This is the 2nd part of our post for new runners and joining a running group. You can read the first part here: Should you join a running group (part 1).
This post explain you the different type of running workout, so that you understand the differences between them to know when to do them, why you do them and what the benefits will be. When I started, all these terms were confusing ! And when someone was saying to run tempo… what does it mean actually ???? To train smartly, you need to mix these different type of workout, otherwise you will plateau very quickly. So let’s get into it…
Some basics you need to know
Pace vs Speed
There is one term that will come all the time talking about running: your pace. What is it ? You might be familiar with the speed, which is the distance you will do in a certain time: for example 10 kilometres per hour (10km/h). It means obviously that if you run at that speed, you will do 10 kilometres within 1 hour. The pace is the opposite: how much time it takes you to run 1 kilometre. So it will be common to hear someone asking your pace or saying for example they ran at 6 mn/km. People take shortcut, so sometime you will hear also “he runs at pace 6”. That means the same as 6 mn/km. Here is a table giving you the equivalence between both measurements:
Sounds weird or difficult at first ? Don’t worry, I only knew about speed and km/h while people were talking about pace. You will quickly memorise the paces associated with your running speed (and around). Then after a while you will only think in term of pace 🙂
How is your body generating energy ?
You also need to know about the different ways your body has to generate energy – the energy you need to move when running. Your body has 2 very different ways to generate energy:
- Aerobic mode – Using mainly oxygen, fat, proteins and carbohydrates. It is used in long distance running. Energy is released slowly. Not adapted to high intensity efforts.
- Anaerobic mode – Not using at all oxygen, using a process called glycolysis. Essentially it’s burning the glucose that is stored in the a component called glycogen that is present a lot in muscles fibres. A byproduct of this is the creation of lactic acid. When you have too much lactic acid, your legs are heavy with a burning sensation. This method is used for high intensity workouts, or non endurance type of workouts
Now we have 3 other notions to look at:
- Aerobic Threshold – that’s the level of effort where your body does not produce too much lactic acid and you can continue this for a long time. Typically the pace of effort for a full marathon,
- Anaerobic threshold – that’s the limit from when your muscles will produce a lot more lactic acid than your body cannot clear fast enough. You go all out… well that’s maxing out your capacities and being full steam into Anaerobic mode. You will generate quickly lactic acid and can’t keep up for long like that,
- Lactate Threshold – that’s the limit where you muscles just start producing lactic acid and can still clear it reasonably quickly. Essentially the point where your body has transitioned from Aerobic mode to Anaerobic mode.
These threshold levels will condition the results you can expect from your workout. For example if you work for a marathon, you will likely want to train in the aerobic mode and also work out to push up your lactate threshold. The reason to do this last one is that it would allow to have a more intense effort while still being in the aerobic mode. Faster and more economical !
You can find these thresholds equivalent in term of effort approximatively but ultimately to know them exactly they have to be measured in a lab: you go run with a mask measuring your breathing and go for a continuous increasing effort. I believe the docs have to also take blood samples throughout the test. It’s essentially only for the pros from my point of view.
The different Heart Rate training zones
When training based on your heart rate, you will hear about HR zones, usually Zone 1 to Zone 5. This is based on your maximum heart rate. There is a formula to determine it based on your age, resting heart rate. You can also use your GPS watch with HR monitor to see the max heart rate (usually an interval or speed workout). Mine measured for example recently was 187. There are formulas to calculate your maximum heart rate and it’s complicated as they all give different result. You can have a look at http://www.brianmac.co.uk/maxhr.htm to see the value for your age. Roughly it’s something like 220 minus your age.
Now the zones in heart rates (bpm) values for a maximum heart rate of 182 (formula) and the measure one by my Garmin after an intense speed workout.
The zones are define like this. This is an extract from the very good explanation from http://www.howtobefit.com/five-heart-rate-zones.htm. You can read their page, it’s actually quite interesting.
Zone 1 – Healthy heart zone
This is the safest, most comfortable zone, reached by walking briskly. Here you strengthen your heart and improve muscle mass while you reduce body fat, cholesterol, blood pressure, and your risk for degenerative disease. You get healthier in this zone, but not more fit — that is, it won’t increase your endurance or strength but it will increase your health. If you’re out of shape, have heart problems, or simply want to safeguard your heart without working too hard, spend most of your training time here. It’s also the zone for warming up and cooling down before and after more vigorous zones.
