Category Archives: Training

Less Running and More Other Stuff: New Goals

Chasing new goals leads me to less running in my new training plan.

There’s nothing like a forced lay off due to injury to have you re-evaluate your goals and training.

A foot injury ended my training program for the Surf Coast Century this year. Over the last few weeks I’ve worked through the first 4 of 5 priorities for an injured runner. I’m now ready for step 5:

New Goals

To guide our training we need goals.

Mine are:

  1. Injury proof my running
  2. Reach a fitness level to run a sub-3 hour marathon

You notice there isn’t a deadline listed in those goals.

Pushing a hard deadline on a sub- 3 hour marathon will likely risk my first goal of staying injury proof. Therefore I am open to however long is needed. It could be 6 months, or it could take over a year. I don’t know yet.

Less Running

I’m seriously cutting back on my run volume. Long runs and high volume will be a quick way back to injury for me.

Guidelines for run volume include:

  1. I have to be able to maintain good form for each and every run
  2. The volume must be well within my capabilities

It is the running equivalent of stopping 2-3 repetitions short on a weight lifting set. Adaptation still occurs with until grinding yourself down into fatigue.

More Other Stuff

Less running leaves some extra time.

With this extra time I am dedicating it other training modaltities:

  1. Strength training
  2. Prehabilitation / Rehabilitation
  3. Mobility
  4. Recovery

These will now be written into my training plan. Previously I have been performing these on an ad hoc basic. It didn’t work.

More Fun

Less running and more other stuff means more variety. I am looking forward training that doesn’t entail mile after mile after mile.

I am expecting this change in approach will reduce the feeling of grinding day after day. It reminds of how I used to train for triathlons. You could partially recover from one discipline while hitting another hard.

I expect my training to be quite effective. More importantly it should be a lot of fun.

Is your training fun?

Injured Runner Priorities: 5 Steps To Get Back To Running

What are the priorities for the injured runner? What is the best way back from injury?

Most injured runners want to get back to full training immediately. We also often try to continue through injury. Often to our own detriment.

Instead of hoping for the best and making the injury worse, let’s work through the priorities for the injured runner.

  1. Prevent further injury
  2. Diagnose
  3. Recover
  4. Rebuild
  5. New training

These are the priorities I follow

1. Prevent further injury

It’s simple…

Don’t make the injury worse.

Stop running. Rest. Do the basics of sports first aid.

2. Diagnose

Dr Google is not your best friend. Do what it takes to find out what your injury is. Use a doctor you trust, a physiotherapist or other practitioner.

An injury needs to be properly assessed. Different injuries have many cross over of symptoms, but require different treatment.

Working from an accurate diagnosis will give you a better chance of success.

3. Recover

Help your body repair.

You have to recover before you can rebuild.

The approach is different depending on your injury. This priority is likely to include:

  • Resting the injured area
  • Protecting the area through support or taping
  • Introducing gentle movement
  • Physical manipulation (massage)

4. Rebuild

This is the rehabilitation side.

Do what it takes to get yourself back to being able to training.

Strengthen the area. Condition the body to prevent what led to the injury in the first place.

Ensure you have good mobility.

Introduce running well within in your physical limits.

5. New Training

Finally what we’ve been waiting for.

Back to full training, but with a new style. This new style has to take into account your recent injury. We likely have to modify are previous training so we don’t have a recurrence.

Runner’s often go back to their previous training plan. The plan that led to injury in the first place. We need to change this. To progress our running we need to train in a way to minimise injury.

If you need help to change then get it. Get feedback from knowledgeable runners. Speak with a coach, physiotherapist or someone who understand running and human movement.

There are many ways to achieve your running goals. I have some further tips on injury proofing your running here.

Time Frames Of Injury

How should we spend in each section?

This will vary so much depending on the injury you have sustained.

A simple muscle strain may need the following time in each phase:

  1. Prevent further injury: 12 hours
  2. Diagnose: 30 minutes
  3. Recover: 2 days
  4. Rebuild: 3 days
  5. New training: 1 week

Whereas a broken leg would need so much longer:

  1. Prevent further injury: 3 days
  2. Diagnose: 1 day
  3. Recover: 10 weeks
  4. Rebuild: 8 weeks
  5. New training: 1 week

Do you have a different approach to injuries?

