Wash, Rinse, Repeat
Three “go-to” workouts for any distance
by: Chris Compson, Endangered Endurance Running Co. owner/coach
Maya Angelou rented a cramped hotel room for years where she wrote accompanied by a Bible, deck of cards, and bottle of Sherry.
The Beatles played 300 times a year for four straight years at the same German concert hall.
Personally, I have had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Greek yogurt for lunch every day for the past 11 years.
The common link?...the common, the repetitious, the boring.
Magazines and training guides do not make a living by promoting “old reliable.” Instead, they tout the newest cutting-edge products that will assure a 4% improvement, or the most revolutionary training methods under experimentation in some far-away running mecca. For most of us, these quests for marginal gains amount to little more than Don Quixote’s charge into the windmill. They may help us feel like we are making progress, but the end result will likely be us fruitlessly spinning around and around.
The “old reliable”, boring, time-tested methods of training are all of these adjectives and more for a very important reason...because they work. The “tried-and-true” have both been tried and proven true. Two very important factors when considering how to approach your own training. As an athlete and coach, I frequently return to three workouts (with some variation) that provide immense benefit no matter the goal race distance...I call them my “wash, rinse, repeat” workouts.
Workout 1: The Tank Builder
Every coach and program worth your time will prescribe some form of aerobic building tempo running workout. If these are not part of your plan, be wary. There are numerous methods for defining tempo pace, but my favorite and the simplest I know is the conversation test. During tempo running, you should be able to speak in fragmented sentences. You shouldn’t be gasping for breath, but you shouldn’t be able to recite Shakespeare either.
My favorite recipe for using tempo early in a plan to build a “huge aerobic engine” is 3 x 2 miles at tempo effort with 1 mile of recovery/steady running between repetitions. This workout provides a great challenge and a great gauge of current fitness. Similarly, its versatility allows it to be repeated throughout a training cycle as a status check (hopefully with quickening pace at each subsequent “check-in”).
Workout 2: Hills & Thrills
Coaching adolescent and adult runners, I am forever searching for the most bang for our limited buck. With jam-packed schedules, my clients need to reap the most rewards possible every time they head out the door. Thus, I am a big fan of “combo” workouts, or workouts that stress multiple systems. With hills & thrills, we attempt to challenge our strength as well as our speed.
Find a hill of significant grade that will take you between 40 to 70 seconds to run up at a controlled but hard effort. After a sufficient warm-up, run up the hill at the previously stated effort. Jog back down the hill as recovery. Immediately upon reaching the bottom of the hill, run for 30-60 seconds on a flat stretch of road or trail close to maximal effort. Jog back to the bottom of the hill and repeat. Based on your fitness and timing during a training block, you may end up completing as few as 2-3 repetitions of hills and thrills or as many as 4 sets of 4 repetitions. By varying the repetitions, sets, and recovery between sets, you can adjust this classic workout to fit any point and goal in your training.
Workout 3: Ladders
Ladder workouts are as old as the oval track itself, and are still as effective today as they were when people we coughing up cinder dust. The beauty of the ladder is in its simplicity and variability. You can start at the top of the ladder and climb down, start at the bottom and climb up, or do both in either direction. When designing ladder workouts during the “meat” of a training block (after base fitness has been established and prior to fine-tuning racing elements), I often use a straightforward formula. My goal with any ladder is to have my athletes run at, or slightly beyond, race distance of high-quality repetitions. This is made manageable by affording adequate recovery between repetitions (usually between 75-90% of the repetition time). In determining the length of the longest “wrung” of the ladder, for common recreational/competitive race distances (5k - 10k - 13.1mi), I will set the longest wrung at 25-33% of race distance. This fraction allows for the repetitions to be done at faster than goal race pace, while ultimately covering race distance or more. A simple example of a 5k ladder workout for an experienced runner may look like:
1600m - 1000m - 600m - 400m - 600m - 1000m - 1600m
Each of these repetitions would be run at slightly faster than 5k pace and followed by 75-90% recovery. The result is running 36% further than race distance by starting at 33% of race distance.
While we will forever be confronted with the “next best thing” in running, and should not simply disregard training advancements due to their novelty or infancy, we similarly should not forget that the simple, straightforward, and mundane workouts of decades gone by can often be the most effective for creating the desired result.