Zone 2 – The temperate zone
It’s easily reached by jogging slowly. While still a relatively low level of effort, this zone starts training your body to increase the rate of fat release from the cells to the muscles for fuel.Some people call this the “fat burning zone” because up to 85 % of the total calories burned in this zone are fat calories which is equally as important. Fit and unfit people burn fat differently. The more fit you are, the more effectively you use fat to maintain a healthy weight. To burn more total calories you’ll need to exercise for more time in this zone.
Zone 3 – The aerobic zone
In this zone — reached by running easily as an example — you improve your functional capacity. The number and size of your blood vessels actually increase, you step up your lung capacity and respiratory rate, and your heart increases in size and strength so you can exercise longer before becoming fatigued. You’re still metabolizing fats and carbohydrates at about a 50-50 rate which means both are burning at the same ratio.
Zone 4 – The anaerobic threshold
This zone is reached by going hard — running faster. Here you get faster and fitter, increasing your heart rate as you cross from aerobic to anaerobic training. At this point, your heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to supply the exercising muscles fully so they respond by continuing to contract anaerobically. This is where you “feel the burn”. You can stay in this zone for a limited amount of time, usually not more than an hour. That’s because the muscle just cannot sustain working anaerobically (this means without sufficient oxygen) without fatiguing. The working muscles protect themselves from overwork by not being able to maintain the intensity level.
Zone 5 – The red line zone
This is the equivalent of running all out and is used mostly as an “interval” training regiment — exertion done only in short to intermediate length bursts. Even world-class athletes can stay in this zone for only a few minutes at a time. It’s not a zone most people will select for exercise since working out here hurts and there is an increased potential for injury.
The different type of running workout
The list you get and the explanation are my layman explanation. If you spot something incorrect, do let me know !
Now here is the definition of a tempo run:
A tempo run is a faster-paced workout also known as a lactate-threshold, LT, or threshold run. Tempo pace is often described as “comfortably hard.” Tempo running improves a crucial physiological variable for running success: our metabolic fitness.
That’s a little bit unclear to you ? I’m sure that did sound cryptic to most of you. What you have to remember is that it depends on each individual… There are couple of ways to assess what level of effort corresponds to a tempo run:
- Based on your race pace – Take your most recent 5K race and add 30-40seconds to your pace, if using a 10K pace, add 15-20 seconds to your pace
- Based on your heart rate – 85 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate
- Based on your own effort feels like – you can exchange few words during your effort but can’t sustain a conversation.
If you start running, the last method is not too accurate but probably the only one you can follow. If you have a GPS watch with Heart Rate monitor then you can use that. The first option for me is the easiest however I did not run any 5K, 10K or 21K for months. Your body limits are evolving with training. For example, I used to assess based on race pace and it was OK. Then I realised that I could actually hold a conversation at that pace: it meant I had to go faster until I can just say few words.
The goal of a tempo run is to run at that particular intensity to have your muscles getting used to it and more efficient at cleaning the by product lactic acid from your muscles.
Speed work is a necessity if you want to progress. You have two ways of progressing when running: being able to run farther than before (“increasing the distance”) and being able to run faster (“increasing your pace”). I don’t think you can separate one from the other. Once you increase the distance, there is a time where you will look at being faster on the same distance. In races, and in particular ultra-races, you have cut-off time for each section of the race. Sometimes for big races, the cutoff times are very aggressive, meaning you have to run fast enough. That brings us to the first case, which is you run the same distance 10km for example and want to be better on that distance: going faster. That’s where the speed workout comes in…
To run fast(er) on a long distance, you have to be able to run fast on a short distance. That will build your muscles for that objective. Do note that a speed workout is typically an anaerobic type of workout, where you moved way past the lactate threshold point. You’re surfing with your maximum capabilities.
