Coach Alan

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Coach Alan Green’s Training Blog.
West Coast Athletic Club’s own experienced and knowledgeable in house coach and training expert shares his knowledge and training advice on this page for all to read and learn from. Alan has been with the club for donkey’s years and holds numerous qualifications in coaching and sports science. Many runners in this club have benefited from Alan’s coaching and excellent training programs. For a personalized training program for anything from running for the first time to training for Comrades or an ultra trail you can contact Alan at, he will be happy to help.

The importance of using all available training methods to reach your goal

The Maffetone Method, Base Training, and Why You Are Not “Lungs with Legs”

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Are you ready for a monster discussion on base training, the Maffetone Method, and more training geekery?

I definitely am  – and this article is a beast – so grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a wild ride.

Today we’re going to cover several questions and topics:

  • What is “base” or “foundational” training?
  • What is the Maffetone Method?
  • What are the benefits of the Maffetone Method?
  • The (significant) drawbacks of the Maffetone Method
  • How to design a proper base training phase

I rarely discuss specific training methods (“Run Less, Run Faster” for example) unless I have very strong opinions about them. Like CrossFit Endurance!

But I think there’s a valuable discussion to be had about how runners should build their endurance. And the base phase of training is the perfect place to start this conversation.

So first, what is base training anyway?

What Exactly is Base Training?

Let’s see how some famous coaches define base training.

Greg McMillan, of the “McMillan Running Calculator” fame and author of YOU (Only Faster), defines base training as:

Our base training comes directly from Arthur Lydiard with slight modifications for our athletes. There are two workouts that are performed in the base phase. The first workout is a leg speed workout. Year-round, it is important for distance runners to work on leg speed.

Leg speed workouts are NOT heavy breathing workouts. They are neuromuscular workouts to make sure the brain and muscles remember how to turn the legs over quickly. Since we don’t want to breath heavy (indicating a large build up of lactic acid- a big no-no while in the base phase), these workouts include repeats lasting less than 30 seconds.

A good example might be 10 x 150m striding the first 50m, running quickly the second 50m then at 90% of top speed for the final 50m.

You can see that the focus here is NOT on hard workouts – but even so, there is still a weekly session where you run quite fast.

And Brad Hudson, coach to many elites and author of Run Faster, explains the base phase (or as he calls it, the “introductory period”) as:

The purpose of the introductory period is to establish an appropriate fitness foundation that will prepare you for the more challenging and focused training of the fundamental and sharpening periods. Priority number one is to gradually but steadily increase your running mileage…

Other priorities of the introductory period include establishing a foundation of neuromuscular fitness with very small doses of maximal-intensity running and beginning the long process of developing efficiency and fatigue-resistance at race pace with small doses of running in the race-pace range

Bob Kennedy, the dominant American distance runner in the 1990s and first American to break 13:00 in the 5,000m, agrees. In this article, he says:

There are three basic phases to a training cycle: base, strength, and speed. The problem that most athletes have is that they think [the phases] are mutually exclusive. I think that the phase of training is defined by what you are focusing on during that phase.

But you always do a little of all of those things. There’s never a time of year when you’re just running mileage or you’re just doing speed. You’re always doing all of it, it’s just a matter of to what degree.

I also reached out to Jay Johnson, coach to multiple national champions, about what he thinks should be included in a base training phase (or “foundational training” as he calls it):

Foundational training doesn’t need to be so black and white. You can do a progression run that is mostly below [lactate] threshold and it might end with 5 minutes of running that’s just past threshold, yet the amount of lactate produced is minimal and is cleared in just a few minutes of cooling down.

And there is no reason that you can’t be doing strides several days a week.

From these definitions, we can agree that base training is preparatory training. It helps build your foundation so that you’re fit enough to tackle more race-specific workouts later in your training cycle by focusing on endurance but also a small amount of very fast and race-pace running.

So, what can we learn from the top minds in running about base training? Here are a few key points:

  • The focus during an early-season “base” or “foundational” training phase is aerobic development
  • Aerobic development is primarily accomplished through high mileage, long runs, and aerobic-focused workouts like threshold runs, progression runs, and fartleks
  • Base training doesn’t exclude faster running, however: the focus is simply on slower running
  • Strides, small doses of race-pace work, and neuromuscular workouts like hill sprints should be included in the base phase of training

This type of training is very similar to what my college cross country team ran every summer: mostly easy running but regular strides with an increasing focus on hill repetitions and tempo workouts.

What is the Maffetone Method?

Created by Phil Maffetone, the Maffetone Method is a style of training that focuses exclusively on aerobic running. Using a heart rate formula of 180 – your age (plus several corrections for injury, fitness level, health, etc.) you come up with an “aerobic maximum heart rate.”

To build your aerobic fitness (i.e., your endurance), your heart rate should never exceed this number. Most runners use the Maffetone Method for their base training phase, dedicating up to six months of running low-intensity paces that never spike their heart rate over this “aerobic maximum.”

