Long runs for the marathon are a staple of every training plan – no doubt
about it. To prepare optimally for the marathon distance, it’s critical that you
train for the specific demands of the race. If you want to record a new
marathon PR, this means teaching your body how to run faster on tired legs,
depleted fuel and late into the race. To accomplish this, you can use a
training concept called fast finish long runs.

What’s the goal of a fast finish long run?

Mentally, the fast finish long runs simulate late-race fatigue and help train
your body to push through the tiredness and pick up the pace, even when
your legs are begging you to stop. When you get to that point in the
marathon race, whether it be 18 miles or 22 miles, you’ll have the confidence
from your fast finish long runs to push hard and keep increasing the effort.
Physiologically, you’re teaching your body how to burn fat more efficiently
while running at marathon pace or faster. Late in the long run, and late in the
race, you’ll be low on carbohydrates and your body will be looking for
alternative fuel sources. By simulating this situation in training, your body
can adapt and more efficiently switch to burning fat as its fuel source.
How to run a fast finish long run

You should schedule a fast finish long run every second or third long run once
you’ve established a good base mileage for your long run. That’s usually 14
to 16 miles, but this number is different for every runner and is dependent
upon your overall training plan.

An 18-mile fast finish long run might look something like this on your training
schedule: 18 mile long run w/miles 13-16 at “x:xx” pace or faster. In this
case, x:xx represents a pace that is between 10 to 15 seconds faster than
goal marathon pace. For example, a 4-hour marathoner might look for a pace
of around 8:55-9:00 minutes per mile as a starting pace.

So, the execution of the workout would look like:

? Run miles 1-13 at your normal easy run pace. Don’t push too hard,
too early – this is a tough run.

? Starting at mile 13, bring your pace down to the time on your training

In this example, you would be running miles 13, 14, 15 and
16 at the up-tempo pace. After the first 2 miles at this pace, you can
start to creep your pace faster than the defined pace if you’re feeling
good. Once you have 1 mile or less to go, you can start pushing the
pace as hard as you can.

? The final two miles, miles 17 and 18 in this example, are run at your
normal easy pace. It’s sort of like a cool down, but you’re still
maintaining a good pace and you don’t stop unless you absolutely
need to.

Part of the training plan as a whole
Fast finish long runs, in combination with steady runs before the long run,
help simulate late race fatigue while more specifically targeting the energy
demands of the race compared with traditional long and slow runs. More
importantly, fast finish long runs and surge long runs enable you to minimize
injury risk while maximizing the benefits of each run.

Because fast finish long runs can be tiring and difficult, you shouldn’t include
them on your training schedule every week. Sometimes, you need to relax
and just put time on your feet, especially while you build up your distance.
More than just the marathon

While discussion thus far has been focused specifically on the marathon, fast
finish long runs have their place in 5k to half-marathon training as well.
The mental and physiological adaptations produced by the workout are
much the same for shorter distances as they are for the marathon. With any
race distance, the ultimate goal is to train the body to finish the competition
as fast as possible. Even for 10k or half-marathon runners, running fast the
last 1 or 2 miles of the race is a difficult task, thanks to tired legs and low
energy stores. By simulating that experience in training, you’ll be better
prepared on race day to finish strong.

The long run has the potential to be more than just time on your feet with
long, slow miles. While fast-finish long runs are quickly becoming a
fundamental element in advanced training programs, an underutilized and
rarely mentioned workout involves surges during the long run.
Implementing planned surges during a long run serves a multitude of
purposes. First, you can inject speed into a training plan during what would
otherwise be a “slow” running day. Second, you can learn to run fast while
fatigued, which develops race-specific strength and skills. Finally, surges help
increase the overall quality and pace of your long run, thus enabling you to
finish faster.

Speed in disguise

One trick is to “disguise” speed within training programs. It is essential to
insert some sort of speed development into the training plan at least four or
five days per week. Speed training helps improve running mechanics,
increases efficiency and buffers the body for race pace or faster efforts.
However, speed development doesn’t have to occur all in one workout. You
can spread speed training throughout the week in small doses, which enables
you to maximize your time spent developing the more important
physiological elements, such as threshold and aerobic strength, while also
reducing the risk of injury associated with speed work. By adding surges to a
long run, you can go from zero minutes spent working on speed, mechanics
and efficiency to 10 or even 15 minutes of “disguised” speed training per
week. This slight increase in speed development is all you need to start
seeing dramatic results in your mechanics and overall speed.