First you need to find a place where you can run short distance typically 400m to 1km, on a flat surface. Ideally that should be a track if you have one nearby your place, but it can simply be a flat loop or even a flat street. I do speed work in Desa Park City on a flat 1.1km loop or near my place on a 250m long flat street. Warm up VERY well for a good 10-15mn. You need to stretch every muscles that you will use, otherwise you might injure yourself. For the speed workout, should time yourself to see how fast you. Start running and go very fast. For example, I run a tempo pace at 5:15m n/km and my speed workout pace should be roughly 1 mn to 1 mn 30s faster, i.e. 4:15 mn/km to 3:45 mn/km. Depending on the distance you do, you will need to rest more in between the runs.
As an example, you can structure your speed workout the following way for a 400m loop:
- 10-15mn extensive warm up (see future post about this)
- 400m at 4 mn/km
- 90s rest
- Repeat 4 other run/rest block
- Warm down stretching your used muscles
If you run longer speed intervals, then your pace will be lower (unless you’re an elite runner, but why are you reading this ?), closer to 1mn less than your tempo pace. You should feel tired after a speed workout. The stretching is very important as you want to avoid the next days aches in your muscles.
Here is a definition of intervals (taken from runners.com), it summarises it reasonably well:
Interval training, also known as interval workouts or interval runs, are short, intense efforts followed by equal or slightly longer recovery time. For example, after a warmup, run two minutes at a hard effort, followed by two to three minutes of easy jogging or walking to catch your breath. Unlike tempo workouts, you’re running above your red line and at an effort where you are reaching hard for air and counting the seconds until you can stop—a controlled fast effort followed by a truly easy jog. The secret is in the recovery as patience and discipline while you’re running easy allows you to run the next interval strong and finish the entire workout fatigued but not completely spent. Just like rest, your body adapts and gets stronger in the recovery mode.
You need to do intervals to build your strength. Find a flat place 400-600m long. Ideally it should be a track. After warming up for 10n, you can do the following:
- Run the 400-600m (depending on your place) at a high pace. It should be tiring but not all out. Remember this is not a speed workout.
- Between each run, rest 2-3 minutes and jog slowly or walk. Try to avoid not moving.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times depending on your condition. For each subsequent repeat, try to keep the same pace (which is why it’s important not to go all out and do a near speed workout !)
Hill tempo repeat
Hill work (“running up and down a hill”) and hill repeats (“Run up and down multiple times”) are very important for few reasons:
- They build your strength and ability to sustain an intensive effort
- Hills are tough mentally and if you want to be stronger and learn not to give up easily, the hills will make you stronger !
- Going uphill does not require too much technique apart from not looking at your feet (we will go onto this) however going downhill is something everyone needs to learn in order to be efficient and not burn your quads
First find a suitable hill, with max 1 km uphill. You do not need more than that, in fact you can use an open road. You will need to have some markers or landmarks to know the distance you are going to run. The incline needs to be important enough but not too much: you need to be able to sustain the climbing effort for few repeats 🙂 Of course if you use an open road, avoid high traffic areas !
The hill repeat workout will be the following:
- Do a longer than usual warm up, similar to a speed work – 15 mn before starting climbing the hill
- Run the hill up for 500m to 800m, your pace should be sustainable, not easy for sure. Your pace will highly change depending on the incline of the hill. As a rough guideline, a 30 second slower pace than your tempo pace is a good start
- Once you reach the end of the uphill, do not stop and start the downhill
- The downhill is not a race, you have to run at a slower pace, more like a slow jog to allow your body to recuperate as much as possible
- When you reach the end of the downhill, get 30s to 90s of rest or no rest depending on your workout.
- Repeat the uphill, downhill again for 2 other runs up to 5-6 (if you are very resilient !)
Some tips and tricks to run uphill:
- Do not look at your feet but look ahead in front of you
- Engage your core and bring your knee high enough
- Use your arms to swing more than usual
- Keep your back straight when going up
- Try to adopt a high cadence as much as possible to keep your stride short
- Watch your heart rate, you have to sustain the uphill until the end without walking (if possible)
For going downhill, you can try to do this:
- Try to avoid hitting on your hills, going downhill is stressful for the body, so better avoid extra stress
- Look ahead of you, like for going up hill
- Adopt a high cadence, to keep your stride short
In general your articulations, ankles, knees are there to provide you flexibility but mostly help dissipate energy when you hit the ground. So having a high cadence will maximise the opportunities to dissipate energy, that will also help you avoid hitting the ground with your hills. Getting your calf high is also helping there. Nothing really scientific on my side, but more I’m trying to put in words what I feel. A picture is better than words…
This is a variation of the hill repeat. You have to take a shorter distance, say 200m uphill and 200m downhill. Run intervals as per what you would be doing on the flat.