Long Run For 100km Trail Race: Training

How to approach the long run for 100km trail race.

There’s an important concept we need to get our heads around. The speed we race a 100km race is relatively slow.

Compared to your 5km or half marathon speed, 100km is run significantly slower. This needs to be remembered when we are setting up our long run training.

How Long Is Long For 100km?

By following some principles we can get to an optimal long run distance.

Long is relative. It begins with a distance near the edge of what you can comfortably run. This could be 10km or it could be 40km. It depends on your training history and current fitness.

If you are looking at taking 16 weeks to train for a 100km race I recommend being comfortable at 25km.

You want to be able to build up to a peak of at least 40km or 4 hours. This will ensure you develop the physiology to go really long. The magic happens after 3 hours.

Referring back to 16 Weeks to 100km Training Plan, you want this peak run to be reached by 12 weeks. We start reducing the length of the long run after this.

Is it worth going longer?

The short answer is… maybe

That maybe depends on your ability to handle the extra distance. If you can handle, absorb and adapt to the extra distance then go for it.

However, any of the following will rule out going further:

  • Carrying an injury
  • Still feeling fatigued beyond 2 days after a long run
  • Recent long runs have a dramatic slow down in their second half
  • You struggle to perform the other key runs

Some runners may benefit from 1 to 4 long runs pushed out to 50km or 5-6 hours. Don’t under estimate the impact these runs have. Make sure you get in some sleep, eat well and focus on recovery afterward.

How Fast For The Long Run?

This is specific for a 100km ultra marathon. When training for shorter distances, it will be a different answer.

Now we get back to the concept that the speed we race a 100km race is relatively slow.

Be realistic. How fast will you really average over a 100km race?

Write the answer down.

Most of your long runs should be around this pace.

Take aiming  for under 12 hours to win the beer stein at Surf Coast Century. Giving 10 minutes buffer, 11hr 50min is a pace of 7:06/km or 11:21/mile. Most people in this chasing this time should be capable of a road marathon under 3hr 40min (5:12/km, 8:20/mile). In this example you want to make sure you are very comfortable at around 7:06/km over similar terrain to the race.

Is There Benefit To Going Faster?

You need to earn going faster.

To do so will require the following

  • At least 2 runs of 4 hours or more
  • Those runs must be completed at around 100km race pace
  • You need to feel comfortable in these runs
  • There is no big slow down towards the end

Going faster is best reserved for the peak phase of training. There are a few ways to approach this:

  • Start at usual pace then gradually and continuously increase the speed over the last 30-60min of run.
  • Start at usual pace then towards the end add 3-4 intervals of 10-20 minutes about 1 minute per kilometre faster than race pace. Take 10 minutes back at usual pace between intervals.
  • Negative split the long run with first half at usual pace and second half 15-20 seconds per kilometre faster.

These options look easier on paper. The pacing discipline required is hard.

Do you have the discipline to get the most from your long run?

Tempo Run For 100km Trail Race

Build your speed for a 100km running race. It might be easier than you thought. Including a tempo run for 100km training can give impressive results.

Working on your base endurance will get you most of the way for a 100km race. But we want to get all the way there.

What Is A Tempo Run?

The definition of a Tempo Run has varied a lot. Many treat it as a run around the anaerobic threshold. Even the definition of the anaerobic threshold is up for debate.

When training for an ultra marathon we take a different approach to the tempo run. It is not a set intensity. Instead it is more a feel that progresses over the training plan.

How Fast Should Your Tempo Run Be?

The intensity is under what most call the anaerobic threshold, and higher than your normal easy pace. Extra guides is it may be close to your marathon race pace. Erring on the slower side at the start.

For those of you using heart rate, we would choose around 80% of HR max if your anaerobic threshold is between 85-90% HR max. For those who use the Phil Maffetone formula we will take it as between 15 bpm below MAF heart rate up to MAF heart rate.

How Long For A Tempo Run?

It should approximately one hour to cover the course. Add a warm up and cool down on either side of the tempo effort.

What Terrain Is Best For A Tempo Run?

Pick a mostly flat to undulating course. You want to be to keep a constant effort. No big climbs or anything too technical that create a variation in effort.

Pick a course you can repeat each week. This is a good session to help mark progress.