Specific strength

One of the most difficult aspects of racing is realizing that, as the race goes
on, you have to keep working harder to maintain the same pace. Anyone
who has ever raced at any distance knows that the first mile is significantly
easier than the last mile. The increase in difficulty is caused by fatigue.
Therefore, anything you can do in your training to improve your ability to run
faster while tired is going to lead to better race results. By injecting surges
into your long run, you develop the specific physiological adaptations and
mental skills necessary to increase your effort and pace as the race gets more

In addition, when you’re training for a marathon, surges late into a long run,
especially when you’re low on fuel, help teach your body to burn fat more
efficiently at race pace. Why is this important? Typically, the faster you
attempt to run, the greater percentage of carbohydrates you burn (since
carbohydrates are converted to energy quickly). Therefore, if you can
increase the percentage of fat burned for energy while at race pace, you’ll
have more carbohydrates to burn late in the race. 


When doing surges during the middle of the run, you will typically notice two

(1) the first surge is always the hardest; and

(2) once you slow back down to your normal long run pace, you will find your “easy” pace is now faster than before the surge.

The first surge is always the hardest because you have to wake your body up.
As runners, we’ve been conditioned to think of long runs as slow and
leisurely Sunday strolls. (Granted, running slow for your long runs is
appropriate at times, especially after a hard week of workouts or following
an increase in volume.) Therefore, the body and mind aren’t ready for the
hard interval you’re about to throw in. Luckily, as your body and mind get
adjusted to the speed, you’ll start to feel invigorated by the change of pace.
You will also notice the pace increase bleeds into the recovery portion of the
workout and you will find yourself running a faster overall long run than you
normally would without surges.

How to incorporate surges

Long run surges should begin about halfway through the intended long run
distance and end about 75 to 80 percent of the way through the run. This
means if you have a 10-mile long run that usually takes you 1 hour and 40
minutes to complete and you’re scheduled for 5 x 1 minute surges with 5
minutes rest, you should begin the surges at mile 5, which will result in the
last surge occurring at around mile 8.

The length of the surge itself, the rest in-between the

Steady runs, or steady-state runs as some literature refers to them, are a
great way to build aerobic strength, which is the foundation for your best
performances in the marathon. Simply speaking, steady runs are efforts that
are about 20 to 30 seconds slower than marathon pace. You will find
different definitions of a “steady run pace” on the Internet and from
different coaches, but this definition is specific to marathon training.

As is the case with all running workouts, you should use steady runs to elicit a
multitude of performance- and fitness-enhancing benefits. The exact benefits
largely depend on the desired goal of the session and how they’re

The reason for steady running .Steady runs accomplish three different types of objectives and training stimuli:

1. Starter workouts

Because steady runs should be about 20 or 30 seconds slower than marathon
pace, they ease athletes into workouts when they are just starting the
training schedule, as an introductory workout, or if they have not done
structured workouts before. Twenty or 30 seconds slower than marathon
pace will usually be “comfortably hard,” which is perfect when the objective
is to add a little bit of hard running to the schedule, but not go overboard.

2. Building aerobic strength

Building aerobic strength is one of the most important pieces of the training
puzzle to make you faster at the marathon. The hard part is that developing
aerobic strength takes time. Luckily, steady runs facilitate the development
of aerobic strength by challenging your aerobic system, but not making you
too tired to run hard the next day. Some more experienced and veteran
marathon runners train using a medium-long steady run sometime during
the middle of the week, which helps add a new stimulus and an opportunity
for increased aerobic development.

3. Marathon training

Training for the marathon is different from training for shorter distances.
Mainly, this is because you have to train specifically for two additional things

running on tired legs and learning to burn fuel more efficiently. Steady runs
help increase the total amount of quality miles (quality miles being miles run
at or near marathon pace) an athlete can run during a marathon-training
block. Mainly, steady runs should be run the day before a long run, adding a
slight amount of fatigue to the legs, which better simulates the tired feeling
at the end of a marathon without having to run 26 miles.
How to perform a steady run Steady runs should be performed like mini-workouts. The pace should be comfortably hard (usually 20 to 30 seconds slower than marathon pace).

1. Start each steady run with a mile at normal easy pace. Keep the pace easy; this mile is a warm-up mile to get the blood flowing to the legs and loosen up your muscles.

2. After the first easy mile, take a brief minute or two to stretch anything that is tight, sore or that has been bothering you lately.

3. Ease into the steady pace over the next mile or two. You don’t have to go from a standing start to steady pace in the first 100 meters. Let your body fall into the pace naturally. Some days this will feel easy and other days getting down to steady pace will be a challenge.

4. Because steady runs are usually a little longer than tempo runs, you’ll have to work on concentrating over a longer distance. Work on staying focused throughout the run and concentrating on your pace and effort. This is great practice for race day.

5. Use the last mile as a mini-cool down. Bring the pace back down to an
easy pace and enjoy the feeling of job well done. The cool down will
help your muscles relax and start the recovery process.

 what are called threshold intervals.

When designing running workouts, a coach can manipulate three elements
of the training plan to elicit certain physiological adaptations.

These three elements are:

(1) the time or distance of the interval;

(2) the speed or pace at
which you need to run the workout; and

(3) the amount of rest you can take between efforts.

