The subject of training for specific distance in running is not as simple or “obvious” as it might seem. Whereas doing sprints while getting ready for 100m seems logical and reasonable, just because you’re preparing to run a marathon, doesn’t mean you should run one during training. I’m often told that it is counterintuitive but we’ll have to agree to disagree, besides it is never specified whose intuition is being used here as a standard. My own experience of over 40 years as an athlete first and then as a coach, my intuition, my understanding of this topic as a scientist and teacher, all make me follow the logic dictated by the processes involved, processes that I see, processes that inevitably lead to certain conclusions and approaches.

Training overall is a delicate process and requires much thought and preparation, and work. Training for a specific distance adds a layer of difficulty. It is crazy to expect such effort from anyone who is not training on a professional level. However, a bit of effort will go a long way, so in my articles I attempt to present such information in the simplest form possible to help you protect yourself from injuries and wandering off in the wrong direction. While some experimentation is healthy and can be fun, some of the uneducated guesses can carry heavy financial and health costs.

What is the Goal of Racing?

What is your final goal when you enter a race? Any race, no matter the distance? Simply put, the final goal of anyone running any race is to attempt to run that specific distance with a good resulting time, or at least faster than before. Even those that enter to merely ‘finish’, as they say, are still pressured by certain time constraints. The rules are (and they are clearly understood) that if you don’t finish within a specific time frame than you won’t get the finisher medal and instead will get the dreaded ‘DNF’. So as you see, even at the recreational level of racing, it is still a race and a question of speed.

However, simply running more miles will not make anybody a better or faster runner. Specific training will. That applies to sprinters as much as to marathoners and everyone else.

What is the Goal of Training?

Simply put, the goal is to be able to run a specific distance on a specific date. Preferably faster than last time. Maybe faster than a bunch of other people that will also be racing.

What is a Common Approach to Training?

Diluted by folklore, training process has become a foggy scenario where recreational runners obtain some numbers from someone who called those numbers a “training plan” and proceed to follow half heartedly that plan while missing some days, skipping some stuff, etc. The emphasis in such training is often put on running and running and running. I’m sorry to disappoint you but this is not a ‘10,000 hour’ thing, and even the 10,000 hours are not a real thing, so what is this idea of running and running and running? This is an oversimplified picture but it summarizes the confusion.

A common approach to training clearly shows the common opinion of what training is – a repetitive experience of doing. Doing something. A rather popular belief or an assumption that during training a runner should run the very distance he or she is training for has no scientific foundation. It is suggested that it helps prepare the athlete for the given distance by letting him/her “experience the load”.

The reality, however, is that every one of us can run any given distance, whether it’s 100m or a marathon. The only true question is – who can do it faster and incur less damage in the process?

The “experience” mentioned earlier is purely a psychological tactic to feel more secure and confident. There is no scientific basis there, no significant physiological advantage and there are better ways to get that feeling of confidence like, for example, improving technique. However, this psychological tactic has a strong potential to cause a lot of physical damage. If you’re attempting to train for a marathon by simply running and running, what you’re really doing is robbing yourself of progress, plus getting a little more and more of “wear and tear” with every pointless long slow run. Every such run has a potential of a serious injury besides not only being unproductive, but what’s more – being counterproductive.

What is a Better Approach to Training?

There are certain things about our body and mind, our personal energy level and perception that are not common knowledge among athletes and coaches, and especially recreational ones. Add to that hierarchical relations between combinations of short, middle and long distances used in training, and relations between speed and endurance and at this point you should be able to see how complex real training is. If those important aspects are not taken into consideration when training is being planned then it shouldn’t be called training and no particular or successful results should be expected.

One of the founding fathers of athletics in Soviet Union, Nicholai Ozolin, wrote in 1949: “Speed is the foundation of endurance.” While this is not widely accepted or even understood yet, the statement made all these years ago is pretty much the jackpot. The athlete/coach that understands it, gets the keys to the gates, i.e. to faster running on long distances.

In order for your training to be effective, whatever the distance, everything you do has to be aimed at the main event – a particular distance on a particular day. While it is simple to have a goal – the date of the race – it is far from simple or easy to figure out what needs to be done in order to get to that date and reach the goal.

Regardless of the distance you’re training for, the bulk of your training process should be focused on developing and maintaining proper form and your body should have the necessary level of strength developed. That alone will serve as a ‘life-saving’ foundation for your performance level. Additionally, you should dedicate your attention to developing speed.

Using the above mentioned as a foundation you can achieve solid progress or at the very least – stability. The better your technique, the longer you can keep on running. When selecting a race to participate in, remember, that whether it is a 5K or marathon – you can do it.

