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Understanding your Running Schedules

Reading these instructions will help ensure you make the most of your training schedule.

They will help explain how to go about the training, give some training tips and help you understand any sessions you find in your schedule.

How hard should I run in my runs?
An easy run should be just that – you should be able to hold a slightly breathless but fairly fluent conversation.

A steady run will mean you can speak a sentence or two at a time. Again you could have a conversation with your training partner.

The golden rule is that your steady and easy runs should be at a pace and of a length that means you are recovered enough to do your next session, and the rest of the training for the week. Have a look at what you have to do next and save your energy for that!

Warm up
Before any session or faster paced run make sure you are properly warmed up. This means 5 to 10min of very easy jogging, some stretching and maybe a few short faster runs over 50m to 100m. If you do these runs, often called ‘strides’ or ‘run throughs’ take a good rest between them – they are meant to warm you up not tire you out. You may not need to warm up before steady runs, but if you don’t do a warm up then ease into them and do some stretching before and afterwards.
Warm down
After each session warm down to clear all the waste products from your muscles. Do some light stretching to help maintain and improve your mobility and then do 5 to 10min of very easy jogging. Doing 10 minutes stretching here will aid recovery and improve your flexibility.

What surface should I run on?
If you are going to race you should get used to doing some training on the surface you will race on, whether that is road, grass, trails or whatever. But generally try to mix the surfaces you run on. Softer surfaces such as grass may feel easier on you legs. This means you can work on them more comfortably and they are also a good choice for if your legs are tired. Run on a surface where you are not risking turning an ankle – beware rutted surfaces! Faster running needs a smoother surface than easier runs where you are more able to pick your footing and avoid tree roots etc.

How much should I eat before I run?
It is important not to eat a heavy meal too soon before running. You will learn how long you have to leave between eating and training to avoid a stitch. As a rough rule of thumb it is best not to eat a light meal less than two hours before running, for a heavier meal you may well have to allow three hours.

You may be able to have a small snack, particularly something like an energy bar, closer to training. You are best leaving a longer time before training and then move eating gradually closer to training time as you learn how long your body takes to digest food. Be aware that nerves can make digesting food slower.

An energy drink can help keep energy levels topped up before, after and even during training. Take small sips regularly rather than drinking large amounts in one go.

What should I drink before training?
Water will be readily absorbed. An energy drink can also help keep your energy levels topped up. Spread your drinking out. Drinking a lot in one go will see the fluid go ‘straight through’ you. A little and often is the key. Continue drinking regularly after training until you are re-hydrated (your urine should be a clear/pale yellow colour).

What should I eat after training?
Refuelling as soon as possible after training is the best way to ensure quick recovery. In the period immediately after training your body is best able to absorb energy so look to eat 50g of carbohydrate in the 30min after training and 200g in the two hours after. Aim to resume normal meal patterns as soon after running as possible. Roughly speaking a regular banana contains 20g of carbohydrate, 10 jelly beans have 30g, a digestive biscuit 10g and a bagel 40g or carbohydrate.

How hard should I work in the ‘pace’ sessions?
The level of effort of pace will be given. Don’t be tempted to work harder than this. You may think it looks better but it will mean the session is not working your body in the way it is designed to. You should include a Warm Up and Warm Down in your pace sessions.

How hard should I work in the (interval) sessions?
In the interval sessions (those sessions made up of pieces of harder running) you must aim to spread you effort over the full session and to finish tired but not completely exhausted. During the ‘rest’ periods in a session you can stand, walk or jog. After initially getting your breath back it will help to slowly jog or walk. This stops your legs tightening up and will help you build up fitness. If you are not able to walk or jog slowly it implies you are running too hard. Before each session you should start up with a Warm Up and Warm Down. A very slow jog is the best way to do this.

How tired should I feel at the end of the week?
You will probably feel tired, particularly if you have done a tough week of training. But after your rest day you should feel able to go out and do that level of training again. If you are not then you must back off. Slow your steady runs, don’t push so hard in the pace session, back off a little in the sessions. If you need to then alter your profile to get a more manageable schedule. Being overtired may sound brave but it will slow you down not speed you up! You are also risking injury! If you are ill in bed as you have over done it you won’t be running well at all and will take time to come back.