While many people are familiar with the ability to change
the distance and pace of an interval – and how this can affect fitness – the
rest portion of a workout is often an afterthought or the forgotten element
in the training equation, especially for those writing their own schedules.
In actuality, manipulating the rest portion of a track workout is particularly
effective and one of the best ways to gain fitness. As this ebook has
mentioned, improving your aerobic threshold is one of the most effective
ways to gain fitness and race faster at the marathon distance. By varying the
rest during interval workouts in a distinctive and innovative way, you can get
the benefits of both a tempo run and a speed workout.

These intervals allow you to run much faster than a tempo run (usually 6 to 7
percent faster), but because of the short rest, you can maintain a threshold
effort. During these threshold intervals, you’ll often barely catch your breath
before starting the next interval, but that means the workout will also go by

The added bonus of performing these intervals is the pacing practice and
strategies you can develop. If you start out too fast during the first interval or
two, the short rest will come back to bite you during the middle and latter
part of the workout. You may feel good going faster for the first three or four
intervals, but the big hairy gorilla will jump on your back during the second
half and make the rest of the workout a struggle and a test of wills. This will
help you simulate the fatigue you’ll experience in the marathon and teach
you to control your pacing during the first half of the race.

When performing threshold intervals, it is important to pay attention to the
paces and the rest. If you begin to feel tired during the workout and your
paces start to slow, make sure you continue to maintain the timing of the
rest. You can slow down if you need to, but keep the rest the same.

While no one would argue that a good diet and a reasonable training
schedule are invaluable in preventing injuries, there’s a surprising amount of
controversy regarding the role of stretching.

Some people swear by it, while others shun it. Of those who do stretch, some
emphasize stretching before working out, while others stretch only after
exercise. Let’s look at what research says about the role of stretching in
preventing injuries.

In one of the largest studies conducted on the importance of stretching, Dr.
Herbert Pope concluded that stretching before physical activity had no effect
on injury frequency in athletes 

This finding is consistent with several other studies that have demonstrated
that stretching, particularly stretching before activity, plays little to no role in
injury prevention.

However, this study failed to include the effects of stretching after exercise.
Luckily, in 2005, a group of Australian doctors set up a study to measure the
effects of stretching after exercise and whether it reduced hamstring injuries.

At the end of the study, the stretching program decreased hamstring injury
rates from an average of 10 athletes per season to three athletes per season.
Also, the number of days lost from competition was reduced from 35 days in
the no-stretch group to 10 days in the stretching group.

Not only did this study show that stretching after exercise was beneficial,
these findings are consistent with other studies that demonstrate that
muscle tightness is a predictor of injury and that increasing flexibility by
stretching reduces injury rates.

So now that we have proven that stretching after exercise does help prevent
injuries, the question remains as to what type of stretching is best suited to
accomplishing this result. Research has proven that stretching with mild to
moderate force for 15 to 30 seconds two to three times is the most effective
method to increase muscle length and reduce injury. There were no
additional benefits to stretching to the point of pain, longer than 35 seconds
or more than four times.

The lessons to be learned from these studies are clear:
1. Avoid pre-exercise stretching. That means no stretching when your
muscles are not warmed up.

2. Never stretch to the point of discomfort. After your run, perform a few 15-
to 30-second stretches on each of the major muscle groups. Never push the
stretch to the point of discomfort. It’s better to hold a stretch for 15 seconds
and repeat it throughout the day than to spend long periods stretching
specific muscles.

The warm-up is an important part of any workout, and one of the most
important aspects of a good race. A good warm-up helps prepare the body to
run hard, race fast, and will help make your workouts easier and more

Basically, the warm-up is designed to get the blood flowing to your legs,
which makes them looser and ready for hard work. Warming up before a
hard workout or race also helps ward off injuries by ensuring that muscles
are warm and loose before any hard running begins. The following are the
steps you should take to get in a good warm-up:

1. The warm-up should begin with easy running for the specified amount of
time on your schedule. The pace doesn’t matter, but it should feel slow and
easy. You’re not trying to set any records, just get the body primed for a
good race or workout.

.2. After the run, stop and stretch for 5 to 10 minutes. Stretching when your
muscles are warm helps increase its effectiveness. You should focus on any
muscles that are sore and tight or run through a general routine to hit all the
major muscle groups.
3. After some light stretching, run 2 x 30 sec strides at a little faster than your
goal pace, with a full 2 or 3 minutes rest between the two. This is a crucial
step that most people forget to do. The strides help send the signal to the
body that it’s time to work hard and get your heart rate elevated. This will
help you get on pace the first interval or mile and make it feel easier, since
the body won’t be in shock. If you’re racing a shorter race, you can also add
in two more 20-second strides at a faster pace to help get the “pop” in your

After these simple steps, you’ll be primed to run a great race or workout.
After the race or workout, give yourself a few minutes to catch your breath,
say hi to friends if you’re at a race, get some water and start feeling good

When you feel like you’re recovered, run the specified number of miles on
your schedule for your cool down. The pace should be very easy and at a
pace slower than you may even run on your easy days. The pace doesn’t
matter. The focus of the cool down is on loosening up your tight muscles and
gradually getting oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to your legs.