Proper training regimen and planning will prepare you for the race and save you from overtraining and injuries. A really good training program, along with a knowledgeable coach, will help reveal your full potential. In the absence of a coach, my new app or web based training plans might be what you’re looking for. Try them. It is build on the principles I described in this article. The best part is that you don’t need to wonder or guess – simply type in your data and follow the prompts.

Your training program is one of the most important parts of your training regimen. Training process is a very individual thing and, as logic follows, training programs are always very individual masterpieces. Or, at least, they should be.

So what is a training program? A training program is a specific structure of volume, intensity and exercise used in training, distributed over days and weeks of the cycle, allowing to achieve cumulative effect at the end of the cycle in a selected direction (exercise, distance, event). A knowledgeable and experienced coach can skillfully lead his/her athlete to a better performance level, better health, better results and a longer career in sports. Majority of people, however, do not have the luxury of working with a professional coach and are left to make training decisions on their own.

Obtaining a good training plan is one of those decisions and choosing the right training program, or at least finding a legitimate one, is not the easiest of tasks.

  • How do you decide what should be in your training plan?
  • How do you judge the quality of an available training program and its effectiveness?

There are no simple questions here and there are no simple answers. However, there a few golden rules that serve as a foundation for all proper and effective training programs and in the absence of a coach, keeping these basics in mind will help you make better choices and eventually get better results.

It should go without saying that any training regimen simply must include technique work of your chosen sport. Whether you’re running, swimming or cycling – you must regularly do technique drills. Sports like football, basketball or baseball, however, would require technique work for running AND throwing. If that was done right, there would not be so many ankle, knee & shoulder injuries. Your biggest improvement and progress will be the result of your technique work. It is a gateway that allows you to unlock your full potential. You might be built for speed or endurance but if you’re constantly injured you’re not going too far or too fast.

Here are 5 golden rules that will help you stay on the right track.

1. Training Program Must Have a Proper Duration + a Sufficient Number of Rest Days

Majority of people start looking for a training program when they decide to enter a race. Others want a training plan to simply have a good regimen to follow to stay fit instead of doing something on some days hoping to get some kind of effect. So you will need to decide what your goal is and then figure out the time frame that it gives you. If you’re working with a particular target date – your training plan should be aimed at that date locking you into a certain time frame and giving you a particular number of days/weeks/months to achieve your goal. Your entire plan – its structure, volume and type of training involved should be based around that main event.

It is also important to keep in mind, that training doesn’t mean doing something all the time. There has to be a proper balance between your training and rest days. Too much action and not enough rest time is a bad formula and is a one way ticket to exhaustion. Majority of people do well with 3-4 days of training a week, some professional athletes need up to 7 days of training per week and sometimes twice a day. Whatever number of days you train right now, if you experience any of the signs listed in this article – reduce your training volume right-away, you’re overtraining.

2. Training Program Must Have a Warm Up & Cool Down

Any good training session starts with a warm up. It’s an important part of the overall training process and is a necessity, it cannot be treated as an option. It is smart to start with a warm up and get your body and mind ready for a good focused effort. Obviously it only makes sense to wrap up with a cool down to let yourself get back to normal, to let all your systems slowly adjust. Cooling down part of training is a very good time to do some flexibility, by the way. A training program without a cool down part is not a complete training program.

3. Training Program Must Have Speed Work

All improvement in running training has to do with running the same distance faster than before. While running longer and at a slower pace has its limited purpose sometimes, it won’t improve your performance or run time when preparing for a race and it should never be the foundation of your training program. Speed work is essential if you hope to run your next long distance race faster. And isn’t that the purpose of the entire exercise?

4. Training Program Must Have Strength & Flexibility Included

These are not fashionable or trendy things that were popular last summer. These must be included in training regimen on regular basis. Without adequate and proper strength developed you will be subjected to injuries and mediocre performance. Developing and maintaining flexibility helps extremely well in achieving better performance results also. Work on your technique, strength and flexibility should be regular and balanced, but with emphasis on technique.

5. Training Program Must be Updated Regularly

A lot can happen in just one week of training and whatever it is, it will require an adjustment to your training regimen. It is recommended to review the original training schedule against the actual training done and results accomplished, and then implement changes on weekly basis to achieve best results. This is one of the most difficult parts of working with training programs and I recommend doing it with a coach, but you could also try to make your own adjustments and switch around some numbers, repetitions, etc. We have a video that provides instructions on how to adjust your training program.

I would like to recommend you try my training plans that can now be ordered and downloaded online for $10/month of training. And if you would like to kick it up a notch, try my app that is now available to all iPhone users. Compared to my downloadable plans, the app allows data input after each training session so you can have a constantly updated training plan for $9.99/month.

As a rule, I always recommend training with a coach and obtaining a proper training plan whether you’re on a mission preparing for a race or not. You might just be pleasantly surprised with your results and achievements!