Runners World Articles: Archives - March 2001
Train to Gain: When you maximize the training
effect, it's all gain and no pain
Like the software many of us deal with every day, each of us is
preprogrammed. Our bodies are designed to strengthen and improve
with regular exercise thanks to what scientists call the "training
The good news is that it doesn't take a Herculean training program
to elicit this effect. Running at least three times a week promotes
positive changes that will ensure training progress. In contrast,
once-a-week runners will continually struggle to regain fitness
each time their feet meet the road.
But to maximize the training effect, runners need a structured
program with small increases in distance and speed, followed by
adequate rest. During a series of weekly speed sessions, for example,
a slight increase in the number of 400-meter repetitions will gradually
stress your body, initiation dozens of adaptations that will help
you run faster and easier. Yet too much of an increase, or waiting
too long between runs, will slow down or neutralize your improvement.
How do you challenge your body just enough to ensure the optimal
training effect without stressing it too much? Simply keep in mind
the following principles:
Consistency. You'll improve running efficiency if you do
at least three half-hour runs every week, regardless of the sped
at which you do them. Each additional day you run per week will
slightly improve your conditioning, but it will also increase your
risk of injury and fatigue. Too many running days in a row, even
when you run slowly, won't give your muscles the time-out necessary
for rebuilding, especially if you're 40 or older.
On the other hand, you'll start to lose conditioning if you take
more than 2 days off between runs. So you need to find the number
of days per week that works best for you, and be ready to reduce
your running to 3 days a week if beset by tiredness, aches, or pains.
Specificity. To improve your running performance, you have
to gradually increase the duration or intensity of your workouts
until you are simulating your goal-race effort. So to run farther,
you must run farther at least every 2 weeks. If, for instance, your
goal is to finish a half-marathon, you should gradually build up
your long run to about 13 miles 2 weeks before the event. Just remember
to run these long runs at about 2 minutes per mile slower than your
goal race pace.
The best way I've found to increase speed is to gradually increase
the number of repetitions in your weekly speed workout. The training
effect for a faster 10-K, for example, is produced by starting with
6 x 400 meters, then adding another 2 x 400 meters each week until
you can run 18 to 20 x 400 meters. That's a lot, but your should
be running these 400s at your 10-K goal pace or slightly faster.
Walk or jog at least 200 meters between repeats.
Rest. Without rest, even the most perfect workouts will
not produce a training effect. If you take a day off from running
after a stressful speed workout or long run, most of the damage
your body incurred will be repaired in 48 hours. Everyday runners
who develop tired legs can usually recover-and even increase weekly
mileage-by simply running every other day.
Pace. If you run too fast on long runs or during speed sessions,
you won't reap the full benefits of the training effect. The wear
and tear on your body will not be repaired in time for the next
long or fast workout, which makes you more fatigued rather than
more efficient. Even on days when I feel good, I run my first 2
to 3 miles of any run about 2 minutes per mile slower than I could
run that day.
When you run at the right pace, for enough days per week, with
enough rest between runs, you'll build to a stronger level each
week. After more than 4 decades of running, I feel great on almost
every one of my runs because I've learned to slow down o the slow
days, take off an extra day when needed, and to run regularly-including
long runs and speed work. Mange these components as I have, and
you too will enjoy that wonderful phenomenon called the training
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