This session looks really long/tough – what should I do?
You need to ask yourself some pertinent questions. Be completely honest – you’ll only cheat yourself.

  • Am I expecting too much of myself with the schedule I have selected? If you are being overly ambitious change your profile and you will have a new schedule from the following week.
  • Am I ready to run the distance I am aiming for? If you are struggling in the training ask yourself if you are likely to complete the event you have chosen to do.
  • Am I trying to do it too fast? The sessions are long when the event you are training for is long. Backing off the pace means you can do longer sessions.
  • Am I doing too much between the harder sessions? Your days between the tough sessions should allow you to recover. Are you doing these other runs too fast or running too far on them? If you are, then slow them down or change your profile to be set shorter runs between sessions.

I felt I could have done more training this week. What should I do?
You should always feel that you could have done more in any given weeks training. This way your body is able to adapt to the work you have done and build itself back stronger – the key to fitness is to always build up and not to break down. You need to have enough left to do it all again next week with a slight increase in the work load. It may have been a deliberately easier week in your training schedule to allow recovery. If you are feeling very much within yourself for a few weeks the time has probably come to change your profile and step up you training. But make the improvement manageable. If after three or four weeks of the new training you are feeling over tired you have probably stepped it up too much – don’t be afraid to modify your profile and take a step back. Remember you can switch your profile and therefore your training as often as you want.

I felt I could have gone on for longer in my steady run. Why was this?
This is good news. It shows you are running at a good controlled pace. Don’t be tempted to do another lap of the block though. Save the energy for the harder sessions. See How hard should I run in my runs?

I ran slower today than I have before. What should I do?
You need to ask yourself some simple questions – have I eaten enough good food today, drank enough fluid, had enough sleep, been more busy than usual or had a stressful time?

Occasionally you will just have an off day. If you think you might be ill or injured STOP IMMEDIATELY. See What do I do if I feel ill or think I have an injury? If you feel tired then monitor yourself over the next few days. If you still feel tired take a few days easy. If you feel worse stop. It may be that tomorrow you feel fine again. Don’t get hung up on one-off days where you don’t feel so good. But beware if you don’t seem to be recovering or are getting progressively worse. If this is happening back off and rest up to allow yourself to recover. If necessary see your doctor – you may be fighting a bug.

I want to race, what should I do?
If you have a race of any distance up to marathon, you can make a few simple changes to your training in the week before the race. This allows you a high degree of flexibility when you want to race and allows you to change you plans.

Train as normal until four days before the event. For the last three days back off your training. Instead of any sessions just do a steady or easy run. And in the last two days ease off the distance too and if necessary take days off. Back off to whatever extent you find necessary to ‘recharge your batteries’. If you have been training hard or have a long journey to a race this may mean far easier training than if you have been training at a less intense level and have a race on your doorstep. Don’t use the extra energy you have from backing off the training elsewhere in your life – it’s not the time to dig up the patio! (The longer the distance the more ‘easing down’ is needed. For a marathon you will need to decrease your training over a two to three week period.)

Why should I keep a training diary?
There are several benefits of having a training diary. It will help you in these ways (and more):

  • Monitoring your progress. This can be a big encouragement
  • Knowing when to move on. If your improvement has reached a plateau or you have arrived at a level you previously aimed for you will know it is time for a change to your training.
  • Checking for any trends, whether good or bad. For example, are you getting quicker on your steady runs?  Are you putting too much into one session on one day and therefore suffering on another? Are you getting tired and therefore in need of an easier week?
  • Identifying strengths and weaknesses. You can see what you are best at and where you struggle.
  • Setting realistic training targets. You can have a good idea of what pace you should be able to do a session at by looking at similar work you have done.
  • Giving a true perspective. Our memories play tricks on us. We think we have done more or less work than we have. Or we start to think we always run as fast as on one wonderful session we remember!
  • Picking sensible goals. Having a good idea of how you training is progressing will help you choose what to do next.