How To Start Tempo Runs

In your first couple of tempo runs pick a pace that is only little faster than you standard easy running pace. It should feel sustainable for the full distance. You want to feel comfortable that it will only take some extra concentration to get through. Aim to maintain the same speed from start to finish, or just a very small increase over the full run.

If you finish the run like you didn’t quite do enough. You got it right.

This is the perfect run to practice good technique for an extended period of time. Keep your posture in check. Aim to find fluidity in your stride.

How To Progress The Tempo Run

Over the weeks the pace of the run should gradually increase. This should be from two reasons:

  1. Improved efficiency, where your pace is faster for the same effort level.
  2. Increase in effort level. As your body becomes conditioned, we should increase slightly the intensity we run the tempo run.

Try to run on feel. Record all the data you usually do. But don’t look at it during the run. Use it to compare how you felt with the results. Doing this over a few weeks will help hone your sense of pace. An important skill for race day.

Tempo Run Example

My own tempo run is as follows.

From my house I take a 3km easy warm up to the starting point of the tempo section.

The tempo course is almost flat, with a couple of very small and mild undulations. It is a mix of bitumen and concrete with nothing technical.

It follows an out and back course of 7km. Which I cover for two laps bringing the total to 14km. Which is about an hour or so of running. Two laps makes it easy to analyse how I ran after the run. I can easily see if I ran evenly or had negative or positive split.

The return home is the same 3km back home.

Surprise Yourself

This approach is a bit different from most recommendations. It is effective. You keep progressing without burning out. Take this approach during your base building. Repeat for a few weeks. You will surprise yourself how much better you can handle your next level of training.

Base Training For 100km Trail Race

How do we get maximum benefit from base training for 100km? What is the Base of training?

This is the most important phase of training.

Here we complement the post Training For 100km Trail Race: 16 Week Overview by diving into the details of the 8 week base phase.

What is Base Training?

The point of Base training is to develop a well balanced athlete capable of optimally responding to the stress of competition specific training.

All peak training is dependant on the quality of base training.

Base training is where the majority of fitness gains are made. These gains are dependant on a consistent and progressive workload. This training may not be the coolest type of running. Without it we gives ourselves a higher chance of failure.

Consistency and Progression

If I could pick one element to focus on it would be maintaining consistency.

Doing what it takes to keep up a solid work load each week is paramount. I will back anyone who can put in moderate running every week over someone with a few big sessions but gaps in between.

The biggest killer to consistency is intensity. Beware pushing the pace. Err on the side of too easy and cover the distance. Allow your body to back up training days. Pushing on your limits forces more down time.

Progression in training should come from gradually extending out the running volume over the weeks. Nothing crazy, but keep running further.

Over time your normal running pace is likely to get faster for the same effort level. Let it do so, but make sure it is the same effort level. We shouldn’t be forcing the speed higher.

What About Speed In Base Training?

Speed is an extra in a 100km race.

Too much emphasis on speed work or high intensity running will take away from the race. Especially during base training for a 100km trail race.

We still need condition the fast twitch muscle fibres and connective tissues.

A good approach is incorporating a few strides in 2 easy runs a week. Run for about 10 seconds building to a moderate and comfortable sprint 2 to 6 times.

Strength training should form part of base training.

Lifting some heavy weights will stimulate the tendons and fast twitch muscles. While giving the body reprieve from the high impact of high intensity running.

Keep it to 2-3 sets of 4-12 repetitions. Avoid going for lots of repetitions (20+). Aim to address the main muscle groups and any area that you are lacking in.

Strength training doesn’t have to be complicated. I have more detail in Basic Strength Training For Runnering.

Base Training For 100km Example

The plan versus reality doesn’t always match.

For me the structure of a base training week would look like this:

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturdaySunday
Long Run 30-42kmEasy 40-90minTerrain Run 3 hoursEasy 40-90minTempo Run 14kmEasy 40-90minEasy 40-90min
WeightsWeights

If you are using this as an example to follow you may want to change around the days. For me each week will vary because I do rotating shift work and don’t follow a normal weekly pattern.

I try to avoid scheduling the bigger runs on weekends as my kids have their sport on these days. There is an element of creativity that goes into finding ways to fit it all in. That is worth a post all on it’s own.

See you in the next post as I break apart more of my training.

