Although I have referenced Steve Magness a few times on the site, I couldn’t help but do it again today, because as the summer wears on, I get bombarded with questions about workouts that I do, how fast I do them, people asking for training plans, etc. For a collegiate runner, the summer is miles on top of miles in preparation for fall cross country. A few road races here and there, but mostly miles. What I see many people doing though, is trying to copy the workouts of professional runners to try and get in race shape. Well there is a fundamental problem with just trying to copy the workouts of runners such as Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher. Unfortunately, Runners World and many popular running websites and fitness magazines are notorious for tricking you into thinking that this is the right way to go about training.
The following is from a blog post on The Science of Running from Steve Magness, former Nike Oregon Project Coach. He explains why you cant just copy a workout that Galen Rupp does and expect similar benefits.
How do we get there?
One logical way to get there might seem to be to just copy the workout with reduced speeds and volumes and then slowly progress towards his workout. Maybe we’d start with 8 reps at 60sec and 28sec for our hypothetical runner and then gradually increase volume and speed. Sounds logical right?
The problem with this logic is that somewhere along the way, we’ll hit a road block and plateau. Maybe it happens when we hit 6reps, and the limit is in the athletes ability to handle the volume structurally. Or it could come when he moves down to 56sec, and can’t get it any faster because his 400m pr is only 53. The point is that at some point, the progression stops and even if you kept repeating the workout, you’re not likely to break through that plateau.
Instead of simply copying the workout, what needs to be done is to make sure the runner has the necessary components built up before we begin to put everything together. That means, he needs to be working towards maximizing all of the above mentioned components. That lessons the likelihood of hitting a plateau early on because we are limited by one component.
Applied to Training
So far, I’ve dealt in the hypothetical world. What the above translates is simply that early on in an athlete’s career we need to focus on building the necessary requirements for later success. Later on, the fine tuning is done. We’re used to the idea of building a base of endurance, but really we have to build a base of everything necessary for maximizing performance
For High school runners for example, that means focusing on the following:
1. Biomechanics- Work on optimizing biomechanics before he’s got tons of motor programming that determines his stride.
2. Structural adaptations- The body responds to the stress it’s put under. The bones/ligaments/tendons will grow stronger if gradual stress is applied with sufficient recovery. This means gradually increasing the volume of running. It also means strengthening the key components such as the Achilles/calf-complex early on with both traditional strength work and some natural barefoot work.
3. High end aerobic ability- The aerobic system takes a long time to develop. That means both gradual volume increases, and gradual increases in high end aerobic work.
4. Pure speed- Teach them how to sprint and learn how to recruit the right muscles to sprint.
5. Just enough in-between/specific stuff to get them todevelop mental toughness and the ability to adapt and recover from ever larger volumes of hard track work.
Essentially, build the base. Focus on the extremes. Lay the foundation.
That final sentence about laying the foundation is one of the most important aspects of training. You must be strong to have fast workouts, but to do that you must have built that strength for your body to rely upon when you work hard. Without that base, you will get burnt out very quickly, which is a problem many college coaches have with athletes, especially when you are doing 3 max effort workouts a week on top of 100+ mile weeks. Your body simply cannot sustain that type of work for very long.
On top of that, the fundamental truth about all exercise science and physical adaptation is that no two people are the same. The workouts for the professionals are designed for very specific purposes, and are paced for the individual. You must create your own workouts that are suited for your running needs, otherwise you will receive no benefit from them.
So whether you are training for a fall marathon, or just some upcoming road races, build your foundation, and supplement it with speed-work that is difficult, but not so hard that you can’t maintain strength throughout the week. Build upon each of those weeks, and make sure to plan rest weeks, and even days off if you need them.