You can do 10 repeats of 200m. The uphill is as fast you can sustain and the downhill is slower to rest. IN between the intervals, you can rest 60s to 90s then up again. If you are running in a pace group, if you get slower, you get less rest or need to go faster during the downhill. Hill intervals are not easy for sure !
Long Slow Distance
This is a very important workout when you try to run more than a half marathon (full marathon, ultras). It’s a key workout to build your endurance. Essentially you need to run always in aerobic mode with your heart rate low enough. This is a very slow run where you should be able to have an active conversation from beginning till end. The distance would be minimum 20km up to 30km. No real use to do more than 30km. If you run ultras, however you will have to do back to back runs over the weekend with 2 LSDs.
If you start doing LSD, these are not easy ! We have been used to think that a quality run is a fast one. Here the key message is to learn how to run slow to be able to run long and fast ! Referring to the heart rate zones mentioned earlier, you must stay in zone 2 and have an aerobic exercise. This is to teach your body how to burn more effectively fat. This will increase your endurance.
Easy runs / Recovery runs
That would be your regular 5 to 10km that you would run at an easy pace, i.e. slower than your training pace. The goal of an easy/recovery run is to allow your body to release tensions after doing a big effort (race, hard training). Resting is important and the easy run is part of that too.
You can add staircases to your training and in particular various different climbs of the staircases. Stars are in general tougher than hills with a steeper incline. Your heart will be pumped very quickly, more than usual. This is useful to improve you VO2max, which is a measurement of how much oxygen you can use during very intense workouts. Staircases will also help build strength and power, while using some muscles that you would use less intensely on the road (the gluts for example).
Examples of exercises you can do on the stairs:
- climb running every steps
- Climb running every 2 steps
- Jump using your left leg only from step to step, then doing the right leg
- Climbing every steps with side lunges (alternated), …
These are just examples. In between each repeat, do rest as the staircases workout can be pretty intense.
If you are training for trail races, then this is a must do for you. Actually it should be a good half of your training in that case.If you are not running trail races, you should still run some trails ! It’s actually very important to add diversity to your training. Trail running bring different challenges than road running:
- Trails tends to go up and down a lot compared to roads
- You get exhausted more quickly
- The terrain is irregular at best, difficult often
- Your pace will be lower, your heart rate will be higher
- You need to be very agile with your feet and be able to bounce left to right to avoid roots, holes, …
- Trails can be muddy, wet and often provide little grip going downhill
I forgot to say that unless you go trail running on a green patch on the side of a river and it’s always flat… invest in a pair of trail running shoes. They have better grip and slightly more rigidity than the road running shoes. Wether you are a maximalist or minimalist, you can find trail running shoes at your own taste ! I use Merrell Bare Access Trail for my trail running. If you are a barefoot sifu, just bring your sandals… just in case !
Trail running will allow you to develop some flexibility in your feet, agility, better response to stuff happening in front of you and will teach you quickly how to manage your effort when going up (no shame walking) and going downhill faster than what you think you are capable of !
Non running workouts
Running is not the only thing! However if you want to be strong, stay injury free, you need to do more than just running. You need to build strength, have balanced muscles (ie when you have 2 muscles attached to each other, one should not be over developed compared to the other, to the point of having problems. A good example would be your quadriceps vs your hamstring or your glut. Particularly build strength to balance your muscles. Another thing is that running can be stressful for your muscles hence a break doing something else, using different muscles is very.
- Swimming – Yup I mean swimming laps. It can be free style or simply breaststroke. It will be light on your legs and help workout your higher body muscles from your abs to your arms. You don’t need to be a triathlete to do this !
- Yoga – Yoga starts to be quite popular with runners these days. It will help you be more flexible, less rigid and it’s great to build up your core.