Training For 100km Trail Race: 16 Week Overview

16 weeks training for a 100km trail race. How do we structure running to be race ready? What does it take to prepare for a 100km running race?

This is a simple guiding structure to training.

There are pros and cons to the different ways of training. The approach presented here works well. It takes you beyond completing the distance. We want to run 100km fast.

What You Need To Train For 100km

To get the most from this program we need to have some base fitness. At least a year of running, preferably two.

My background spans many years, but over the last year, I’ve hardly run further than 25km in single a run. My weekly volume has varied between 20-80km. It has been fairly inconsistent.

The recommended running prerequisites:

  • 2+ years running
  • Able to run 25-30km long run
  • Averaging 50km/week over last 6 weeks
  • Injury free

More important than physical prerequisites come the mental traits. We need:

  • Discipline
  • Patience
  • Consistency

16 Week Overview

The 16 weeks is broken into 3 distinct phases:

  1. Base (8 weeks)
  2. Peak (4 weeks)
  3. Taper (4 weeks)

Each week will have 3 key workouts supported by easy runs and strength training. The key workouts will vary according to the phase of training.

Base Phase

This is the most important phase of training.

It sets up the ability to cover the distance. A proper base phase will have a direct effect on the Peak phase. We are better off to continue the base phase up to the Taper if we skimped on base training.

Base training is to develop a well balanced athlete capable of optimally responding to the stress of competition specific training.

The most important trait needed is patience. We keep most runs at easy paces. It is more important to cover the distance. Better to run further each week than to smash out some fast runs.

A Tempo run is listed once a week. This should be over one or two set courses. Begin with a pace just a little bit faster than your usual running pace. Aim to be a little faster each week. This should never be a lung searing, leg destroying effort.

Base running is supported by a good dose of strength training. Using the weight room to build improve the connective tissue, and give some stimulus to fast twitch muscle fibres. This should spare the body some of the impact that faster running brings.

The 3 key runs:

  1. Long run of 30-42km
  2. 3 hour run on technical and steep terrain
  3. Tempo

Peak Phase

4 weeks of hard training. We need to be fit, healthy and injury free.

This is where we push the envelope. Where our performance will go up and down. The training will challenge our ability not to quit.

The distance of the long runs will be pushed further. Combined with a few intervals of moderately faster running towards the end. Some fast intervals will also be introduced.

The 3 key runs:

  1. Long run of 46-50km with some intervals 10-20 minutes
  2. 4 hours run on technical and steep terrain
  3. VO2 intervals 4-6 x 1000m

Taper Phase

Time to absorb all the hard work.

The Taper phase has 3 objectives:

  1. Adapt to the previous training
  2. Eliminate fatigue
  3. Dial in race pace

To achieve this we will reduce the volume of the most runs by 75% each week. Intervals will be pushed hard up to 3 weeks out from the race. Fatigue will gradually lift. It is normal to feel sluggish as the body adapt throughout the taper.

Resist the urge to push out a long, hard test of fitness. Save this for race day.

16 Week Training For 100km Example

The following table outlines my progression of the key runs week by week. Which day each runs falls on will vary due to my changing roster and life commitments. In between all running should be easy and the will typically vary between 40-90 minutes.

Remember the following is a personal example and a guideline only. Everyone is different. My own circumstances may vary this plan.

This is my plan for the Surf Coast Century.

WeekPhaseLong RunTerrain RunSpeed
1Base30km3hrTempo 8km
2Base32km3hrTempo 14km
3Base34km3hrTempo 14km
4Base36km3hrTempo 14km
5Base36km3hrTempo 14km
6Base38km3hrTempo 14km
7Base40km3hrTempo 14km
8Base42km3hrTempo 14km
9Peak46-50km4hr4x1000m
10Peak46-50km4hr5x1000m
11Peak46-50km4hr6x1000m
12Peak46-50km4hr6x1000m
13Taper38km3hr7x1000m
14Taper29km2hr15m8x1000m
15Taper22km1hr40m6x1000m
16Taper17km-6-10x200m

Over To You

What do you think about this plan?

Do you have any questions?

Let me know

Redefine Your Easy: Not Just Slow Running

The body is inherently lazy. It is clever in finding ways to have you take the easy way out. When training towards big goals we need to get past this. Check your base point of training and redefine your easy.