What should I write in a training diary?
This sounds an obvious question but you can include as many details as you wish. Think about including these factors:

  • Training done. You may just write in the training as per your schedule. But think about including other factors such as the pace, distance, where it was done/route, weather conditions etc. These will all help you understand the session better when you look back on it.
  • How you felt. Be as descriptive as you want. You will probably develop your own vocabulary that you will recognise.
  • Heart rate. If you use a heart rate monitor this is useful information to record.
  • Morning heart rate (before getting out of bed). As you get fitter this will gradually fall. If it is more than 10 beats above normal you should take an easy day or rest.
  • Other factors. If you were tired because of a busy day at work mention it. It puts your training in perspective.

I’m feeling sore all the time, having trouble sleeping, feeling irritable and having trouble maintaining the standard of my training
It sounds like you are overdoing it. Back off for a week or better still, take what’s known as an ‘active rest’. This means step back from your regular training and go for a leisurely swim, walk or cycle. Don’t be scared to take a few days off - freshen up physically and mentally.

(It could be factors outside your running, eg family matters, that are leaving you less energy to train so freshen up before building up again)

What do I do if I feel ill or think I have an injury?
If you feel ill before, or during training then stop. Likewise with any suspicion of an injury. Get yourself checked out by a doctor for illness and/or a physiotherapist for an injury. Sometimes runners talk about fitness (meaning how well they are running) as if it was separate to their health! This is foolish. But to put it in this type of language there is a golden rule:

You are better to be 100% healthy and 90% fit than 90% healthy and 100% fit.

In other words you need to stay healthy. This allows the sustained and consistent training that means long term and sustained training with long term and sustained good performances.

Think of Paula Radcliffe at the marathon in the Athens Olympics. She was the ‘fittest’ athlete there but lost the race as circumstances meant she was not the healthiest. A year later she may be was not as ‘fit’ as when she broke the world record. But she became world champion as she had made sure she had gone into the race healthy.


Now for the technical bit:

What does this mean: 6 x 3min off 90sec rest?
To do this session you run 3min hard, then take 90sec rest before running another 3min fast run. You repeat this until you have run six of the 3min runs. Before each session you should start up with a Warm Up and Warm Down. Also see How hard should I work in the sessions?

What does this mean: 3min, 2min, 90sec, 1min, off 90sec rest?
This means that you do a 3min hard effort, then take the 90sec rest, then a 2min effort followed by 90sec rest. Next you do a 90sec effort with 90sec rest afterwards, finally do a 1min effort.

What does this mean: 2 x (1min, 2min, 3min off 1min rest) off 2min?
This is a session involving sets. Sets mean that you repeat a block of work the given number of times. In our example: 2 x (1min, 2min, 3min off 1min rest) – 2min. Means you run 1min hard, take 1min rest, then run 2min hard, take 1min rest, then run 3min. This is the first set. After this you take 2min rest and then do it again. If you were doing three sets you would do the same thing three times with 2min rest between each.

If there are different recoveries in a session we may say 2 x (1min, 1min rest, 2min, 2min rest, 3min) – 3min rest. This would means you run 1min hard, take 1min rest, then run 2min hard, take 2mins rest, then run 3min. End of first set, after this you take 3min rest.

What does this mean: 5min, 3min rest, 3 x 1min off 2min rest, 3min rest, 5min?
In this session you start with a 5min hard run. Then you take the 3min rest. After this you a series of three one minute fast efforts taking 2min rest between each of these one minute runs. Then after the last of your three 60sec efforts you rest for 3min. After the 3min rest you run a 5min effort fast.

What does this mean: 20min at the pace you could hold if you ran flat out for 60min to 70min?
These are ‘pace sessions’. Before each of these sessions you should start up with a Warm Up and Warm Down. Then you run a set distance or time at a set pace. So in this session your main piece of running will be 20min. But the pace you run at is the pace you believe you would be able to hold if you were told to run flat out for 60min to 70min.

Or: “2 x 10min off 90sec rest at the pace you could hold if you ran flat out for 60min.” Would see you running 10min, resting for 90 sec, then running 10min again. Your 10min efforts would be run at the pace you would go at if you were told to run flat out for 60min.

It is important you don’t go faster than the pace recommended.