The marathon long run is overrated... Pause until the sound of your gasp
fades. RunnersConnect sees too many runners focus on trying to get in
multiple 20- or 22-milers during their training segment, at the expense of
improving more important physiological systems. More importantly, runs of
over 3 hours offer little aerobic benefit and significantly increase injury risk.

Instead, your training should focus on improving your aerobic threshold,
teaching your body to use fat as a fuel source and building your overall
tolerance for running on tired legs through accumulated fatigue. Since the
long run is such an ingrained element of marathon training, suggesting they
are overrated almost sounds blasphemous. But take a look at some scientific
research, relevant examples and suggestions on how to better structure your
training to support this claim and help you run your next marathon faster.

The science

Most runners training for a marathon are averaging anywhere from 9
minutes to 12 minutes per mile on their long runs (3:45 to 5-hour finishing
time). At a pace of 10 minutes per mile, a runner will take roughly 3:30 to
finish a 21-mile run. While there is no doubt that a 21-mile run (or longer)
can be a great confidence booster, from a training and physiological
standpoint, it doesn’t make too much sense. Here’s why:
Recent research has shown that your body doesn’t see a significant increase
in training benefits after running for 3 hours. The majority of physiological
stimulus of long runs occurs between the 90-minute and 2:30 mark. This
means that after running for 3 hours, aerobic benefits (capillary building,
mitochondrial development) begin to actually stagnate or decline instead of
getting better. So, a long run of over 3 hours builds about as much fitness as
one lasting 2:30.

To add insult to injury, running for longer than 3 hours significantly increases
your chance of injury. Your form begins to break down, your major muscles
become weak and susceptible to injury and overuse injuries begin to take
their toll. This risk is more prevalent for beginning runners whose aerobic
capabilities (because of cross-training and other activities) exceed their
musculoskeletal readiness. Basically, their bodies aren't ready to handle what
their lungs can.

Not only are aerobic benefits diminished while injury risk rises, recovery time
is significantly lengthened. The total amount of time on your feet during a 3-
plus-hour run will break down the muscles and completely exhaust you,
which leads to a significant delay in recovery time and means you can’t
complete more marathon-specific workouts throughout the following week,
which research has shown are a more important component to marathon

Why is the long run so popular?

Given the overwhelming scientific evidence against long runs of over 3 hours,
why are they so prevalent in marathon training?

First, many people have a mental hurdle when it comes to the 20-mile
distance. The marathon is the only distance that you can’t safely run in
training before your goal race. Therefore, like the 4-minute mile and the 100-
mile week, the 20-mile-long run becomes a mental barrier that feels like a
reachable focus point. Once you can get that 2 in front of your total for the
day, you should have no problem running the last 10k. Unfortunately, this
just isn’t true from a physiological standpoint.

Second, the foundation for marathon training still comes from the 1970s and
1980s, at the beginning of the running boom. Marathoning hadn't quite hit
the numbers it has today (you could sign up for most marathons, including
Boston, the day before the race) and the average finishing time at most races
was 3 hours (today that number is near 4 hours).

Therefore, the basis for how to train for a marathon came from runners who
averaged close to 6 minutes per mile for the entire race. So, 20- and 22-
milers were common for these athletes, as a run of this distance would take
them about 2:30 to finish at an easy pace.

Moreover, when you hear the term “hitting the wall” you immediately think
of the 20-mile distance. “Hitting the wall” frequently occurred at 20 miles
because your body can store, on average, 2 hours of glycogen when running
at marathon pace. Two hours for a 6-minute mile marathoner occurs almost
exactly at 20 miles.


Whether you encounter hills in training or on the race course, fighting gravity
can quickly become an epic struggle both mentally and physically. However,
running hills doesn’t have to ruin your workout or race. By maintaining
proper form and executing a smart strategy as you run up and over them,
you can actually turn hill running into a strength you can capitalize on.
In this section, you will learn some simple form tweaks that can save you
energy and help you breeze up and over hills with greater ease. Likewise,
RunnersConnect will share its secret to attacking hills during a race so you
can maintain pace and stay on track to reach your goal time.

Running form on hills

Running uphill and downhill require some slight tweaks to your form to
maximize your power and efficiency as well as provide you much-needed
oxygen. Many magazines and training partners will give you pointers on
proper form, but it’s important you are able to properly visualize the tips, or
you could end up doing more harm than good. Here are our form suggestions
and a visual for how to implement them.