The goal is to improve aerobic development and the percentage of calories burned from fat. Maffetone says on his website:

Some people rely on larger amounts of fat, with the result of high physical and mental vigor, improved health, and better all-around performance.

Those less able to burn sufficient fat must rely more on sugar, resulting in less fat burning each day—a problem associated with reduced health, including low energy, increased body fat and weight, less endurance for daily living, and lower physical fitness.

Phil Maffetone claims the benefits to using his method include reduced inflammation, lower stress hormones (like cortisol), increased fat burning, and the prevention (or REVERSAL) of injuries.

Wow, is this the fountain of youth?! The claims are bold – so let’s discuss the pros and cons of this method of training.

Maffetone Method Benefits & Drawbacks

I can’t agree more with the basic premise of the Maffetone Method: most runners lack aerobic fitness and the best way to improve endurance is through aerobic training.

The majority of runners – particularly beginners and those who start running later in life – must prioritize easy, aerobic running. It’s the foundation upon which more difficult training is built.

But after that high-level agreement, I completely disagree with the mechanics of this method of training. Mostly because, as Mike Smith from Kansas State would say, Maffetone is training “lungs with legs” – and runners are much more than lungs with legs!

There are several great takeaways from this presentation by Coach Jay Johnson:

Most notably, we can say that:

  • Runners are athletes and we must develop more abilities than simply aerobic fitness
  • Without well-rounded athleticism, runners will never reach their potential

You can also read more about the many components of athleticism here.

Maffetone claims his method provides “balanced physical activity” but then only focuses on one energy system  – the aerobic energy system. And within that system, he focuses on the slower end of aerobic development and ignores higher end aerobic workouts like tempo runs at lactate threshold or fast finish progressions.

Brad Hudson believes every energy system should be stressed during every phase of training. In this article, you can see that to get closer to a goal race performance, you have to focus on two types of training: endurance and muscular.

He also says:

We forget that muscles are so important. You have to have the muscular strength to be great. Yes, the aerobic system too—you have to build your aerobic house sometime. So it is really that balance.

Most people get hurt in the transition from what they consider base. And why is that? Because they are not going after the muscles, and it is very foreign to them.

During a base training phase – no matter your fitness level or goals – you must include muscular training that includes very fast running like strides, short race-pace repetitions, or hill sprints, which will all spike your heart rate (briefly) over this “aerobic maximum.”

Alberto Salazar, coach to the 2012 Olympic 10k 1-2 punch Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, believes training is like soup. If you only have one ingredient in your soup, it won’t taste very good. Training is the same; you need all the ingredients included. The other top coaches mentioned in this article agree that base training is not comprised of only easy running.

Finally, there are Phil Maffetone’s claims about injury prevention and general health which are exaggerated and unsupported. He says that:

  • By training aerobically, your injury will “go away” (like magic!)
    • His training methods limit stress and inflammation (but these can be beneficial)
    • Maffetone Method increases physical and mental “vigor” and improves “all around performance”

    Let’s get a few things straight:

    Injuries won’t go away if you simply slow down. Injuries are much more complex than that. You can learn more about injury prevention here.

    Stress and inflammation can be good things! We shouldn’t be constantly limiting our exposure to the effects of training – they prompt adaptation and make us stronger and faster.

    Vague assumptions don’t prove your training method. Claims like more “mental vigor” and better “all around performance” are unsupported, unclear, and too general to be taken seriously.

    What Do Runners Think About the Maffetone Method?

    In researching this article, I came across hundreds of testimonials for Maffetone, successful case studies, and scathing criticisms.

    Success stories for the Maffetone Method (MAF) usually go something like this:

  • I trained at MAF all last year and developed a great base. I only broke out of MAF twice – once for a tune-up half before a full marathon, and then again for the full marathon itself.

    Wound up setting big PRs in both – demonstrating how poor my aerobic conditioning had been.

    But this doesn’t show the Maffetone Method works – it shows this runner simply needed to focus more on his aerobic conditioning and endurance. And any good coach would help him do that, without sacrificing the development of other energy systems.

    And remember: just because something works for you doesn’t mean it’s ideal. Most runners could improve even more if they had smarter training. This idea is covered in more detail in my second CrossFit article.

    But most Maffetone Method criticisms don’t focus on training theory or science. They focus on the fact that training this way is incredibly boring! It’s excruciatinglyslow.

    Here’s a fantastic comment that summarizes a few key points about the Maffetone Method:

    I tried the concept for a winter of cycling training and totally sucked it up for the rest of spring.

    I honestly feel the concept has little practical scientific backing whatsoever and in a general sense is a waste of precious training time.

    Focusing on incorporating a smattering of different training paces ensures that you can fine tune your training in a rather short amount of time to hit a variety of race distances. It also allows one to move into varying aspects of speed work without any significant jolts to the mind/body.

