Planning Training for Distance Running: Part One

This content requires a MileSplit Pro plan.
Join Now and select any plan for instant access!

MileSplit Pro
Join Now

"The most important part of the environment for aspiring distance runners is the few inches between their ears. The best thing about having a coach is that they can tell you when to back off," says the legendary Paul Geis, who ran for Oregon with Steve Prefontaine and almost beat that superstar several times. Geis (pronounced Gis) ran 13:23 for 5000 meters when tracks were mostly cinder and dirt in 1974! 

The following will not be a complete plan for being a great distance runner. Training can be simple, but life is not simple, and certainly cannot be covered in even a large book!

What we hope to do here is to give you a basis for study on planning your best approach to training for running the 800, 1600, 3200, and 5000 meters.

PART ONE: A Simple Plan

Part one is a general consensus of how to train for the whole year. Then part two has examples and opinions from experts which back up these steps. In part three you can do your own internet study of various sources to devise the most brilliant individualized training for winning distance running!

A state champion might, in some cases have to make this harder than it is laid out. A novice may have to scale it down! Run and stretch every day if possible while considering that you make the greatest gains during your recovery. Sleep, eating well, and hydration are also crucial.

Block Number One

Aerobic Base Building: Do this for as long as possible! When we refer to your pace, it is your own personal pace at the date you are running (date pace). This can be hard to determine. If in doubt as to how fast you should run, run slower at first!

In fact many people start out by running for just a few minutes at first. Then they progress to a "scout paced" running program where you run for a few minutes, walk for a few minutes, and then run again. It's probably a good idea to set some short and long term goals. Perhaps making it to the end of the block is the short term goal, and much later it might be to run for 30 minutes.

It's winter so dress in layers. If you can use polypropylene it's possible to get by with four light layers of clothing even in the coldest weather. Use vaseline on the areas where you cannot cover all of your skin completely. It may be necessary to wear windbreaker underwear!

Warm up well - 1 or 2 mile Jog, dynamic running drills, strides (4 to 8 x 100 meters)

Some people are done at this point! If it's very cold you may want to do something indoors before starting the run slowly outdoors. Be creative, but some examples might include jumping jacks, burpees, pushups, dynamic stretching, crunches, squats and jogging in place. A complete warm up will improve performance and prevent many injuries!

Block One Types of Runs

*Long Run - This can be anywhere from 1 mile to 15 miles based on your current fitness level. Be realistic, maybe you want to run for 10-30 minutes the first day and then see how you feel from day to day. Run at a pace where you can still talk fairly easily.

*Short steady state run - Between 2-8 miles based on experience. This can also be called a tempo run or fast distance. Pace might be between personal 5K to half-marathon pace.

*Fartlek - Do a run where you alternate periods of faster running with slightly slower running. During this period the stress of the hard part of the run should not be extreme and the recovery should be short. Research supports this and it really applies early in the training process.

Example of how to do fartlek runs - You could run about 200 meters (the distance between about three telephone poles) at slightly faster than mile pace, jog 100 meters, and then run 200 meters again. Repeat this for about 2-3 miles at first. We try to keep the stress level medium high during the run and do not allow a lot of recovery time. This is still a hard workout for beginners and you might have to keep the total distance short, especially if you make the run phase too hard. One of your goals is to do this so you can add to the total distance. It does not do much good to run so hard that you tucker out before getting a good aerobic effect.

Example of how not to do fartlek runs - We do not want to run nearly all out during the run portion and then have a long recovery. If you ran 100 yards at 200 meter pace, and then followed it with a 600 meter jog, and then repeated, that would be too hard with too much recovery to be effective for long distance running. We do have to be careful of ice, though, and if that means keeping the recovery long sometimes, by all means do it!

*Speed Development - One day per week, if you can find a place indoors, you can work on true speed development. 10 x 100 meters or shorter with a walk between is an example of this type of training. Jumping rope may be a good idea but save bounding and jumping for soft surfaces.

*Hill Run - One or two days per week include hills in one of the runs that you do. It is also advantageous to use a hill on the speed development day. The best type of hill for a distance runner is one that is not too steep, but allows for a gradual climb over 100 yards or so. Steep hills are for power and have their place in a sprinter's program. Al Tappe, former Minnesota runner claims that down hill running on a gradual hill can improve 400 speed. Watch out for that ice, though!

Warm down well. This is similar to the warm up but it's good to add some static stretching here.

Block Number Two

Block number one should last at least ten weeks. This means that block two will not start until the track season begins! If you have to make a choice between working too hard and under training, take it easy and enjoy your running. Perhaps you will have to do a lot of jogging in Block One before the season begins. If you do not do Block One, then you had better take it easy on some of the coach's work out days!

*Warm up - Do a long warm up as in Block One!

*Long Run - Continue this for the first month of the season. All components of training are developed if this run is long enough. Do not attempt to speed this run up and run shorter! It's possible that this run will have to be done on your own during the weekend.

*Shorter steady state runs - Do these 3-6 mile runs for the first month of the season. After that you may want to make one of them a tempo run.

*Speed Development Day - Hill running for the first month. The second month you might begin sprints, bounding, and other power related exercises. As anything else start out with just a few! In general speed work outdoors when it's colder than 50 degrees is not recommended.

*Fartlek, Tempo, or Interval day - These should be done with a heavy emphasis on the aerobic system. We never want to stray far from the aerobic base.

Block Number Three

With 5 weeks before the big race, we probably want to start doing some specific training towards our main distance. This training could include the races the athlete runs.

Many high school students run too many races. One meet per week is enough!

Aerobic runs and speed training should continue in this phase but you cut back a little on the speed training to include another interval/fartlek day. An interval day could include running repetitions around an unmeasured area, untimed, without counting the number done. The recovery should be nearly full and the athlete should quit when they are pleasantly tired. We do not want to run our best race in practice!