Running uphill

(1) The most critical element is that you keep your chest up and open. The most common advice you might have received is to “lean into the hill.” Unfortunately, this causes many runners to hunch at  the waist to lean forward.

This constricts your airway and makes it harder to breathe deeply. You do
need to lean forward, but make sure you lean at the hips, not the waist.
(2) Keep your head and eyes up, looking about 30 meters in front of you.
Dropping your head restricts how much oxygen you can take in and will
cause you to slouch. Likewise, drive your arms straight forward and back and
use them as pistons. Your arms should form a 90-degree angle at the elbow,
and swing straight back and forth, not across your body.
(3) Focus on driving your knee off the hill, not into the hill like you might do if
you maintained your normal knee drive. Work on landing on the ball of your
foot to spring up the hill.
(4) Dorsiflex your foot at the ankle – dorsiflexion is when you point your toes
towards the ground. Think of yourself exploding off your ankle and using that
last bit of power to propel you up the hill with minimal energy expenditure.
Focusing on dorsiflexion can save you a lot of energy and really help you get
up the hill faster and with less energy.

Downhill running

(1) Just like when running uphill, you want to have a slight lean forward at the
hips to take advantage of the downhill. Don’t overdo the lean; you just need a slight
tilt to benefit from gravity. Keep your arms relaxed and only slightly moving forward and back. Don’t flail them to the sides; this will waste energy. Likewise, keep your head up and your eyes looking forward.

(2) You want to land with your foot either right beneath your torso or just
slightly in front of your pelvis, depending on the grade of the downhill (the
steeper the grade, the more likely your foot is to land out in front). Extending
your leg too much will cause you to land on your heel, which will act like a
breaking motion. Focus on landing toward your midfoot to maintain speed
while staying in control.

(3) Your stride length should naturally be extended when running downhill.
However, you shouldn’t need to consciously increase your stride length. The
pace and the grade of the hill will do this naturally for you.
Pacing during hilly races

Tackling hills during races or even important workouts can be daunting. It’s
easy to ruin your race by wasting too much energy grinding up a hill or lose
big chunks of time by slowing the pace too much. To handle hills effectively
in races, learn to run up and down them by effort, not pace.

When you approach the base of a hill, you should already have a good feel
for the effort you’re maintaining to keep the pace you need. Meaning, if
you’re running goal race pace already, you should already know what that
pace “feels” like. So, when you begin to ascend up the hill, focus on
maintaining the same effort. Obviously, your actual pace will slow, even
though you’re running the same effort (don’t worry, you’ll make it up on the
downhill). The exact time you’ll “lose” on the

Is running on a treadmill the same as running outside? It’s a common
question and, despite conflicting opinions, scientific research has shown that
running on the treadmill has roughly the same effect as running outside if
you make a few simple adjustments. In fact, there are some types of
workouts you can do better on a treadmill than you can do outside.
However, running on a treadmill does have its disadvantages and, for some
runners, a mile on the “hamster wheel” feels like 10 miles outdoors.
So, in this section, you will learn the potential positives and negatives of
treadmill running, how to adjust your workouts to make treadmill running
equivalent to logging miles outdoors, and some tips to make treadmill
running more “enjoyable” when it’s necessary.

Is it the same?

The first thing we need to examine is whether running on a treadmill is the
same as running outside.

On one hand, with a treadmill, the belt is moving under you and there is no
wind resistance for your body to counter, so it should be easier to run.
Theoretically, you could jump up and down on a treadmill and it would
record that you’re running at whatever speed the belt is moving. Outside,
your legs have to propel your motion forward while pushing through the
resulting wind resistance (however minor it may be).

Luckily, scientific research has proven that setting the treadmill to a 1%
grade accurately reflects the energy costs and simulates outdoor running.
Therefore, by setting the treadmill to a 1% grade, you can offset the lack of
wind resistance and the belt moving under you to make treadmill running
the same effort as running outdoors.

Corroborating research has shown that VO2max is the same when running
on a treadmill compared to outside, clearly demonstrating that running on a
treadmill is as effective as running outside. Furthermore, research reveals
that bio-mechanical patterns did not change when test subjects ran on a
treadmill vs. when they ran outside.

Therefore, we can decisively conclude that running on a treadmill has the
same effect as running outside when the treadmill is at a 1% grade.
Benefits of treadmill running vs. outdoor running
Because we now know that running outside and running on the treadmill are
basically the same at a 1% grade, we can identify the specific workouts or

instances when running on a treadmill might actually be better than running

When the weather and footing are bad

This is the most obvious benefit of treadmill running, but it’s important to
include because elements affect every runner differently. Some people have
a very difficult time when it’s hot or there is bad footing; however, put them
on a clear road on a cold or rainy day and they are machines. You may be the
opposite, so don’t be afraid to hit the treadmill on the days you need to.
Getting in a good workout on the treadmill is better than suffering through a
bad run or getting hurt.

