Friday, 12 November 2010

Quality not quantity... Training sessions that work of me and might for you too!

I thought I would take the opportunity to capture the main training sessions that I frequently find myself doing as part of my normal training. Hopefully some of this might be useful to others to incorporate into their own training.

Now for the caveat: I'm no trainer and have no coaching experience. These sessions are just ones that I personally have consistently found to be beneficial to my training to both improve my stamina and speed. They can be easily adapted to suit different abilities and speeds.  These sessions are greatly aided by the use of a Garmin GPS unit or similar to be able to accurately measure pace and distance.

It is not intended that they are all performed in a single week. I personally aim to do 4 'quality' training runs per week.  I always try and avoid going out the door just to put in junk miles - those runs without any real focus or goal for the session. Quality over quantity is the order of the week here!

Session 1 - Long Run (negative split - 10-30 miles): distance dependant on ability and by definition your long run is simply the longest run in that week. The long run should be paced accordingly so that whatever speed and distance you run it at, the second half of the run is faster than the first half. This teaches good pacing and finishing strong which are two crucial attributes to running ultras! increase long run mileage by 10-20% per week or whatever you feel comfortable with. 

Session 2 - Recovery run (4-8m): slowest run of the week to recover from a long run or hard session and get energy back in legs for harder runs later in week. Best run at easy Conversational pace (approx 1-2 mins slower than marathon pace).

Session 3 - Tempo Run (5-10 miles): This is the fastest run of the week where you are really pushing your limits. Speed and distance will be dependent on ability but you should be pushing the effort levels to the max and not holding back. Even Pacing is still vitally important and should aim not to slow. Each week either try to up the distance slightly running at the same pace or up the pace over the same distance.

Session 4 - Progressive Run (4- 8 miles): The goal for this run is to run each mile faster than the last. So depending on ability you may start at 8 minute or 10 minute miling then knock off 10-15 seconds per mile for each subsequent mile run. A great workout and really teaches the body and mind to push the boundaries even when you are tiring.

Session 5 - Hill training (10 reps on 1/4 mile hill) this is a really tough session and best done in a group. Runners position themselves on hill based on ability so that everyone reaches the top at the same time. The aim is to go out hard but controlled up the hill and recover on the way back down. If paced well each rep should be consistent and after a few of these hill sessions when you know your pace you should aim for each rep to be slightly quicker than the last. As said best done in a group so you have people to aim at when you approach the crest of the hill. You should nothing left at the end of this session!

Session 6 - One mile intervals (1m x 4-6 with 0.25m recovery) this is a great run to get the heart and lungs pumping. Run on the flat take a short half mile/mile warm up first before the first interval. Know your pace and stick to it. It should be run at about a 9 on the effort level, whilst being able to maintain the same pace for each rep.

Session 7 - Short flat out tempo run (2-3m) it's a killer but well worth it. I only do this run once a month organised by my club.  It is a good gauge of improved fitness (hopefully) during the month. Find a good flat 1 mile loop that you can repeat two or three times. This way you can gauge the effort levels on each loop and get consistency.       

Session 8 - Cross training (1hr+ low impact workout) Gym workout, cycling, swimming etc. For me never the easiest session to find the motivation for. Key is to find something else that you really enjoy that aids your running.

So that's it. Eight key sessions which if you build a training plan around, buiding up the mileage and speed as you go should really make a difference come race day whatever the distance.

Love to know what others think and what works for you!? 


  1. Hey Stu.

    I agree with you whole heartedly that it is always better to base the running week on quality sessions so that you can improve and maximize performance. The types of sessions you list above I have used frequently for the last 2 years and they have been very effective although I would exercise caution of any new runner to do "safe speedwork" as the intensity of the sessions can really test the body if not properly conditioned.

    My running week is loosely based along these lines.

    Monday - Short Recovery
    Tuesday - Progressive run/Tempo
    Wednesday - Semi-Long run
    Thursday - Hills/Intervals/Speed Pyramid
    Friday - Very easy (often without a watch)
    Saturday - Rest (Wife would kill me otherwise :-)
    Sunday - Long run

    If there is a shift in priorities e.g. work gets in the way or family stuff happens then I always rework the schedule and prioritize the tempo, intervals, hills and long runs above the easier sessions. So I will drop them.

    Often though I will run based on how I feel instead of blindly following a schedule. I think you set yourself up for a disaster if you don't listen to the body although saying that I do run through niggles, pains that I feel are not proper injuries. If I feel rubbish and it says speed work though I won't get the most out of the session so I will re-arrange the schedule.

    The reason why I have "junk" in there is that sometimes I am so focused on running against the watch that I often forget to just switch off and enjoy putting one foot in front of the other and have a chat with a friend, enjoy the scenery etc.

    I love running, it changed my life, through it I achieved things I never thought possible. People say I am addicted and I would agree with them. So sometimes I may do too much but without pushing the limits how do you know what you can handle. Everyone is an experiment of one.

    I always want to know where my breaking point is and what I am capable of. There is no quick fix in this sport and it can takes years to build up unless of course you are an elite runner :-) Ultimately I just wanna go out there and have fun because if you don't do that you will never succeed.

    Recently I have been contemplating joining a running club because I am often running solo 99% of the time and to be effective in some of those sessions above its better to run with faster runners. Again its another step on the development ladder and I know it will be a positive move.

    Like the monthly flat out run Stu. Always a good one. I haven't done this for sometime but will add it in now whether its a 5km race / park run or club run when I join :-)

    Long post but it felt good saying it as I am passionite above this sport..

  2. Great comments Richard and thanks for sharing your training thoughts on the subject. Addicted!! Aren't we all!? ;-) these sessions are of course all built around when I'm training for a specific race or set period of time. It's definitely the case that you have to take your foot off the gas pedal something and do the long or short ambling runs where you just step out the door and go with it... These runs feel best when you know you have earnt it!! it's pretty much like food isn't it... A bit of junk food in moderation is fine and enjoyable, but too much of it and your body isn't going to like it or perform!

  3. Oh and on the point about joining a club definitely go for it! I was never sure if a club was for me as I had this vision of dark cold track sessions taking all the fun out of running... But the reverse is true and running has never been so much fun since joining LBAC. the cross country season is also a blast!

  4. thanks Stu. Just trying to convince my wife it will be good :-) Definitely would be good to meet up for a run in the future.