Defining Easy

Easy is a relevant concept. I’ve written about the power of easy runs before. Those concepts still hold true. There are different ways to make runs easy. Easy may be faster than we think.

Most easy runs will occur while recovering from a harder run. Either a long run or a set of intervals. So it would be normal to expect to feel sore or heavy in the legs. Perceived exertion may be significantly higher than the intensity truly is.

After running for many years it pays to check your habits every so often. I had fallen into the habit of making my easy runs so easy they almost no longer resembled running. Instead they had become better described as a shuffle. Too far removed from the technique I was aiming for.

Is this really a problem?

It is when it pulls you away from an efficient running technique.

This leads to a challenge.

After running for many years it pays to check your habits every so often. I had fallen into the habit of making my easy runs so easy they almost no longer resembled running. Instead they had become better described as a shuffle. Too far removed from the technique I was aiming for.

How do you keep the run easy while raising the intensity to ensure better technique?

The answer is to remember intensity isn’t the only variable to determine the difficulty of a run. Keeping an easy run relatively short can allow you to up the intensity a little bit more.

My Approach

Most of my easy runs were between 8-15km. In these I kept the intensity very low. While the movement at a low intensity aided I the recovery from harder runs, it was taking away from my technique.

Now I focus on technique during my easy runs. Ensuring proper knee lift, good leg extension and push off all the way through the toes. This raises the heart and breathing rates more. I am accepting this as long as I’m not reaching my anaerobic threshold and accumulating lactic acid. To keep the run still within the easy range I am dropping the distance down to between 5-10km. The shorter distance stops the run from taking away from the next of training.

The Results

The faster running and more complete technique is a little more difficult. They highlight where I am sore from previous hard training. Here the body and brain attempt to kick in the lazy habits. More concentration is now needed to override the inherent laziness.

On the plus side I am finding I feel fresher going into the harder runs. Faster running is feeling a bit more natural and dare I say it… easier.

How do you approach your easy runs?

Let me know


Best Way To Start A Running Program

Welcome to a new year. New goals. New running program. Over the last couple of decades I’ve tried different approaches to kick starting my next training. In this post I share what I find to be my best way to start a running program.

The approach isn’t about exact mileage, paces or mix of training of sessions. Those all vary depending on upcoming goals and current fitness and health. Instead I look for an approach that sets me up hit my training consistently and hard. To get me beyond the initial burst of motivation.

Two principles make up this approach:

  1. Refresh the mind
  2. Prepare the body
Welcome to a new year. New goals. New running program. Over the last couple of decades I’ve tried different approaches to kick starting my next training. In this post I share what I find to be my best way to start a running program.

Refresh The Mind

This is not taking a break. Instead I am chasing the enjoyment. Looking to lose myself in the process of running rather than focussing on times. It is a form of moving meditation.

There are 2 aspects to refreshing my mind.

All runs are based on feel. Some structure still exists in the form of intervals or repeats. On those runs I don’t worry about any exact times. Instead I run based on feel, looking to achieve the feeling rather than any number. The times are only a by product. If they turn out faster or slower than expected then it’s irrelevant.

If I feel like changing the planned run then I will. It really doesn’t matter as long as I’m still training and enjoying it. Every so often this approach results in some runs much faster than they feel.

Supporting the more relaxed approach I aim to run in places I enjoy. This is almost always on the best trails around me. This year I did this by making the most of the spectacular trails and beach around Anglesea.

Prepare The Body

This is mixture between hard training and allowing recovery. A wide variety of running paces, terrain and intensity is important.

I will train hard and fast in between different versions of easy. I’ll state again I don’t care about exact paces, but am looking to have the running feel great.

One aspect of training I avoid during this process are hard, long runs that grind me down and require a few days to recover from. Those types of runs tend to be counterproductive. They rob me of the snap and spring I look for. Any over load usually comes from pushing the speed up.

I’ll expect to be a bit sore from some training for a day or 2, but shouldn’t require anything beyond that. There is room to throw in a race, but nothing beyond 12km.

Most mornings I woke just before the sun. Running through the amazing backdrop of the sunrise across the sea and beach. The loose training structure went like this:

How I Started My Year Running

Camping with family and friends put me amongst some of the best landscapes along the coast. A mixture of hills, single track, bush and beaches made for the perfect playground.