Simulating race courses while indoors

One of the distinct benefits of a treadmill is the ability to simulate your goal
race course. Many of the more advanced treadmills allow you create your
own unique course profile, which you can use to simulate the exact course
you’re training for. Just program the machine or, if you don’t have that
option, manually adjust the incline levels based on the course map, and you
can train on the course any day of the week.

For runners training for the Boston marathon, you can even put lifts under
the back end of the treadmill to simulate downhill running. You can now
simulate the pounding of the downhills on your quads and be better
prepared for the opening miles on race day.

Fluid and carbohydrate intake

It’s critical that you practice taking in fluids and carbohydrates on your runs
to teach yourself how to eat and drink without stopping. Obviously, this can
be a logistical nightmare if you don’t plan on carrying your water or gels with

you. Running a tempo run or long run on the treadmill will allow you to
practice eating and drinking without slowing down. While the treadmill won’t
make the actual act of eating or drinking any easier, it can make it logistically

Disadvantages of treadmill running vs. o

It’s the question all runners want to know – “How long will it be before I see
the benefits from my workout?” Unfortunately, like most aspects of running
and training, there isn’t a quick and easy answer.

Most experienced runners have heard that it takes 10 days to realize the
benefits of a workout. While this is a good rule of thumb to follow, especially
during the taper phase of a training plan, it’s not a very accurate
measurement of how your body responds and adapts to a myriad of different
training factors. For example, the exact rate your body absorbs and responds
to a workout is going to be influenced by the type of workout, the intensity,
your recovery protocol and your body’s own rate of adaptation.

However, while there is no universal and simple answer to this question, if
we take the time to break down all the factors that affect workout
absorption, you can extrapolate a fairly accurate estimation of how long it
will take to benefit from each type of workout on your training schedule.

Setting the stage

Like any analysis that involves a myriad of influencing factors, the first thing
to do is establish assumptions and control some of the influencing variables.
First, for the purpose of this in-depth breakdown, assume that you’re
implementing a thorough recovery plan, doing three things after each

(1) fueling properly;

(2) getting plenty of sleep; and

(3) stretching or massaging to reduce soreness. Certainly, you can be doing more to speed
your recovery, but this is the baseline for general workout adaptations.
Second, make an assumption about your general rate of recovery. It’s
unfortunate, but some runners have the ability to recover faster than their
peers. Everyone has that running pal who seems to bounce back from track
workouts like she didn’t even run the day before (if you don’t know someone
like this, then you’re the envy of all your running friends because you’re “that
guy”). Likewise, runners generally recover slower as they get older. Typically,
a 65-year-old is going to take longer to recover from a hard workout than a
spry runner in his mid-20s. For the sake of keeping things simple, assume
your rate of recovery is about average for a 35- to 40-year-old runner. If
you’re older or have found that you recover much faster than your running
peers, you’ll be closer to the outer numbers of the ranges presented below.
How long it will take to benefit from each type of workout
As mentioned previously, the type of workout you perform and the intensity
at which you run it will determine how quickly you see benefits. Why?
Because your cardio-respiratory, muscular and nervous systems all respond
to training at a different rate. Since each type of workout is designed to
stress a particular physiological system, the rate of adaptation will vary.
To make it simple, here is how quickly you’ll reap the benefits from each type
of workout on your training schedule:

Speed development

Speed development workouts target the nervous system and are designed to
develop the communication between your brain and your muscles. More
importantly, improvements to the nervous system allow your brain to
activate a greater percentage of muscle fibers and fire them more forcefully.
Speed development workouts aren’t the type of speed work most runners
think about. Instead of lung-busting intervals, you’re doing short, full-speed
repetitions on full recovery. Examples of speed development workouts
include explosive hill sprints, in-and-out 150s, or 200m repeats with full
recovery – the type of stuff you see sprinters do on the track.
Luckily, you can reap the benefits from a speed workout very quickly –
within a day or two. The nervous system responds quickly to new stimuli
because the growth and recovery cycle is very short – according to this study,
it’s the same principle behind an extensive warm-up that involves dynamic
stretching and strides. The nervous system responds very quickly to new
stimuli and changes.

VO2max and hill work

VO2max and hill workouts are designed to develop your anaerobic capacity,
or your ability to withstand a large amount of oxygen debt, and your
muscular system.

Breaking the speed limit in a car is illegal, and it should be illegal in running
workouts, too. In a runner’s mind faster is always better, and any run that is
longer or harder than prescribed is considered an achievement. However, if
you’re following RunnersConnect’s or your coach’s training, running faster or
longer than prescribed might actually be detrimental to your potential
success at your goal race and your long-term progression.

