Experienced runners are exposed to a multitude of training methods and countless different variations of workouts. How to pick and choose becomes a source of stress. People find, often too late, what may be a good workout system for one person is horrible for another. In the quest to get better many runners compete with themselves and increase the intensity of all of their workouts as they get more fit. They may see short terms gains, but after a year or two, they fall into a cycle of buildup, injury and then recovery. Round and round this goes until they finally give up all serious running.
So the question becomes what is the proper mix? The secret lies with observing long term successful runners. The first take away is runners across the US, or the world for that matter, do different workouts. There isn’t a specific formula for how much track workouts or even the nature of them. Some runners have seen great benefits in incorporating hill workouts or altitude training, while there are others who live in Flat and humid areas that never do any hill training. But the one thing in common seems to be the proportion of hard vs. easy running. This balance seems to be consistent whether it be in the US or the highlands of Kenya. The majority of running is at an easy pace. The consensus seems to be that 80 percent of running should be at an easy pace, while ONLY 20 percent of running should be at a hard pace. There is a book on this topic by one of the premier coaches in the Nation published fairly recently, and I suggest checking it out.
Now let’s delve a bit deeper into this rule. The keyword is EASY! What is an easy run? Can a run be too easy? An easy run is one that takes virtually no time to recover, and easy runs certainly can be too easy. Many people use the talking test. The theory is that one should be able to hold a conversation at the given pace. But let’s reexamine that sentence. Just because you can carry on a conversation doesn’t mean you should be engaged in long discussions. If you are, then you are running slower than the desired pace. Talking consumes oxygen, while at the same time, not allowing the respiratory system to work at its max efficiency.
The below chart outlines an easy way to determine if you are running too hard or easy.
This simple breathing test is one way to help determine whether your easy runs are either too hard or too easy.
Heart Rate Test
This simple breathing test will help determine whether your easy runs are either too hard or too easy.
First, get your resting pulse rate. Most runners will be in the 65-80 range.
At the end of your easy run take your pulse immediately on completion of the run. Then wait for two minutes and repeat the process.
One easy way to do this without a heart rate monitor is to take the pulse in your neck for 15 seconds then multiply by 4 for the rate for one minute. (This is actually more accurate than using a heart rate monitor for a minute as the heart rate will drop over the course of a minute)
There are two components to examine. How fast does the Heart Rate drop and how much does it drop.
Generally speaking, if you are within range of a normal resting pulse of say 65-80 then your 2 min time should drop under 100 BPM (Beat Per Minutes)
This is with the caveat on how far the rate fell. For example, if the top rate was 150 and it then fell to say 105, this shows an easier workout than a person than a person whose top rate was 118 and then dropped to 99.
Now the number 100 BPM isn’t a firm number. For example, if your resting pulse is close to or under 50 BPM, then the expected drop should be closer to or under 90BPM
Another way to determine if you running too hard is how you feel at the end of the shorter runs. These runs aren’t designed to fatigue your legs. At the end of a 5k run, one should be able to run another 5k without rest fairly close to the same pace.
In our system, we feel it is best to avoid Heart rate monitors and paying attention to pace in using a watch. (More details in the website)
Another gauge that can be used is your pace for you short runs during the week should be fairly close to the pace of your Long run during the weekend. At most, it should only be 10-15% faster for your easy runs.
For advance or Elite runners, this Formula can be changed up a bit. Most experienced runners are aware of Hard/easy days. In advance systems there most accomplished runners have Hard and easy seasons. The easy season usually begins after a big race or at the end of Track or Cross Country season. It is good to relax a couple of weeks and let the body heal. In our system, the next period after the rest weeks is to focus on building up mileage thrown in with a few strength workouts. It isnt until one gets back into the Workout Training Season before hard runs such as speed workouts and Tempo runs are reintroduced. So we can modify the formula just a bit. Instead of an 80/20 ratio we can use an 90/10 ratrio for the Build up Phase or Base training, and then hit a 70/30 ration for the workout training session.