    Sure, you can get faster by running slower in the beginning provided your overall stimulus is greater than before, but you can get even faster by running faster! There’s absolutely no reason to completely eschew faster running or running over a certain speed or heart rate. Limiting yourself to an arbitrary ceiling (and using a one-size-fits-all numerical formula is just that) is not the most efficient or effective way to direct your training.

    Do you really feel you’re going to maximize your improvement running your 20 mpw at the “excruciatingly slow 10 minute/mile”? I don’t think you will.

    Plus, in my opinion, it is a friggin’ SUPER boring way to train!

    I can’t agree with this more!

    One article that I won’t call out specifically encouraged runners to spend six months with the Maffetone Method. It told runners they’d likely experience:

    • changes in body composition
    • more energy
    • lack of injuries and illness
    • higher sex drive
    • Faster race times (with no stress or injury)

    Unfortunately, you can’t get faster unless you stress your body in a new way. And with only excruciatingly slow mileage, you have to do a LOT of it to see measurable increases in performance.

    Just think: if all of your running is easy, where is the stress to prompt you to get faster and stronger?

    How to Plan Your Base Training

    Rather than focus exclusively on one type of training (aerobic) at the expense of race-specific preparation, there’s a better way to plan base training.

    Instead, you’ll want to build a foundation of that includes fitness in three major areas: aerobic capacity, strength, and neuromuscular coordination (or leg speed).

    Aerobic capacity is built through easy mileage, long runs, and workouts like tempos, progressions, and fartleks.

    Strength is also built with high mileage and long runs, but also includes strength routines and core workouts.

    Neuromuscular coordination is built through strides, hill sprints, and small amounts of race-pace running.

    Just like the foundation of a house can’t be built without concrete, plumbing, and reinforcements, you can’t build a running foundation without all of these ingredients. If you do, it’s not as strong as it could be.

    Even marathoners, who will never run “fast” even during their goal race, need all three components included in their base training.

    By working on each aspect of your fitness, none gets “left behind” and you’re more prepared for harder runs later in your training cycle.

    My suggestion? Skip the Maffetone Method altogether and take a more modern approach to base training: include strength workouts, strides or hill sprints, and relatively easy fartlek workouts.

    You’ll get in better shape – and ultimately race faster.

Form Work

Three Tips for Easy Simple Form Work: CHP

The following three tips are the major aspects of from work which helps improve any running style once the basics have been mastered to improve the mechanics of movement.

!. Chest Up. Lift your chest. Take a deep breath and hold that forward position as you exhale. Lydiard says to imagine you have a pulley attached to a harness around your chest. The other end of the pulley is attached to a three-story building a block away. As you run, lift your chest up and forward; it leads the way. Don’t lean forward, just get your chest up and out. It will give you extended lung capacity. Don’t change your shoulders or arms at all. Work only with your chest and you’ll achieve better posture and lung efficiency.

2. Hips Forward. When you pull your chest up it helps pull your hips forward automatically. Before you start running, get your chest up; then put your hands on your butt and push forward. Your shoulders, hips and feet should all be lined up. In this position you can extend your legs for maximum power. Lydiard contrasts this with the typical runner’s position, which he calls :sitting in the bucket.” When your hips are under and forward you’ll the muscles of the calf been used and hardly any exertion in the hamstrings. You should feel light on your feet and run quieter when hips are forward.

3. Push Off strongly with your foot. With your ankle brought into position by a forward chest and hips, a small amount of work from the calf muscle can produce a major effect in push-off power from your feet.

Most runners lean slightly back as they run and must overcome gravity with each step. A wear spot on the the shoe heel indicates this. It’s fine to land on your heel, but don’t stay there. It’s harmful to the knees. The knee cap is pulled tightly into the knee, grinding the cartilage against the bones. When your ankle does the work, this knee tension is reduced considerably.

If you naturally land on your heel, don’t try to shift suddenly to your forefoot. after landing, shift your weight to the midfoot and let the ankle exert its leverage. Gradually make your running an ankle reflex action, which will give you a feeling of floating more than pounding.



The Five Stages of a Runner

The following five stages of a runner are taken from: Galloway’s Book On Running. August 1984.

The Beginner.

Stage One- Making the break

For some it is medical advice or family and peer pressure that gets to to make a decision to start running as a means to reduce weight and feel better. It could be that the medical profession has told you that if you do not become active you will suffer medical complaints. This is a difficult stage as the lifestyle that you have feels comfortable and familiar with all its distractions to keep you from going out to run. It is quite difficult to justify going out for a run when the weather is cold and wet, or hot and windy, or even just wanting to lie in bed a bit longer.

You may find that in the beginning your new running addiction is threatening to your less active friends but do not despair as you will make lots of new friends who are just as crazy as you are about this. Do not stress or fear as faltering and starting over again a few times is all part of the process. By building yourself up gradually with frequent walk breaks it will not take long before you are able to run 5 kilometers without stopping, walking or feeling like dying. DO not expect instant results or pain free movement for the first few weeks, as with anything new it takes the body some time to develop and accept this new you.