Each workout, recovery run and rest day in our training plans has a specific
purpose. To maximize the effectiveness of each run and to make the
absolute most out of every mile, it’s important that you adhere to pace

Here’s a quick rundown of common running workouts and why breaking the
speed limit is a bad idea:

Why running faster during tempo runs is detrimental

When you push too far beyond your lactate threshold pace, you prevent your
body from learning how to effectively clear lactic acid. Instead of becoming
more efficient by handling a moderate and consistent amount of lactate,
your body is flooded. It isn’t able to benefit from a prolonged period of
lactate clearance. By speeding up, you don’t achieve the benefits of the
workout and actually walk away from your tempo run less fit than you would
have by staying on the prescribed pace.

Why running too fast during recovery runs is detrimental

Your body does not have an infinite ability to heal itself and requires proper
rest in between hard bouts. If you run too hard on an easy day, you create
more muscle tears than you’re fixing, extending the amount of time you
need to fully recover. This can cause you to run poorly on subsequent
workouts because your muscles are still fatigued. Keeping your easy days
truly easy will promote faster recovery, allowing you to be prepared for the
next hard session and produce maximum results.

Why running too fast during speed workouts is detrimental

During VO2max workouts and speed work, you’re asking your body to push
its limits. When running near your top speed, the likelihood of injury is
increased since muscles are being contracted to their max while under
duress. Your training schedule will assign workouts that hit your VO2max to
develop speed, but keep you from going over the red line. Keeping your
speed workouts within the given pace range will reduce the risk of injury and
allow you to string together consistent training.

Our training plans are an intricate puzzle that pieces together different types
of workouts. It maximizes the available time to prepare you to have your
best performance on race day. Running faster than prescribed paces may
seem as if it’s advancing your fitness, but you are actually limiting your
progress and increasing the likelihood of getting injured. Before you step out
the door on your next run, think to yourself, “What is the purpose of my run
today?” This will ensure you stay on course and give you the confidence you
need to execute a plan as it’s prescribed, even if it means obeying the speed

Focusing on the right metrics

Analyzing metrics in the workplace is a familiar concept. Whether it is counting the visitors to a website, calculating the number of widgets sold or measuring levels of employee satisfaction, we all have metrics in our daily lives that help us prioritize and assess the progress of our work.

Running is no different.

Runners implement metrics such as the speed of their tempo runs, the length of their long runs and a variety of other quantitative measurements to help them evaluate their development and ensure that they are on target to reach their goals.
However, as many business analysts will tell you, it’s far too easy to get caught up in focusing on the wrong metrics. If you sell purple widgets, having 1 million visitors to your website is a huge accomplishment. But, if none of those visitors buy your purple widgets, it’s a useless number.

In the working world, we’re well educated and often quite aware of the
temptation and potential pitfalls of concentrating on the wrong metrics.
Businesses fail and people lose their jobs when we focus on the wrong
business metrics. Unfortunately, many runners are not aware that they are
often too concerned with the

Runners primarily get injured for two reasons:

1) Structural imbalances,  such as having one leg shorter than the other or
experiencing a severe weakness in a certain muscle group;

(2) Progressing their training volume and running speeds at a pace that their
body is not ready to handle. Or, as RunnersConnect’s Coach Jay would
technically define it, “metabolic fitness precedes structural readiness.”
Running coaches deal with both of these injury realities and often have
confronted both in their own running careers. However, this ebook will focus
on proper training progression, since structural imbalances need to be
addressed outside the training cycle, usually with the help of a good physical
therapist, podiatrist or chiropractor.

on’t be intimidated by the scientific aspect of training progression. This
issue of structure vs. metabolism simply means that a runner’s aerobic and
anaerobic fitness develops at a faster rate than his or her tendons, ligaments,
muscles and bones. To put it as simply as possible, you can hammer out a
long run or a tempo run at 8 minutes per mile (or whatever your pace is), but
your hips aren’t yet strong enough to handle the stress of the pace or volume
and your IT band becomes inflamed.

This experience is very common for runners who get recurring shin splints
when they first start running. Their aerobic fitness is allowing them to
continue to increase the distance of their runs because they no longer feel
“winded” at the end of each run; however, their shin muscles haven’t
adapted to the increased pounding caused by the longer distance, and they
quickly become injured.

A runner has two ways to combat these types of injuries: (1) continually
address the structural system during training; and (2) progress the volume
and speed work at a level the body is capable of adapting to.
To address the structural system, runners should start with a running-specific
core routine so they can identify any weak areas.

By strengthening the core and running-specific muscles, runners can “speed
up” the progress of the structural system and begin adding in longer and
faster workouts earlier in the training cycle.

Furthermore, beginner runners or those who are unable to run the volume
they desire can perform running-specific strength exercises that improve
their strength and flexibility while still providing an aerobic component. To
accomplish this, runners can perform a “circuit training” workout.
While addressing the structural aspect is important, the most critical
component is ensuring that your training plan follows a patient and planned
progression while gradually introducing running at your desired goal race
distance and race pace.

