Thursday, November 29, 2012


There are 4 tenets that anchor my philosophy for training distance runners.  In the last 2 blogs, I have discussed the first 2 tenets, consistency and capacity, and so today I want to talk about the 3rd tenet: frequency.  When talking about frequency in terms of training for distance running, I am referring to both the number of times you run in a given period of time and distribution of runs in that same time period.   

There are several reasons why frequency is a major tenet in my philosophy. Most important is the fact that our bodies adapt best to something that is done most frequently. There is a familiarity and efficiency, both mentally and physically, that comes only through repetition.  There are certain hormone releases and enzyme activities that occur each time we go for a significant run (> 20 minutes).  This release and activity spurs growth, speeds recovery and enhance our adaptation to the activity of running.  By running more frequently we are getting these benefits and adaptations more frequently.    
But there is a balance that needs to be struck, as there are benefits and specific adaptations that we need as distance runners that can only be achieved through extended runs.  So we must balance the benefits of running frequently with the need to run for extended periods at points in our training.   
Just like we discussed in the last blog on capacity, we need to be gradual in our build up in frequency in order to allow our bodies to adapt and adjust to the routine.  So to help distance runners (5k to marathon) find that balance and make that progression, I have generated some simple progression rules on frequency that guide how I train athletes with respect to this tenet.  The runners would step into this progression at whatever level they are currently at and stop the progression once they reached their lifestyle maximum or have reached the end of the progression.

1) Add one day per week per training cycle (12-24 weeks) until 7 days per week is achieved
2) Once you are running 7 days per week and the duration of your average easy/recovery run reaches 60 minutes, then begin to add in daily second runs into your schedule
3) Add in 1 or 2 short (20-30 minute) secondary runs per training cycle until you reach 5-7 secondary runs per week (or whatever level fits your lifestsyle/time constraints).
4) Increase the duration of the secondary and primary runs as is appropriate
Example:  If a runner is running 5 days per week this training cycle, and their time/lifestsyle permits it, they would progress to 6 days per week next training cycle and then 7 days per week the following training cycle.  Once they are at 7 days per week and they have built up their normal easy/recovery runs to 60 minutes in duration, we would begin to add in a second run of 20-30 minutes once or twice a week.  They would continue to add secondary runs, as long as time, commitment and lifestyle permits, until they are running twice per day most every day. 
Most world class distance runners run 12-14 times per week. This appears to be consistently the gold standard for runners focusing on the 5k to Marathon distances and has remained so for decades after much trial and error by runners and coaches.  Some run less and some more, but the majority of elites eventually settle on this number as what works best for developing them to their full potential. Typically this is done as 2 runs per day most days.  So this is the direction we would work towards, to the extent the runner has the time and desire to do so.
Pretty simple rules, just a gradual and incremental increase in frequency until you are running a maximum of 12-14 times per week, or stopping at whatever level is appropriate for the time and commitment you have.  

When adding a second run into a day, ideally the run should be 12 hours removed from the start of the last run and 12 hours before your next run.  But this is not always possible, so I recommend shooting for that as a goal, but at a minimum try and get at least 6-8 hours in-between the start of your 2 runs.
Note:  It is also important to note that running is a very specific sport, in which we use certain muscles fibers at certain intensities and in certain ways. Other cross training exercises, while maybe good in general for increasing heart rate and general fitness or generally working muscle groups, will not specifically work the exact same muscle fibers in the exact same way as you do in running. This means they are somewhat poor substitutes for developing and training these muscles in the ways we need to use them in running. Running is still and always will be the best way to train for running.

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