Gradually your body begins to change and you find that it is easier to run smoothly and feel good. You start to notice your surroundings and how friendly everyone is who run the same routes as you do. Your body starts to feel strong and you feel more energised and at this point you decide if you wish to remain a beginner or become a jogger.

The Jogger

Stage Two- Entering the New World

Once you become a jogger you feel more secure about your running even it it is sometimes hard to start the run, but unlike the beginner you you realise that you too are addicted to this running craze. You may still feel intimidated by the high achiever types who race and do crazy stuff like marathons and ultra marathons. At this point you realise just how important fitness is to your health and well being both mental and physical. It is at this point that you break away from your old habits and set training routines in place to feed your growing running addiction. After most runs you feel good about what you just did and how much you have achieved.  As a beginner you complained about feeling bored whilst running but anymore as you look forward to your daily run. 

A jogger does not worry about having a plan or a goal they just want to go out and run with as much enjoyment as possible. Those who do feel that they need a plan feel they do not know enough to prepare a plan.- Think about a coach-. Most just read an article or listen to a more experienced runner and then follow this for a while which most often leads to injury. -Think about a coach-. This type of approach quite often leads to an injury or frustration when a goal is not achieved. These plans are not individualised or pertinent to the Jogger. 

Most Joggers prefer company and do well when in a group. They still feel a bit insecure when having to run alone. A Beginner hides within the group while the Jogger identifies with the group. A lot of Beginners will do an informal event like a Park run or a 5 kilometer fun run while the Jogger actually enters an official event or uses the local Park run to achieve a particular goal which is not time based but rather finishing without walking or keeping up with another Jogger. It is during this stage a lot of runners decide that they would like to become competitive and move into the next stage.

The Competitor

Stage Three- When Competition is the Main Driving Force

All of us have a competitive streak even if we try and keep it well hidden. If we control this competitive aspect of ourselves then it becomes a great motivator to push ourselves further and faster. If you are not careful and observant this competitive streak can cause you to loose the enjoyment of your running.

You become a competitor when you start planning your running around racing goals. For most of us it starts innocently enough as you begin to wonder how fast you can actually run a particular distance or event. Luckily not all Joggers enter this stage but remain quite happily as Joggers where others skip this stage and move directly into becoming Runners.

If you enjoy been competitive then this is an exciting stage as you get to see juts how fast you can run and just how far you can run or even far and fast. Your running begins to improve due to the fact that you are training more and you are most likely at this stage under the guidance of a mentor or coach or you have developed enough knowledge to plan your own training. 

It is now vitally important that you keep your competitive streak in check as before long you may realise that the enjoyment of running has lost itself in the drive to excel at all costs. If you miss a work out you are depressed and most likely angry that work, family or social got in the way of your training. During this phase you may train alone or look for small groups of better runners to train with so that you can keep getting faster. You choose events that are likely to give you fast times as the terrain is most suitable or the fields are small and have no big challenges from other competitors. 

During this phase you may loose sight of what works as you feel that if a small change in distance or speed gives you success then more distance and more speed will bring more success. You begin to think that what applies to the mere mortals does apply to you as you are a supremely gifted athlete with all the inherent genetics and the will to push yourself. You will continue pushing yourself even if you always feel tired but cannot sleep peacefully. You become difficult and irritable with family and friends. You push too hard and too far causing an injury or illness or worse still over-training which necessitates a break from your training regimen.  

There are lessons to be learnt from competition and fortunately most competitors to do not to push to the extremes to learn them. Pushing through tiredness and discomfort in a race to achieve a new personal best is not only rewarding in itself, but gives you an idea of what you can do in other areas of your life. Sometimes we need to be challenged to discover hidden strengths which help us cope with the stress of daily life. At the same time experiencing some frustration and pain can help us realise our limitations. By struggling we discover a bit more about the person inside us; we can learn from our mistakes and move to new heights.

The Athlete

Stage Four- Being the Best You Can Be

As an athlete, you find more meaning in the drive to fulfill your potential than in compulsively collecting trophies. You finally have a handle on competition, and it is not the only motivation. Being an athlete is a state of mind which is not bound by age, preformance or place in the running pack.

For a competitor, victory and defeat are tied to performance. Times, flat courses, ideal conditions are all important. For the Athlete, victory lies in the quality of effort. When you run close to your potential on a given day, it is a victory. You internalise competition and transcend it, knowing your limits and capabilities. As you compete you breath in the race, vaporise it, absorb what you need and exhale the rest. Running becomes your own work of art.

Competitors look for races they can win while Athletes look for competition, even though they are not intent on a higher ranking or better performance. They thrive on a challenging competition that is run in the best possible way- from the inside out- and they are, not incidentally, rewarded in the long run by faster times. athletes are also found at the back of the pack, or they mat choose smaller races over the big media events because they do not want to feel lost in a sea of humanity. The Athlete knows when to discard the memory of a bad run and how to make small changes to their training in order to see improvement in their performances.

