One important measure of a successful training program in any sport is economy, "getting the most bang for your buck". Economy has two benefits: 1) you can achieve a higher level of training with the same outlay of effort and 2) the risk of injury is minimized or reduced. A successful training program employs all of the following keys:
Training is accomplished by the adaptation to repeated stress. If overload or stress is repeated many times, it results in specific adaptation of the body in a way that will strengthen resistance to that stress. In running, stress can be applied by increased speed and/or distance. Adaptation does not take place during the overload or stress period, but during the recovery or rest periods between stresses. During stress microscopic cell destruction takes place and working muscles and cells are depleted of necessary enzymes and nutrients. During recovery periods, microscopic rebuilding takes place along with some overcompensation. This overcompensation is what is referred to as "training effect".
In a runner's training program, overload (hard workouts) can be achieved through either added speed or distance, while recovery takes place only when both speed and distance are minimized (easy workouts). To quantify these the following definitions are given:
The more often you can overload and recover, the better. The key limitation is recovery. If the overload is too great, it may take so long to recover that you don't get the maximum number of overload/recovery cycles and you may get injured. If the recovery is inadequate, you will not have the strengthened resources to overload during the next cycle. This leads to injury.
Adequate recovery between overload cycles requires 48 hours or longer. Forty-eight hours is the minimum time needed to replenish enzymes and nutrients, such as glycogen, within the muscle cells after a hard workout. For this reason, most successful training programs have at least one easy workout day following each hard workout day to allow for recovery. An easy workout, in lieu of total rest, can actually help speed the recovery by increasing circulation to the recovering tissue which helps flush out wastes.
Since adaptation to overload tends to respond to the specific stress involved, it follows that the stress should overload the muscles and other systems used in the activity for which you are training and that the stress should simulate the type of activity (i.e. aerobic, anaerobic, etc.) An economical training program therefore should be tailored to the type of activity for which you are training (ie., endurance running requires long duration runs for training as opposed to short sprints). A corollary to specificity is that the component parts of a sport can be trained for separately and specifically. This will be discussed later.
Any training is better than no training. Hence, the most important aspect of any training program is injury prevention. Useful strategies and tactics for doing this are:
The best strategy is to devise and write down a training plan that has target times and distances which will stress, but not break the runner, and will allow adequate recovery between hard workouts. If the training is going to increase over the long term, (i.e. building mileage or adding more speed work), this increase should be gradual, at a rate of 5% per week or less.
Once a training plan is established, it should be viewed as a flexible framework around and within which the runner can employ various tactics to lessen the risk of injury. These can include variations in terrain, surface and shoes. If necessary, individual workouts can be eliminated or changed or the overall plan can be modified.
A key technique used in training is functionally specific workouts. These workouts concentrate on one element of the training at a time, independent of the other components being trained. This independent training is highly effective and allows one part of the body to rest while the other is trained, minimizing overuse injuries.
Specific elements of long distance running are speed (aerobic power) and distance. These can be trained using workout combinations shown in the speed/distance matrix below.
The filled in squares in the matrix effectively separate hard or very hard efforts in either speed or distance from their counterparts on the other axis and are recommended training techniques. A complete training program includes workouts that are speed specific and those that are distance specific.
Combinations of speed and distance, (blank squares in matrix), may be effective training techniques, but provide a much higher risk of injury because the total stress is higher.
For long distance runs, such as the marathon, 95% of all training should be specific to endurance. Hence, nearly all hard workouts should be either hard or very hard distance runs done at an easy speed. Speed training is used most effectively only during the final weeks before the event for sharpening or for periodic fitness measurement.
In order to get the training benefit of hard workouts, there must be adequate recovery provided to let the body rebuild. The matrix below gives the number of recovery (easy workout) days which are recommended following various workout efforts. Typical workout weeks employ 3 hard workouts alternated with 4 recovery days.
|Speed||75-80%||0 Easy||1 Hard||2 Very Hard|
|100%||2 Very Hard||5||8+|
Note that we have included recommended recovery days for mixed speed and distance workouts. This can be used as a guide for those of you who overdo occasionally or run races (100% speed).
A very useful aid is a training diary where you can record your training plans and goals. You can note resting heart rate (HR), recovery HR, weight, daily and weekly mileage, times plus a general comment on how you feel each day. An example is shown in the Appendix. Learning how your body reacts to overload and when to rest is important in maintaining health. You can use monitored heart rates to monitor the result of effort of running and recovery. Heart Rate recovery consists of two phases, short and long term. During the short term phase, the HR drops rapidly from the exercise rate to about 20 to 30 beats/minute above the resting HR. The long term phase may last for varying periods depending on the total stress of the run. Monitoring how long it takes for your HR to return to the resting rate is a good way to see whether a run has been too hard and a rest day is in order. Usually this long term period should be several hours, but it may last up to 24 hours after a long run. The guidelines for recovery time and HR are different for each individual. A diary can help you determine your particular normals and monitor yourself.
It is important to dispel the old myth "No pain, no gain". It is possible to train and improve by hard work that does not include pain. It is not possible to train at all if you are sick or injured. A good training program works to prevent these complications. Dick Brown, the former coach of Athletics West, felt that a major part of his role was to keep his athletes healthy. There is no one "right" way to train and each runner needs to learn how his or her body reacts to different overloads and what works best. But remember, overtraining does not help anyone and a rest day is definitely in order when there is:
One good way to reduce the possibility of injury is to run as much of the weekly mileage as possible on soft surfaces. The soft surface transmits less shock to the body and protects the joints. The best plan is to do the long runs on dirt trails if available. Remember that training times on hilly trails will be a minute or more per mile slower than on the roads. Training times must be adjusted accordingly.
Some of the questions most commonly asked by runners involved in a training program are of the form "What happens if
The answer to all of these questions is "Learn to listen to your body and respond to its needs!". If something is painful while you are running on it, that is your body's way of telling you that it is being abused. Heed its cry. Skipping a day or a week will not cause you to fall into immediate decay. Do not feel guilty, do not be compulsive, and do not add the missed workouts or mileage into your future schedule. If your body tells you it needs a rest, listen. The major goal is to remain healthy, injury free and enjoy your running, not to rack up as many miles and consecutive days as you can. If you have missed workouts, it may be necessary to drop back to an easier schedule for several days or weeks and then gradually return to the previous one. Remember, only you can hear your body protest, and only you can do something about it.
In some cases, runners may benefit from outside coaching. A coach should have an unbiased view of cause/effect relationships and may be more likely to protect the runner from injury than the runner himself. Many running clubs have coaching available or can provide you with group training sessions and clinics where support and answers to your questions are available.
Run The Planet thanks Patti & Warren Finke and Team Oregon for the permission to reprint the complete online version of the first edition of the book Marathoning Start to Finish (Hypertext Version 1.02) by Patti & Warren Finke. © 1986, 1996 wY'east Consulting, All Rights reserved.