At Lonely Goat Running Club, we want all runners to feel welcome: from the first timers to the veterans, from the PB hunters to those who aren’t motivated by fast times. If you run, have run, or want to run, then that is good enough for us.
With this in mind, we recognise that not only will definitions of ‘improvement’ vary from runner to runner, but many Goats will be quite happy as they are, perhaps running on an ad hoc basis, with no desire to ‘improve’ their running. This is perfectly OK. In fact, it’s great, as satisfaction and contentment with your running (as in almost every area of life) has got to be a good thing.
However, there are many of you who do want to be able to run further, or faster, or feel more comfortable doing so. It is for those runners that we have written this series of training articles.
The Lonely Goat training articles
The series consists of:
- Long runs.
- Tempo runs.
- 5km training.
- 10km training.
- Half marathon training.
- Marathon training.
- Track racing, trail racing, cross country and ultramarathons.
This introduction will give you an overview of what to expect.
The 2nd, 3rd and 4th articles will look at the three main kinds of run that we can use when we want to get quicker or run further. They’ll provide a definition, explain what they are used for, and give advice on how you can do them.
The 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th articles will look at the four classic event distances that many runners choose to participate in. For each, we’ll look at how to approach the event as a beginner, and how more experienced runners might be able to run them quicker.
Article 9 will explore ‘non-standard’ events, giving an overview of how you can identify the challenges of these events and adapt your training accordingly. The 10th will wrap up the series with an overview of everything we’ve covered.
As mentioned above, the definition of ‘improvement’ will vary from runner to runner. For the purposes of this series, we will be looking at how you can get more comfortable running certain events and train to be able to get faster and do them in a quicker time. This definition holds true regardless of whether you are an experienced runner or a beginner.
The remainder of this article, plus those that follow, will include examples of training sessions or approaches that you could take. These are purely illustrative, based on ways of doing things that might work for most runners, most of the time. However, every runner is different, so we stress that there is no one, perfect way to train. Instead, you should consider the concepts and approaches mentioned and adapt them to suit yourself. There’s a massive community of Lonely Goats to chat about this with should you want to ponder how you might be able to get the best out of yourself, so we encourage you to raise your questions in the Facebook Chat Group, using our Instagram hashtags, or in the Strava group where they may be able to help others, too.
Should I just run more?
Generally, within reason, in usual circumstances, running more will help you improve. The reasons for this are straightforward.
Training is about stress and adaptation. If you stress the body, by doing a particular exercise, the body will then try to adapt in a way that improves its capacity to do that exercise in the future.
To use a simple motion as an example, if you were to regularly stress your biceps by doing bicep curls with a heavy weight every day, then your body would adapt by growing bigger biceps.
The same is true for more complex activities. When we run, we use pretty much every muscle in our body, plus our skeleton, respiratory system, nervous system and other bodily processes. Every time we run, we stress each of these systems, causing the body to try and adapt to make running easier.
Therefore, the more we run, the better we get at it – except for when the opposite is true.
Don’t push too hard
Sometimes, running more can be a bad thing.
The key thing to remember about the stress and adaptation model is that you have to allow the adaptation to happen. This won’t happen if the level of activity is out of balance with your recovery from that activity. To recover effectively we need to sleep and rest, and eat well. Because running is a high impact activity (we put a lot of force through our bodies with every step), it is vitally important to get this right or we can break down quickly. Fortunately, our bodies are very good at telling us whether we are in balance or not, if we choose to listen to them.
If your training load is too high, compared to your recovery levels, then you will either stop improving and get slower, feel tired all the time, or pick up an injury, such as a muscle tear or fractured bones.
It is with the above in mind, that the runners who improve (who are able to run further or faster) tend to approach their training in cycles. They will have times when the balance is shifted towards stress, and times when it is shifted towards recovery. This is known as periodisation and it occurs on the daily, weekly, monthly or yearly level. The following aren’t prescriptive, but for example:
- A hard run will be followed by an easy run.
- Three weeks of increasing mileage will be followed by a week with fewer miles.
- A three month training block leading up to a target event will be followed by a fortnight off.
By managing periodisation effectively, it is possible to improve your running by pushing your body to break it down, and then recover to make the most of the ensuing adaptations.
If you only do the same kind of runs, over and over again, you’ll get very good at that kind of run, but may struggle to do others. Maintaining variety in your training will help you become a good, well-rounded runner. One way to do this is to incorporate different kinds of runs into your weekly routine. Again, you can do this in whatever way is best suited to you, but as an example:
- Monday: rest day or easy running;
- Tuesday: intervals for speed;
- Wednesday: rest day or easy running;
- Thursday: tempo run for a mix of speed and endurance;
- Friday: rest day or easy running;
- Saturday: rest day or easy running;
- Sunday: long run for endurance.
In subsequent articles we will explain what intervals, tempo runs and long runs are. You will note that this schedule follows an easy, hard, easy rhythm as described above.
Variety gives you a broad running skill set, but another principle to bear in mind when looking at the training advice in the rest of this series is that of specificity. This is the concept that the best way to fine tune your preparation for a particular event is to do training that closely resembles the event itself.
Your target event will be the occasion in which you race the whole distance at the speed you need to hit your time goal. This can be expressed as running 100% of the distance at 100% of your target pace. As this should represent your best possible performance, it stands to reason that you should only aim to achieve this in the target event itself, or run the risk of being too tired to run it on the day.
Therefore, the challenge is to do training that gets very close to full specificity, without getting so close that it jeopardises your performance for your target race. The last, hardest session of your training plan before you ease back to recover for the event, can be referred to as the ‘final specific’ session. We’ll use this term in the later articles looking at different events.
This final specific session might be running the full distance at a slightly slower than target pace; or running at full speed but not for the full distance. These could, for example, be expressed as 100% distance at 90% speed; or 80% distance at 100% speed, respectively. We’ll look at different ways of applying this to different events in subsequent articles.
At the start of your training plan for an event, it is unlikely that you will be fit enough to be able to complete your ‘final specific’ session. Therefore, the earlier sessions will be stepping stones to help you get to that point. For example, the distances might increase from 50% of the event distance to 60% to 70% and so on.
In support of your event-specific sessions, you will also need to do general support runs. Think of this as being a bit slower or a bit quicker than your specific work.
You can do slower runs over a variety of distances to build up your general endurance. General endurance runs increase capillarisation (more blood vessels to pump oxygen around your body), strengthen your musculoskeletal system (so you can absorb the pounding of running), and improve your ‘fuel efficiency’ (making the most of the energy you eat or is stored in your body to power your muscles).
Or, you can do faster runs, over much shorter distances so that your body is prepared to run at race pace. This will help improve your running efficiency and style (it is hard to ‘plod’ when sprinting), strengthen muscles (the effect can be similar to weight training), and help get you comfortable with feeling uncomfortable (by pushing you outside your comfort zone).
We’ll look later at how this ties in with intervals, tempo runs and long runs.
Our goal with these articles is to give those runners who want to, the information they need to assess their own running and look at how they might be able to run further or quicker. We will aim to balance being specific enough that you can read the articles and have a clear picture of what you need to do, with being general enough that you can consider our examples and how best they might apply to your personal situation. In this way, we hope they can be of benefit to first timers through to experienced runners, and for those who tend to finish with the tail-runners through to those challenging for the win.
Keep your eyes peeled for the first article, on long runs.