Great Athletes at any level realise that “success” is in the eye of the performer. There can be success in every experience. If you seize upon the positive aspect of each experience you can string together a series of successes that form a pattern of progress.

Some Athletes reach a level of achievement or satisfaction and retire from competition; a few even quit running entirely. Many choose a reduced level of activity, others maintain a fairly high yet sensible level. Many continue to grow and move into the final and most rewarding stage, the Runner.

The Runner

Stage Five- The Best of All Stages

The final stage of the running journey blends the best elements of all the previous stages. The runner balances the elements of fitness, competition, training and social life and blends running with the rest of his or her life. The Runner is a happy person.

As a Runner the primary focus in life is not running. Running is a natural part of your daily life and if you miss a run you ignore it and move on. If scientists announced that running was harmful to you, you would take not note and move on with your daily run. You get so much satisfaction from your running that it is part of who and what you are. You will enjoy running with others but most of your running you will do alone. You appreciate the the peace and inner reflection provided by the solitary run more than you did in the earlier stages. Great satisfaction comes from being able to mold your body into form, and there is art in combining just the right amounts of strength, endurance, form and performance training. A race can be an opportunity to pull out deep hidden strengths. Once you have learnt these things, the joy lies not in the race, but in the running.

As a Runner you experience the enjoyment of each stage and retain the best of them. You can relive the Beginner’s excitement in discovery, appreciate the Jogger’s balance of fitness and enthusiasm, share the Competitor’s ambition, and internalise the athlete’s quest. Having consolidated and balanced all these stages, you appreciate the creative and positive aspects of each and let them enrich your running life.

If this short summary excites you, read Galloway’s Book on Running and Paul Vorwerk’s Second Dimension Of Running.

The Coaches Tip/handsoncoachalan

In order to be successful as a runner you need to train correctly, eat correctly, rest and get the mix of these three aspects just right. With the constraints and demands of everyday life involving family, social or friends, work and training the need for a coach to assist in drawing up an appropriate training schedule becomes of paramount importance. This is extremely evident when we see just how much confusing and conflicting methods of training to achieve the same result there are. A coach will assist you in getting the correct type of training to suite your goals, commitments and availability so that you achieve without too much disruption to the rest of your daily activities.

If you as an athlete had to try each of the various training methodologies and how they are put in place you would spend about five to six years trying and changing your training program without ever knowing what worked for you and what did not work. Some programs overlap in what they set out for you to use in order to achieve a specific goal so it might work or not depending on how closely you stick to what the program asks of you. Most people getting into running want to achieve their goals without all this confusion and hassle which is why they should consider using a coach to assist them.

A good coach not only keeps up to date with any new training ideas and formats but also has a vast knowledge of all the various training formats and the science and success behind them. A coach is not only a scientist who works with data and input versus output but is also an artist who relates to each athlete on a level whereby together they can modify and adapt a training routine to make it work for the individual.

When working with a training program it could ask you to work at a set heart rate or level of VO2MAX. Most people would ask how do I determine my heart rate level and what is VO2MAX? There are approximately 12 different versions that can be used to determine your maximum heart rate and then the various levels from 50% to 120% depending on where you need to be at any given stage of your training and recovery. These levels include the aerobic as well as anaerobic systems.


How about using your 1600 meter all out effort or 8 kilometer time trial to set training zones for speed and speed endurance sessions. Lets take it that you can run 4 laps of an athletic track in 8 minutes. This is 2 minutes per 400 meters or 30 seconds per 100 meters. Using these figures we can now work out what your approximate marathon time and 8 kilometer time should be. The marathon finishing time should be 3 hours 29 minutes and 45 seconds. This should give you an 8 kilometer time trial time of 36 minutes 15 seconds to 36 minutes 30 seconds.

From the above paragraph it sounds very easy to say that if you can run the 1600 meters at that 8 minute pace then with training you should run the 8 kilometer time trial in 36 minutes or just over. So why do so few people have this ability?

There are a multitude of reasons that this happens, with some of them been, easily identifiable. Howe about the fact that lots of runners train at the same pace every single session. They go out and do their planned run be it a short 5 or 10 kilometer to an 20 or more kilometer run at say for example 6 minutes per kilometer. The next session is their quality day of hills or speed work but they still do each repeat at this same effort or just slightly quicker say at 5 minutes 50 per kilometer. The next session and the one after that the pace stays exactly the same. Yes in the beginning there is a nice improvement in the athletes ability so they achieve better and faster times with what feels like less effort.

A coach will set the program in place so that the athlete will know which days they run at what effort level and for how long or far. They will set easy and hard days with sufficient rest days to recover and for other activities. If you are not rested and do not recover sufficiently between hard efforts or day you cannot push yourself to the correct levels so you plateau out and then start sliding backwards in your fitness and running ability.

