This is my first season of any sort of running and I'm trying to get up to a half marathon distance. I've been running pretty consistently three times a week for about six months now and trying to increase the distances slowly. My runs for the last few weeks have been about 1:30-1:45 for the long run and 45 mins to an hour for the two shorter ones. I'm also decreasing these times every 3-4 weeks. Unfortunately however my part-time job is pretty active and I end up basically doing 1-2 hours of strength training 3-4 times a week in addition to about three hours of swimming and whatever cycling I fit in.
I'm starting to feel tired a bit too much at the moment and then ended up falling ill last week and was knocked out for a couple of days so I think my body is starting to find it a bit too tough. I'm going to drop back my training but I still have my first half marathon coming up in about six weeks and want to be ready for that. I'm therefore looking at reducing the length of the runs I'm doing but I am not sure if I would be better simply scaling back a bit or dropping them down more significantly (say to 30-45 mins for the longest one) but trying to get in 5-6 runs a week so I'll still be ready for the half marathon. Any advice? My current plan is to try it and see how I feel. If I'm still tired then I'll cut back on the number of runs.
Training for a specific running event is not as easy as it might seem. There are so many variables that affect your performance in the months/weeks leading up to a race that only as time goes by do you realize just how much thought goes into getting the best out of yourself. The more you delve into the science and the training, the more confusing it can get - and everyone seems to have an opinion, whether it's right or wrong. Who knows in the end what to believe and what not to?
Perform a Lactate Threshold test first to establish your zones
To start with I always advise athletes to invest in a heart-rate (HR) monitor and get them to perform a field lactate threshold heart rate test LTHR (otherwise known as threshold HR - the point of intensity which lactate acid starts to accumulate in your muscles as the production of lactate begins to exceed the clearance of it). There are many ways to find this, but one easy, cheap, non-laboratory way is to find a run route that's relatively flat with no stop signs or lights where you can run consistently for 30 mins. Warm up for 15 mins, then start your 30 minute run test at an intensity and speed that you feel is as fast as you can hold throughout the entire time. Hit the Lap button 10 minutes into the test and record the average heart rate for the final 20 minutes of the test. This average is now your LTHR. Once you have this number you can now implement specific structured running sessions at a variety of different intensities based on your own personal HR zones. Your pace will also correlate along with these HR zones.
It's better to slow down...
Most of the time I have noticed it is more useful in slowing athletes down on easy runs - not trying to get them to go faster. With a structured training schedule and a HR monitor this can ensure that your easy 75% LTHR runs remain exactly that...whether you feel great today or not. This is an essential tool to help you understand not just your fitness but also your health on a day to day basis. It's also important to take note of your resting HR most mornings. An elevated morning HR one morning compared to your average morning HR can indicate the that onset of sickness might be near.
From what I can see here there's too much strength training and perhaps one too many swims going on and not enough structured running training. Strength training should be considered an aid to help your running, not replace it. Now I'm not saying it shouldn't be done, it remains a very important addition to running performance. Six time Hawaii Ironman World Champion Mark Allen says:
"Strength training improves your structural integrity and enables you to handle higher volumes of training with less risk of being sidelined with injuries.” - Mark Allen
However there are some athletes, especially athletes with little time outside of work or raising children that believe the time spent on strength training could be spent running more. 4x Marathon Olympian and running coach Lee Troop once told me:
"The best way to run fast is just to get out and run"
This is also true, so I supposed the message here is balance and how to determine correctly what you need to do or need to change in order to help you improve as an athlete. This is where some real advice from trained professionals or coaches can be essential.
Too much strength training?
To be the best runner you can be you obviously have to run first and foremost as a priority whilst trying to maintain consistency, recover/adapt and avoid injury, which is where the strength training can be useful. Again though, the type of strength training you perform is critical. There's absolutely no reason in doing bicep curls down at the gym with dumbbells (not that you would, but some might). This is not specific to running in any way and lifting big weights with the main skeletal muscles just creates fatigue and sometimes muscle bulk. Assess what you need to implement in order to improve your performance and exercise with functional strength and core stability training. For example, one legged step-ups and gluteus workouts are great for pelvis and knee stability which aids you in your running technique and helps to prevent injury.