Living in a tent without setting an alarm allowed my body to follow it’s natural circadian rhythm. This is a luxury to me. Life as a shift worker makes this a rare opportunity.

Most mornings I woke just before the sun. Running through the amazing backdrop of the sunrise across the sea and beach. The loose training structure went like this:

  • VO2 Intervals 4x3min with 3min easy jog
  • Easy 10km
  • Easy 7km
  • Race: Tim Gates Classic 10km
  • Regeneration 4km
  • Easy 6km
  • Easy 10km
  • Hill Repeats 4x3min with jog back down
  • Easy 10km
  • Easy 6km

In writing it looks like a typical running program. The distances, paces and even the structure of each run isn’t very important. It is the approach that makes the difference.

I find the best way to start a running program is to take a bit of time to refresh the mind and prepare the body. How do you like to start a new running program?

Christmas Training Block: Running In The Silly Season

Struggling to train during the silly season? I find it harder. A mixture of increased demands on time, renovations, social stuff, kids not at school and all the miscellaneous extras Christmas brings makes it harder to fit it in running. Here’s my plans for the Christmas training block.

 

The Christmas training block takes me over 4 weeks from a week before Christmas through to the end of the second week of January. It is a time for friends, family, food, drink, mess, cleaning, packing, camping, holidays, food, drink, friends and family.

 

How does running fit?

Running is used to enhance my life. It helps make what is great even better. It helps me deal better with the not so great parts too. Running makes it easier to relax. I feel better generally and it is easier to be present in all moments when I get in regular running.

 

On the flip side I have the tendency to go too far. Running can be a great escape. But I have taken it too far in the past. I still chase big goals in running. Finding the balance between all aspects is often a challenge.

 

To make sure I get my running done I need to focus on my non-running commitments. It sounds counterintuitive. Procrastinating on the other areas in life means they will take more time. Which means they encroach on the running.

 

There’s no such thing as multitasking only task-switching. For me the most efficient way to get something done is to focus only on that. I’ll use this as good practice to improve my mindfulness skills.

 

Working hard on the necessities will give me more freedom for the fun stuff. Family, friends and running. I’ll block time to getting the tasks completed. This will create both the physical and mental freedom to start the following day with a training session.

 

Timeframes on the runs will be tight. Most runs will be an hour or less. The key sessions maybe a little longer plus a weekly long run of up to about 2 hours. Compared to the last few years these timeframes are short. Yet I know I will get more out of them.

 

Get More Out Of A Run

Being intentional is becoming a cliche, but it applies here. Knowing what I want to get out of a run and what it takes to achieve that is of paramount importance. By defining these two elements simplifies the run. It doesn’t make it easy.

 

All that is left is to go out and do what I need to achieve the run goal.

 

Boundaries To Stay Accountable

This creates boundaries that help keep the mind on track. No room to wander. No space to slack off for some extra recovery between repeats. No chance you get back those moments of dropping the pace.

 

Challenging is the fact the planned paces are faster than I typically have run over the last couple of years. The last 4 weeks have proven I can run those paces. Now I need to push them out and hold them for longer, more often and consistently. That is the hard part.

 

Running 7 Days A Week

Switching to a 7 day week for this training cycle has me feel somewhat like a normal person. Of course I’ll never quite get there. 

The base plan for a training week will be:

 

  • VO2 Intervals 4-5 x 3min with 3min recovery
  • Regeneration / Easy 40-60min
  • Long Run 20-23km
  • Regeneration / Easy 40-60min
  • Easy Run 40-60min
  • Anaerobic Threshold Intervals 4 x 2-3km with 5min recovery
  • Regeneration 30-50min

 

Total kilometres I don’t care about. They are only a byproduct of getting in the required work.

 

Skipping the occasional regeneration is definitely not a problem if it’s for a good reason. Christmas Day will be a good reason. That day is for the kids.

Struggling to train during the silly season? I find it harder. A mixture of increased demands on time, renovations, social stuff, kids not at school and all the miscellaneous extras Christmas brings makes it harder to fit it in running. Here's my plans for the Christmas training block.  The Christmas training block takes me over 4 weeks from a week before Christmas through to the end of the second week of January. It is a time for friends, family, food, drink, mess, cleaning, packing, camping, holidays, food, drink, friends and family.