- Walking – Yes, I’m not joking. Walking is very good for you and your body.It’s not as stressful as running yet provide a sufficient effort to use all your muscles.Preferably if you can do walk barefoot.
- Sleeping well – Yup, sleeping well and long enough is VERY important. It fastrack your recovery after a big effort.
- Walking – As such it should not be thought as something loosy. In fact, if you moved into the ultra-marathon world, walking is key to a very long effort. You can walk for long or alternate walk/run period. And you better learn how to walk fast 🙂 That will save your day at some point.
A training plan for improvement
It’s key that you first ask yourselves that question: why are you running ? what are you trying to achieve by doing this ? This can be easy to answer questions or more difficult ones. You don’t necessarily need to share your answers, it can be very personal… But it’s key you know them in order to set your goals.
Your goals need to be achievable with some (hard) work, yet they must not be unachievable: be realistic ! You can have many goals, what matters is that you set the priorities ignored to focus your training. Sometimes, you will have to downgrade a goal to achieve a more important one… My current goals are:
- Increase my distance in ultra-marathons and start doing ultra-trail (albeit easy ones)
- Go faster on ultra-marathons for distances I already ran (50km and 70km)
- Be able to run a half marathon race by end of 2015 full barefoot
- Be able to run faster on Full Marathon, my current time is 4h20 and I would like if possible to try to get to 4h.
The goal of running barefoot for some distance is kind of conflicting with other goals of doing endurance and speed: running barefoot is slower for me and requires runs on shorter distances. I can’t do an LSD barefoot yet ! But I see barefoot running as a key training activity to improve my running form and running efficiency, which is key for endurance running.
Once you have your goals defined, get a training plan done to achieve them. Rule of thumb for your training plan:
- Mix activities to work on tempo, speed, endurance, intervals.
- Focus your activities based on your racing goals (for example trail)
- Plan well ahead what you have to do
- Commit to it, nothing is easy but working hard always pay
- Look for similar distance races that you can register in advance and use them as point of reference for measuring your improvements.
On the last point, there are races I always do every year or in a given hilly area. That way I can race them and see how my pace improves (or not). It’s a good way to see your efforts paying. When you see results, it helps keep continuing.
Garmin connect training plans
You can find the Garmin training plans at the following URL: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/explore/training-plan. You will however of course need to have a valid Garmin Connect account and have a Garmin device. They have two type of training:
- Using heart rate guidelines for you to follow for specific workouts. They will tell you what exercise to do, in what zone you should remain throughout the exercise (they have a terminology Zone 1 to Zone 5 (Z1 to Z5), which are defined by percentage of your maximum heart rate.
- Without heart rate guidelines but based on how you feel throughout the effort.
For each workout (5km, 10km, 21km, 42km), they have 3 levels of training depending if you are new to that distance, already running it but willing to improve or very advanced on that distance. The workouts get put in your training calendar and downloaded to your watch. For example for an interval training, the watch will tell you what needs to be done.
Endomondo training plans
I personally did not try these. You need to have the premium subscription with Endomondo. The training plans are in a way similar to those from Garmin at the exception that they get downloaded onto your phone. Your phone will track you during your training and let you know for example that you will need to stop 30s before the next interval , … You hear the voice, which can be quite useful if you do already carry your phone.
Strava and other platforms
There are other running platforms like Strava, Runkeeper, … They all can provide you with training plans (usually when you take their subscriptions) I did not try any of these. If you have feedback, do let me know. Usually they all market their training plans as put together by famous coaches (MacMillan for Strava for example, …).
Make your own training plan
If you have read enough, it’s actually good to making not make your own plan but at least customize it and track what has been achieved. It helps you be honest with yourself. On my side I basically just made an excel spreadsheet which contains the following:
I also track other activities such as walking, core workout, swimming but this is more for tracking purpose. I don’t really plan thoroughly for these.
I hope this post will help you and clarify some of the workouts, while also giving you some tools to achieve you running goals. Once again, I don’t pretend to be an expert and there might be some flaws in my explanation. Feel free to let me know those if any. My running has some flaws like everyone but I’m working hard to be more efficient and a better runner. Hope you can achieve the same.