would be better off trying to find the optimal level of training we can cope with.
It’s just not fair!
The bad news is that not all runners adapt to training equally well. Due to different levels of natural ability there are some runners we call “good adaptors” and “poor adaptors” (you can blame your parents for poor genes if you are a poor adaptor). Good adaptors will respond well to training and will show measurable improvement after following a programme, while poor adaptors will remain frustrated as improvement will be limited.
Keep it short and sweet
If speedwork has only just entered your vocabulary and the thought of endlessly circling the track at high speed fills you with dread, relax! It has been found that those who start speedwork for the first time or who haven’t done speedwork for a few months show the fastest improvement by starting with short intervals. Enter my favourite 75/45 session in which you run hard for 75 seconds and then jog slowly for 45 seconds to recover. Only after about 6 weeks of this should you consider more advanced speed work.
There’s a time to put your feet up
I call my training system Recovery Based Training. To get fitter and faster you need to gradually overload your system in training so that adaptation can take place. But this adaptation takes place during your recovery phase. You must first create the need for recovery by stressing the system. If you don’t stress your system sufficiently, you won’t create the need for recovery which means that no adaptation will take place and you won’t get faster. This ties in with the 80/20 Rule as introducing one or two quality sessions into your training each week will create the need for recovery sessions. This means you first have to get out there and get tired!
There are a lot of talented runners out there. But only a select few ever make it to the ranks of the elite and there is a simple reason for this – lack of consistency in training. It’s easy to get motivated and to put in two or three good training weeks or two or three good training months. But very few runners are prepared to churn out the training needed for months on end over a period of years to reach their potential. A world-class marathoner can be expected to hit her personal best time in the marathon after about 4 years of hard, consistent training. To do this you need the ability to stay focused on your ultimate goal, while using smaller goals as your stepping stones. It’s quite simply, a long and hard grind and only the most dedicated will persevere as it takes a concentration of mind and will power which is beyond most of us. But you can still apply the principle of consistency in your training and reap the benefits.