VO2 Intervals

VO2 intervals are one of the best ways to improve distance running. If you want to get faster then max out your oxygen use.

VO2 intervals are the most important fast session in my running plan. This is a run not to skip.

As with all running there a multiple ways to reach the same goal. This is the approach I am taking and what tends to work well for many.

Intensity

The intensity you want to work at is close to your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max). Aiming for 95-100% of VO2max. But it is ridiculously hard and expensive to measure your VO2 while out running. We need another way.

Heart rate can help. Typically hitting between 90-100% of maximal heart rate (HRmax) gets you in the right area. But not always. Heart rate can plateau while your intensity rises and you may be working harder than required. Also your HR may not rise to the desired range at the start of the session.

Using pace can be a little more accurate. You will be aiming for between 5000m to 3000m race pace. The slower you race times the more you would lean towards 3000m pace. Another way to think is we can only hold our VO2max speed for between 9-14 minutes. That is the pace and intensity of the intervals.

Duration

The interval length should be between 2-6 minutes. Most studies have shown between 3-5 minutes giving the greatest results.

Recovery

Recovery is designed so you can perform your next interval. We want to avoid early fatigue.

Many sources will give a ratio for recovery such as 2:1 or 1:1, which appears to work in the research. My preferred approach is to take between 3-5 minutes between intervals. Shorter than 3 minutes tends to drop the standard in the last couple of intervals. Beyond 5 minutes seems to reduce the overall effectiveness of the session.

Keep the intensity at a comfortable run. Below anaerobic threshold. At your usual easy run pace. Walking and slow jogging will work, but I find if you can keep the speed up a little bit it helps reset your comfortable to a higher level.

How Many?

For the greatest improvements it appears we need between 12-30 minutes of intervals. Exactly how much may be dependant on your current fitness. If you don’t have the ability to maintain the intensity beyond 15 minutes, then there is no point forcing it out to 30 minutes.

If already to some degree of running around VO2max, then start with 4 x 3min intervals. From there you can gradually add time. For example:

  • 4 x 3min (12min)
  • 5 x 3min (15min)
  • 3 x 5min (15min)
  • 4 x 4min (16min)
  • 6 x 3min (18min)

For those who haven’t got a strong running base, have had some time off or haven’t included running at these pace a more conservative start might be better. Starting with 4 x 2min or even less and building up from there would help ensure the connective tissue and muscles are better able to handle VO2 intervals.

VO2 Interval Session

Ideally you won’t be feeling stuffed from previous training. A day or two of comfortable running would be best leading up. Make sure you are hydrated and fuelled lightly. These are not the types of runs to testing out any depletion strategy.

Warm Up

Warm up well. Treat it is an opportunity to fine tune your warm up for races. I like to run easy and relaxed for 10-15min until my body feels ready. Then I’ll either gradually increase the speed, or throw in a few relaxed run-throughs at speed. Nothing is forced, but I am looking feel the natural snap and spring from running faster. Total warm up time is usually 20-25min.

Main Set

Straight into the first interval. The paradox of trying to feel relaxed while pushing up the speed. Aiming to get the pacing spot on at the start. Making small adjustments as to be as exact as possible. Ideally you can hold the same pace from the start through to the end of interval. Then keep up that pace for each interval.

At the end of the interval relax into the recovery. Resist the urge just to stop or walk. Make the most of the momentum and keep the legs moving. Relax with each breath and reset the mind ready for the next interval.

Focus on the key elements of your running stride. Push through the ground. Keep the snap and lightness in each step. Stay away from muscling through. Beware the laziness of the body. It looks for the easy way out in the short term. Keep your technique, speed and power. Teach your body to maintain the efficiency of speed.

Cool Down

Once all the intervals are completed ease into a relaxed jog for the cool down. I like to start super easy and gradually build the pace back up over a few minutes to a run that feels moderate. Then hold that for a further 10 or so minutes before easing back down over a further 5-10 minutes seems to have me feel fresher over the next day than if I just jog easy or do a really short cool down. I have no science to support this. Just years of trying different methods.

VO2 Intervals

  • Warm up 10-15min easy running then 5-10min faster running
  • 4-8 x 2-6 minutes at 95-100% VO2max / 90-100% HRmax / 5000m-3000m race pace
  • Recovery between each interval 2-4 minutes easy run
  • Cool down for 10-20min