Most of you are still probably wondering what is VO2MAX. It is your bodies ability to transport and use oxygen not only to sustain life but also to keep you moving at the required effort level during daily activities, training and running events. At rest all of us use 3,5 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute and as we get more and more active this level rises. With training we aim to improve our ability to transport and use oxygen so that at high levels of activity we feel comfortable.

If you train at 70% of your maximum heart rate your VO2MAX level should be between 55% and 60% of your maximum. Again what does this mean? This means that if you are capable of reaching a VO2MAX level of 42 milliliters oxygen usage per kilogram body weight per minute which is fairly accurate for an 8 minute 1600 meter comfortable effort. Not an all out effort leaving you wanting to pass out. So at 55% of this value you would be at 23 milliliters oxygen usage per kilogram body weight per minute which would be easily achievable but at 60% it goes up to 25.3 milliliters oxygen usage per kilogram body weight per minute.

Again all of this is confusing to the average runner. Which is why having a coach who does all of this for you makes your training and running so much more enjoyable.

If you wish to learn more about the science and art behind the training methodology let me know and we can either set up a one on one session or do a group discussion one evening at the club.


handsoncoachalan/The Coaches Tip

Boost Your Endurance

Seven simple plans for running farther and faster.


SEP 3, 2003

As runners, we all want to increase our endurance, but we’re often referring to two different things. The beginning runner wants to go farther—from 2 miles to 4 miles, then to 6. More experienced runners don’t see much point in running farther. (Isn’t 26.2 miles far enough?) These runners want to improve their speed-endurance—the pace at which they can cover substantial distances.

Fortunately, you can have it both ways. You can follow training plans that build the length of your long runs, and others that improve your speed-endurance.

Using such workouts, thousands of runners have dramatically improved their endurance. Craig Beesley, a beginning runner, extended his longest run from 30 seconds to nearly 3 hours. Doug Underwood, a successful marathoner, wanted to lower his best from 3:50 to 3:30 to qualify for the Boston Marathon. And Deena Drossin, the American 10K and cross-country star, wanted nothing less than to run the marathon faster than a legend, Joan Samuelson.

All three runners achieved their goals. Each used a different method. Which raises the point that exercise physiologist Kris Berg explains in his recent article, “Endurance Training and Performance in Runners,” in the journal Sports Medicine. “After decades of studying ways to improve endurance,” says Berg. “I’m leaning more than ever toward the great gestalt of mind-body wisdom, and encouraging runners to do what feels right.”

In other words, different strokes for different folks. We’re not all the same. Genetic researchers refer to “high responders” and “low responders.” Sometimes we need to take different paths to reach our goals.

Here, you’ll find seven endurance-boosting strategies that have worked for a range of runners. Not all will work for you. But one or more will, and that should be enough to significantly increase your endurance, which means you’ll run stronger and easier than ever before.

Plan 1: Take One Step At A Time

If there is one overarching principle of endurance-building, this is it. Call it gradual adaptation. That is, be consistent, be patient, and build up slowly. This principle applies to all circumstances and all runners—the beginner who’s trying to make it around the block four times, as well as the 36-minute 10K runner who’s training for a first marathon with long runs that stretch to 12 miles, then 16, then 20.

The gradual-adaptation principle is deeply rooted in human physiology, and has worked for about a billion runners since Paleolithic man started stalking wild animals in East Africa 150,000 years ago. It still works today. Witness Craig Beesley of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada.

When Beesley began running 2 years ago, he could only manage 30 seconds at a time, followed by 41/2 minutes of walking. But he didn’t let his lack of fitness discourage him. He simply repeated the cycle eight times (for a total of 40 minutes), and made sure he did three workouts a week.

Thirteen weeks later, Beesley was running 30 minutes at a time, and by last fall he had completed his first half marathon in 2:12. Pretty impressive. But Beesley didn’t stop there. He kept running outdoors through the winter months, despite temperatures that dropped to -25° F, and last spring added speedwork to his routine. By May, he was running long runs of 2 hours, 40 minutes, and doing six 400-meter repeats in 1:45. In his near future: a first marathon.

A program can’t get any simpler than Beesley’s, or any more successful. “I’ve increased my endurance and my speed, and I’ve done both without any injuries,” he says. “My family members describe me as a very patient man. Patience combined with persistence is a great combination for success in running.”

What you should do: Whatever your present endurance conditioning, build it slow but steady. We like a program that adds 1 mile a week to your weekend long run, for example: 5 miles, 6 miles, 7 miles. Every 4th week, reduce mileage by skipping the long run. Rest and recover. The next week, start building again, 1 mile at a time: 8 miles, 9 miles, etc.


