The Best Running Training Plan to Get Faster: Slow Down, Speed Up

January 23, 2021

Polarized Training is Best Running Training Plan To Maximize Your Time

Even in running training plans for beginners, runners like to run.

And the conventional wisdom has always been to run lots. As many miles as possible in a week.

Research seems to indicate that a solid running training plan to get faster is a polarized model: go slow and go fast.

A running training plan for beginners needs to include more mileage if they want to get faster,

But the research seems to indicate a diminishing return for more than 40 to 50 miles per week.

The other main issue, though, for putting in long miles is the intensity at which you’re running.

If you run a tempo pace, 80 to 90 percent of your max HR, you accumulate a LOT of training stress.

What if you could run fewer miles but get faster in the process?

Polarized Training Can Be Best Running Training Plan to Get Faster

There has been a growing body of research shows that polarized training increases:

  • VO2 max, your ability to use oxygen to fuel your efforts;
  • time to exhaustion;
  • adaptation to training stress;
  • overall aerobic endurance

With polarized training, runners do a majority of long, slow distance work at their base aerobic level.

And they do a surprisingly small amount of high-intensity intervals at a challenging level. 

Dr. Stephen Seiler, who has largely been responsible for the popularization of polarized training, studied elite endurance sport athletes (cross-country skiers, runners, cyclists).

He and his colleagues found that these athletes spend the majority of the training time (90 percent) simply putting in the time and only 10 percent doing huge effort intervals. 

This results in greater systemic adaptation (aerobic capacity) as well as greater muscle efficiency in regard of running training plan to get faster. 

This is the essence of Simple Endurance Coaching: Training should not be complicated or overly difficult all the time.

The growing body of research suggests that what works is simplicity: run long, slow distances, or go hard. 

Blood Markers are Key to Training

Essentially the research focuses on two physiological markers that occur when lactic acid builds in the blood. This is really oversimplified, but at around 2 milliMoles of blood lactic acid, your body has activated key energy systems for aerobic performance. And at around 4 milliMoles, your body does not have the ability to flush the accumulating lactic acid out of the bloodstream. 

So researchers have shown that athletes who train for long durations at around 2 mMol and for short durations around and above 4 mMol have been able to get stronger, faster, and build more adaptation to training stress. 

Seiler and others say 2 mMol is around the upper end of the traditional zone 2 – about 75 percent of maximum HR or threshold power.

Research seems to indicate that a solid running training plan to get faster is a polarized model: go slow lots and go fast some.
Photo by?Chander R?on?Unsplash

Recovery for about two-minutes seems to be a good amount between intervals. You will still slowly fatigue. 

Harder is Not Necessarily Better for Best Running Training Plan to Get Faster

The key variables of intervals are the intensity, the volume of the intervals to build the accumulated time. Harder is not necessarily better. 

It is true that there are other ways of training that have worked in the past for many athletes!  

For example, many athletes use tempo or sweet spot intervals to build aerobic fitness because it is shorter than multi-hour workouts.

There’s some evidence that a running training plan for beginners needs moderate-paced (tempo) runs.

This does indeed work to build fitness; the challenge, though, is that tempo and sweet spot run take longer recovery periods. 

I?m not in any way saying doing tempo is wrong.

What we?ve learned in the past few years seems to indicate, though, that polarized training works better than other models. 

Periodizing with Polarized Training

As we periodize a training schedule, the relative percentage of training zones doesn?t change much.

Low intensity stays low, and will even get lower as you peak, and the high intensity gets a bit higher.

Total volume will decrease as the target event nears with a lot of increased rest and recovery.

Peaking can benefit from several anaerobic capacity intervals prior to the target event, but that is kind of different level of adaptation.

It is a rapid adaptation, but short-lived. In other words, we can build a peak quickly, but it will not last – especially if you haven’t done the long, slow work.

What Does This Mean for Training?

How should we create a running training plan to get faster?

For a running training plan for beginners, I’d build a mix of mostly slow distance, one day a week of moderate efforts, and one or two days a week of hard interval work.

Typically, I’d recommend one long slow day, one moderate effort day, two days a week of intervals.

If you have more days available for training, you can add another shorter easy day plus strength training and yoga.

If you are already doing over 30 miles a week, do most of your running at a slow, conversational pace. Your heart rate should usually be no more than 140 bpm.

Do one moderate day and one to two hard interval days..

Any additional run training days should be slow.

If you don’t use an HR monitor, you can use the talk test:

  • Long, slow runs: It’s easy to talk with someone else. You may not be able to get into religion or politics, but the most casual conversation is easy.
  • Moderate runs: Conversations are a bit more challenging. You can still talk but your speech will be more clipped and labored.
  • Hard intervals: You don’t want to talk. You won’t be able to get more than a word or two out.
Research seems to indicate that a solid running training plan to get faster is a polarized model: go slow lots and go fast some.

Slowing Down Means More Time for Podcasts and Scenery

For me, the best part of slowing down to do the long runs is putting in headphones and listening to podcasts.

I listen to the TED Radio Hour, Pod Save the People, 99 Percent Invisible, On the Media, and others.

Podcasts are a great way to keep my mind occupied.

Got questions about polarized training? Concerns? Email me at paulw@simpleendurancecoaching.com or text at 262.705.4892.

For the price of a cup of coffee, we can sit down and talk about your goals, limits, and start creating a training plan that fits your needs.

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