To get the most out of your running training you need to cut the strength training down to 1-2 functional/core stability workouts a week. By doing this you can replace the other gym workouts with something more specific such as functional strength run workouts performed as hill reps, threshold or VO2 max sessions. Again, this is where a coach might be of value to structure these sessions and help you implement them with the most efficiency, and safety.
Are you a slave to pace?
Runners can be a slave to pace, it's like an obsession. Nobody thinks holistically of why they're getting sick or perhaps not running as well as they did last week. The truth is that it could be a number of things that are causing added stress to the body. Did they get enough sleep? Had a bad nights sleep? How the stress at work or home is effecting them? How good is their diet and are they re-fueling adequately? This is where the HR doesn't lie and can highlight immediately when your body is struggling even if you don't know it yet. It's the best way to avoid getting sick that I have found.
In terms of training, beginner runners should start off with three or four easy runs a week. I suggest you should run about 5- 6 times a week as you already have a certain amount of conditioning. Now that you will be reducing your strength workouts and a swim workout, this will free up more time to add in a couple more runs a week.
Remember though, it's just as important to incorporate a total recovery day and a rest day into your schedule. An easy bike or swim geared only towards recovery and not training will facilitate circulation and blood flow which helps get nutrients and oxygen to the muscles. Rest days prevent overuse injuries, restore depleted glycogen stores, gives the body time to heal and repair soft tissue damage, and help prevent sickness. Signs to be aware of are fatigue, grumpiness, or lack of motivation. If you suffer from these for anymore than a day or two you might need a rest day! Many athletes believe that you'll perform better being 1% overtrained than being 10% undertrained - that is usually not the case.
It's all about balance
I try to maintain a balance by keeping things as simple as possible. As long as I cover speed, strength, endurance and proper rest in my training schedule I know I have the bases covered. Make small changes, then assess. Do not try to increase your pace on every run as you get fitter or stronger. Instead structure the training so each session has a purpose. This might take some trial and error so always lean on the safer side. Do every session easy for a couple of weeks, let your body have time to respond, then gradually add in an intensity workout on only one of your weekly runs and build up from there. Depending on your progress as your fitness/strength and conditioning levels improve you can adjust your workouts accordingly with different intensity sessions - VO2 max and threshold run sets...this is where the fun begins! Remember the most important goal for training is consistency, consistency, consistency!
Sample run schedule
Below is an example of what a run schedule for you might look like. You can add the HR intensity to your specific needs and fitness level, but an example of this is showed on Mon and Tues:
MONDAY: EASY 40MIN RUN AND STRENGTH/CONDITIONING IN THE MORNING, AS CONDITION IMPROVES THIS CAN ALSO BE A DOUBLE RUN DAY (RUN EASY 30 MINS PM) - approx. 75-85% LTHR
TUESDAY: 1:10 - (15MIN WARM-UP, 4X20 SECS STRIDES, 4X 1MILE EFFORTS, 15MINS WARM-DOWN) - Main set approx. 95-99% LTHR
WEDNESDAY: 1:20 LONG MODERATE/TEMPO RUN
THURSDAY: HILLS ONE HOUR TOTAL, WARM UP 15 MINS, 2MILE TEMPO RUN, 8X 2MINS UP HILL WITH EASY JOG BACK TO BOTTOM, EASY 15 MIN WARM-DOWN
FRIDAY: EASY SWIM OR 1 HOUR EASY BIKE - PERHAPS STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING
SATURDAY: REST DAY
SUNDAY: 1:45 LONG RUN
Hiking is a love of mine. Reading a good book while laying in the sun. I don't like to go to the gym, prefer to be DOING something.