Plan 2: Run Yasso 800s

We learned about this amazingly useful workout in a casual conversation with Runner’s World race and event promotions manager Bart Yasso, and first wrote about it nearly a decade ago. Since then, literally thousands of runners have told us at marathon expos or in e-mails that the program has worked for them. With the Yasso system, you run 800-meter repeats on a track in the same minutes/seconds as your hours/minutes goal time for a marathon. (So if you’re looking to run 4:30, do your 800s in 4 minutes and 30 seconds.)

Runners are drawn to Yasso 800s by Bart’s unforgettable name, the simplicity of the workout, and word-of-mouth success stories.

Doug Underwood is one of those Yasso fans. A runner for just 3 years, Underwood completed his first two marathons in 3:55 and 3:53, and then was bitten by what he calls the “Boston bug.” He wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and was willing to train harder to get there.

The core of his program: Yasso 800s. Since Underwood needed to run a 3:30 to reach Boston, he ran his Yasso 800s in 3:30, building up to 10 of them in a single workout, taking a 3:30 recovery jog between the fast 800s.

Underwood finished his goal race, the Baton Rouge Beach Marathon, in 3:30:54, good enough for a race entry to Boston. (Boston Marathon organizers offer runners a 59-second grace period beyond the strict qualifying standards.) “I credit the Yasso 800s with getting me there,” says Underwood, who also made sure to log plenty of long runs. “They are tough workouts, but they do the job. If you can run 10 of them at your goal pace, you have a great chance of achieving your marathon goal time.”

What you should do: Run Yasso 800s once a week. Start with just four or five of them at your appropriate pace, then add one a week.

Plan 3: Run Long and Slow

Meghan Arbogast was already a successful marathoner 5 years ago, with a 2:58 to her credit. Only one problem: “I was overtraining and killing myself,” she says.

No longer. Since 1998, Arbogast has been training slower and racing faster under a program designed by Warren Finke, a well-known coach in Portland, Oregon, near Arbogast’s home. Finke believes marathoners should focus on consistent, easy-paced training runs that help them build endurance without getting hurt every couple of months. “A lot of runners train too hard, get injured, and never reach their potential,” he notes.

The Finke program emphasizes “effort-based training,” and he believes in keeping the effort modest (at 80 percent of the speed you could race the same distance) most of the time. “Most runners are probably training at about 90 percent of their race pace,” says Finke. “Running 80 percent is pretty easy, but it helps keep you injury-free.”

The program has certainly turned things around for Arbogast. Two years after beginning Finke’s effort-based training, she improved her marathon personal record to 2:45. And last June, she won the Christchurch Marathon in New Zealand with another 2:45. “I think I can keep improving,” says Arbogast. “The key is to stay healthy and keep gaining endurance.”

What you should do: Do most of your runs at 80 percent of the speed you could race the same distance. So, if you can race 10 miles at 7:30 pace, you should do your 10-mile training runs at 9:23. To convert a race pace to an 80-percent training pace, multiply the race pace by 1.25; for more details, visit Finke’s website. To find a wide range of your equivalent race times, go to the Runner’s World Race Time Predictor.


Plan 4: Make Every Workout Count

When you’ve been running marathons for 25 years and have an advanced degree in exercise physiology, you should eventually learn a thing or two about training. Exercise physiologist Bill Pierce, chair of the Health and Exercise Science department at Furman University, thinks he has. At the very least, he’s found a program that works wonders for him. Pierce, 53, still runs marathons in about 3:10, not much slower than when he first stepped to the starting line more than 2 decades ago.

His secret? The 3-day training week. Pierce follows the usual advice to alternate hard days with easy days, but he takes it to the extreme. He runs only hard days—3 of them a week. On the other 4 days, he doesn’t run at all, though he lifts weights several times a week, and also enjoys a fast game of tennis.

In stripping his training program to its essence, Pierce runs each of his three workouts at a specific target pace and distance. One is a long run, one is a tempo run, and one is a speed workout. “I run at a higher intensity than some others recommend, but I have found that this program has worked well for me for many years,” says Pierce. “It reduces the risk of injuries, improves long-term adherence, and still lets me enjoy the gratification that comes with intense efforts.”

What you should do: Pierce does interval training on Tuesdays, tempo training on Thursdays, and a long run on Sundays. For interval repeats, he runs 12 x 400 meters or 6 x 800 meters at slightly faster than his 5K race pace. On tempo days, he runs 4 miles at a pace that’s 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than 10K race pace. On Sundays, he runs 15 miles at a pace that’s 30 seconds per mile slower than his marathon race pace. You can easily adapt these workouts to your own 5K, 10K, and marathon race paces.

Plan 5: Do Plyometrics

Deena Drossin had already joined the ranks of America’s all-time best female distance runners, including Joan Samuelson, Mary Slaney, and Lynn Jennings, when she first paid a visit to Zach Weatherford nearly 2 years ago. She asked Weatherford, the strength and conditioning coach at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s training facility in Chula Vista, California, if he could devise a program that would give her more leg endurance and quickness.

