How to Develop a Training Program for Running

by Kent Oglesby, an article which first appeared in Vitality Magazine

One of the topics of conversation that comes up among runners, both recreational and competitive, is "How do I develop a running program or schedule that will best prepare me to run well in a particular race or series of races?" Generally, the runner is really asking how can I run faster, longer, or both. Since achieving either would be one way of gauging increased fitness, such a discussion provides the rational for particular programs of training.

Of course, obtaining a coach would be preferable to venturing off on one's own. A coach can tailor a program for your specific needs while keeping in mind these general principles.

Developing a training schedule and strategy for shorter distance races requires that the runner assess the following: 1.) Present fitness 2.) the goal or end result 3.) time line. Typically this means, "I can run a 5K race at 9 minute pace now. How do I get to 8 minute pace by the Colorado Run 5k?"

Assuming the goal is realistic, a training schedule should include: 1.) an endurance phase 2.) a strength phase 3.) a sharpening phase 4.) and a tapering phase. Transition from one stage to the next should allow for a period of time that mixes the phase left and the one entered.

In terms of time spent with each phase, a ratio of 2-2-1-1 represents a reasonable progression. Thus in a 12 week cycle, that would mean 4 weeks of endurance work, 4 weeks of strength work, 2 weeks of sharpening, and two weeks of tapering. Some overlap between the phases would facilitate transition. Such a ratio of training phases could apply to any length of time; however, a year is probably too long and 6 weeks too little. Ten to twelve weeks represent a workable period of time followed by 2-4 weeks of rest and rebuilding allowing the runner to move to a new cycle and, hopefully, a new level of fitness.

Phase 1-Endurance: During this period runs include short, medium and long runs. The pace is easy, emphasizing bulk miles and the development of aerobic endurance.

Phase 2-Strength: The long endurance runs are continued. The short and medium runs are mostly replaced by hill running (working mainly the uphill sections), tempo runs, and steady state runs (both of which emphasize running a faster than normal training pace for a particular distance or time).

Phase 3-Sharpening: These runs are generally conducted on measured courses (generally the track) emphasizing a large number of repeats of a selected distance (400's, 800's, miles, or a mix) with short intervals of rest usually in the form jogging in between. The long endurance run tapers off and the total mileage begins to decrease.

Phase 4-Tapering: This period emphasizes power intervals, few in number with increased rest in-between. The overall mileage is greatly reduce (40-50%) and alternative exercise such as swimming, power lounging, and napping are highly recommended. The long, endurance run is completely eliminated.

Total mileage for each period would reflect the ratios in the following example: Phase #1-60 miles per week-240 total; Phase #2-60 miles per week-240 total; Phase #3-40 miles per week-80 total; Phase #4-30 miles per week-60 total. In a 12 week cycle that would be a total of 620 miles. Another example would be 30-30-20-15 or 320 miles in 12 weeks.

During the scope of the tapering period, the runner is ready to run his or her best runs. Plan for more than one race. The chances that something can go wrong in one race are lessened by pointing for two or three races. However, remember that the tapering phase cannot be extended too long. Eventually, conditioning is lost and the runner needs to regroup, set new goals and begin the cycle over again.