The majority of training plans for both runners and triathletes suggest that your run training should include 3 main components: a high intensity (“speed”) session, usually done on a track, a moderate (tempo / threshold) run and long run.
If we look at the long run in relation to marathon or ironman training we’ll see that it will typically start at around 8 miles (or an hour) and build up to about 22 miles (or 3 hours). Runners will be encouraged to do a long run until around 3 weeks before their main event and then taper towards their race.
If you are a long-term runner who has built up to a high weekly run volume then you’re probably fine with this. In this scenario, your long run will probably be around 20-25% of your total volume, as suggested by Jack Daniels. You will also be able to recover enough to do your other two key weekly sessions.
However, if you’re a recreational runner with a more modest running background then your lifetime volume will be much less, your weekly volume will be much less, the weekly run will be a bit of grind and your chances of being optimally recovered to gain much from your other key sessions are slim. By heroically turning up for those other sessions (because it’s written down in your plan so you must do them) you are also increasing your possibility of injury.
So how can you do the work that you need to do and still get to the start line safely? I have seen and used a couple of options with some of the athletes I’ve worked with. The first is the “Kenyan Day’.
The Kenyan day takes all of the key ingredients of your training week and throws them into one day. Sometimes two if your running background is less extensive.
Get up and have a small carb-based breakfast, go to your local or favourite parkrun venue and run the course before the actual event, do the parkrun at about 90% of your race effort, focusing of being smooth and rhythmical.
When you’re done take a short break and then run the course again. This gives you 9+ miles and you’ve done your threshold effort for the week. Once you get home, have your second breakfast/brunch, again based around healthy carbs with protein.
Later in the day, head out for a steady hour to 90-minute run and finish with up to 10 x 30 seconds hard effort with an equal recovery. This section takes care of your hard track session. Once you get home, refuel before your main evening meal later on.
So, this example Kenyan day will give you 17 – 20 or so miles of aerobic running, hits your key training intensities while providing adequate recovery and nutrition during the day. If you feel that you need to do some more intensity during the week you are more likely to be recovered sufficiently so that you can gain optimum benefits from it.
Another example is to break the long run into very manageable, but slightly higher intensity, repetition. With my younger athletes I have had them do 50 x 200 with a 60 second turnaround i.e. they start each repetition one minute after the start of the last. Again, there is a focus on good mechanics, rhythm and fluidity.
Note that the youngsters started with 15 reps and built up from there. This session gives you 10k of fairly hard running but there is clearly scope to increase the number of repetitions. I have heard of an Olympic distance triathlete do 100 x 200!
The above examples are just a few ways in which we change up your long run in order to add a different stimulus. Working with your coach we make adjustments to match your current fitness and manipulate volume. This is to ensure that you are creating an appropriate overload in an unlimited number of sessions that will help you prepare for your next event.