Weatherford said he wasn’t sure, acknowledging to Drossin that he had never worked with a distance runner before. “But let me think about it, and do some research,” he said.

Weatherford returned with several ideas worth testing, and the two have been working together ever since. “We started with core strength, and progressed to explosive leg plyometrics, always focusing on the basics, and doing quality sessions, not quantity. Runners already do enough quantity,” he says. “In her first plyometrics workouts, Deena hit the ground like this big, flat-footed person, but we kept emphasizing, ‘Get your feet up fast. Get your feet up fast.’ ”

Drossin did jump roping, skipping drills, box jumps, and even high-knee sprints through the “rope ladder” that you often see at football training camps. And then she ran the London Marathon last April in 2:21:16, a personal record by more than 5 minutes and a new American record. “I really felt a difference in London,” says Drossin. “I’ve noticed a considerable change in my running mechanics. My feet are spending less time on the ground, and I’ve increased my stride frequency. At London, my legs did not fatigue at all during or after the marathon.”


What you should do: You could always train with your local high school football team while they work out with the rope ladder. But if that’s too intimidating, here’s a simple alternative: Instead of running strides at the end of several easy runs a week, do a “fast-feet” drill. Run just 15 to 20 yards with the shortest, quickest stride you can manage. You don’t have to lift your knees high; just lift them fast, and move forward a few inches with each stride. Pump your arms vigorously as well. Rest, then repeat six to eight times. Once or twice a week, you can also do 5 minutes of single-leg hops, two-legged bounding, and high-knee skipping, all on a soft surface such as grass or packed dirt.

Plan 6: Run Longer Tempo Runs

We admire runners who refuse to give up on their goals and who keep trying various methods to reach them. By this standard, Patrick Noble, a career Army man who’s now retired and living in South Korea, deserves a lifetime achievement award. In 1986 Noble finished his first marathon in 3:17, feeling both proud and ambitious. “Let’s go for a sub-3,” he told himself.

Thus began the journey. Noble increased his training, and before long he had run 3:04, 3:01, 3:05, and 3:02. You can quickly see what’s missing from this list. A less-determined runner might have given up. Not Noble.

He kept running marathons-dozens of them. In the last 2 years, he ran his 49th marathon. No luck. His 50th. Ditto. His 51st. Nope, sorry. But last May, in his 52nd marathon, Noble broke through the 3-hour barrier with a 2:58:23 at the Camp Casey U.S. Army base in South Korea. And it was a new approach to tempo runs, Noble believes, that helped him dip below 3:00.

The conservative view on tempo runs suggests that you cover 20 to 40 minutes at a pace that’s 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than your 10K pace. Noble pushed his tempo runs up to 60 minutes. “I think the long tempo runs gave me the extra strength I needed,” says Noble. “I also made sure to run very easy the day after the tempo runs, and watched my diet and even gave up beer for 6 to 8 weeks before the marathon.” (Joe Vigil, coach of American marathon record holder Deena Drossin and 2003 U.S. marathon champ Ryan Shay, also believes in long tempo runs to build endurance.)

What you should do: Do a tempo run once a week for 8 weeks. Start with a 20-minute tempo run at 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than 10K race pace, and add 5 minutes to your tempo run every week. Be sure to take 1 or 2 easy days before and after tempo days.

Plan 7: Run Long and Fast

Okay, we know. This is the opposite of Plan 3. You caught us. But it works for some runners, just as the long-and-slow approach works for others. A perfect example of the “high-responders” versus “low-responders” principle.

A recent convert to long-fast training: Scott Strand of Birmingham, Alabama. Last February, Strand improved his marathon personal record by more than 4 minutes with a 2:16:52 in the National Championship Marathon right there in downtown Birmingham. And it was his longer, faster long runs that got him the PR, Strand believes.

“I covered 18 to 23 miles in my long training runs,” says Strand, “and I did the last 9 to 14 miles at marathon pace or faster. That was much faster than my previous long-run efforts of 17 to 22 miles at whatever pace I felt like running.”

This kind of endurance program, based on long, hard runs has been popularized the last several years by marathon world record holder Khalid Khannouchi. Khannouchi does ferocious long runs so fast and sustained that he gets nervous for several days before them. Old school: The only thing that mattered was spending 2 to 3 hours on your feet. New school: If you want to finish strong and improve your times in the marathon, you have to run hard and fast at the end of your long runs.

What you should do: On your long runs, pick up the pace for the last 25 percent of the distance. Gradually accelerate to your marathon goal pace, or even your tempo-run pace. You don’t have to attack your long run the way Khannouchi does, and you shouldn’t collapse when you finish. But you should run hard enough at the end to accustom your body to the late-race fatigue of the marathon.

Coach Alan Green’s training blog page

Image may contain: Alan Green, standing, outdoor and nature

This is a blog page.

This is coach Alan’s very own blog page.

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This is just random waffle to test the category blog as a separate blog page.

Hopefully coach Alan posts his training here frequently!