Jumping into speed work too quickly

Generic schedules often include a quick progression from easy running to
full-blown speed workouts. The transition from mainly easy aerobic runs to
any form of speed work needs to be buffered with introductory speed
dynamics, such as strides, hill sprints, steady runs and short fartleks. This
concept is especially true for beginner runners.

Furthermore, most long-time runners have heard of the training concept
known as the “base building” period. Base building refers to a portion of the
training cycle in which the runner focuses on increasing mileage and forgoes
harder workouts.

However, the traditional base building cycle contributes to most running
injuries. While slowly increasing training volume is a good thing, most
runners exit the base building cycle and introduce speed work too quickly.
They’ve gone numerous weeks, or even months, without doing any type of
speed work and expect to jump back into race pace without any

To combat this, runners need to include strides, hill sprints and even short
fartleks in their training at all times. This doesn’t mean runners have to be
laser-focused year-round, but simply adding in a few strides and hill sprints a
few times per week will go a long way toward warding off injuries.
In addition, you have to make sure that you take your easy runs slowly and
give your body a chance to recover from the stress you’re inducing.

Race-specific running

It is vital to train to the specific demands of the race. So, if you wa

For both beginners and advanced runners, how to improve running form and
technique is one of the most frequently asked questions. Unfortunately, it’s
also one of the most complex and variable components of training, both to
adequately explain and for the runner to implement. Foot strike, turnover,
paw back, knee lift: these are just a few of the terms used to describe the
multitude of muscle movements, both conscious and subconscious, that go
into every step you take. Isolating and improving these processes is difficult
and can often distract a runner from the ultimate goal – running faster,
running longer and staying injury-free.

Luckily, to get started on improving your running form, you can implement
one simple trick that will help you develop a foundation for optimal running
form and provide a building block for future improvements. So, what’s this
“secret” building block? Improving your stride rate.

What is stride rate?

Your stride rate is the number of steps you take per minute. Stride rate could
also be called your running cadence or turnover. Calculating your stride rate
is easy: simply count how many times your right foot hits the ground while
running for one minute, and then multiply by 2. This number is your stride

Why is stride rate important?

Improves your form As previously mentioned, your stride rate is a fundamental building block to establishing good form. By implementing the proper turnover rate, you increase your chances of striking the ground at the correct angle and moving
through the proper range of motion when your leg moves back, up and
Improves your running economy
Running economy is a measure of how efficiently you use energy when
running. It’s exactly like the way a car measures miles per gallon. The more
efficiently you run, the longer you can go before getting tired and the less
effort you will use to run fast. Running with the optimal stride length
maximizes your force on toe off (when your foot pushes you off the ground
to move forward) and minimizes the time you spend in the air by controlling
your stride length. These elements contribute to improving your efficiency.
Reduces your chance of injury
One of the main causes of running injuries is shock absorption, or lack
thereof. If your stride rate is too low, you will spend more time moving up in
the air, moving up and down as opposed to forward, and consequently land
on the ground with more force. With the proper stride rate, you take lighter,
quicker steps and reduce your chance of injury.

So what is the optimal stride rate?

The optimal stride rate is 180 steps per minute. That is 90 steps per minute
with each foot.
Your stride rate doesn’t change when you run faster or slower. Your stride
rate remains the same at most normal speeds (very slow jogs or all-out
sprints are exceptions). To run faster or slower, you simply change your
stride length (a function of how forcefully you push off each foot) to speed
up or slow down.

In 1984, Jack Daniels conducted a study on the stride rates of Olympic-caliber
athletes from 3,000 meters to the marathon. Daniels found that all elite longdistance
runners, male and female, had a stride rate unbelievably close to
the 180 mark. It didn’t matter if they finished first or last, or ran the 5k or the
marathon, their stride rates were almost all the same.

How to improve your stride rate

If you want to improve your stride rate, focus on developing a 180-steps-perminute
turnover during your easy runs. On easy days, you have less to think
about than tempo workouts or speed days.


Imagine you’re running on a road made of eggshells and you don’t want to
break them. Picture yourself floating over the ground quickly, with light,
purposeful steps. Focus on running over the ground, not into it.


If you run with music or a smart phone, consider installing a metronome app
that you can set to a 180 bpm range. Focus on taking one step for every click
of the metronome. You’ll quickly fall into a natural 180-stride-per-minute
rhythm and can turn off the metronome.
Likewise, music can throw off your stride rate. Many runners tend to
naturally move to the beat of the music. If you want to improv

Surprisingly, you’re not alone if you’ve ever asked yourself how to breathe

when running or solicited advice on breathing from your running partners.

It’s important for beginners to understand how they should approach the

sport from the very basics.

Some people advocate breathing in through the mouth and out through the

nose using slow breathing rhythms, and all sorts of similar nonsense. Nothing

is as frustrating as the spread of misinformation, especially when it pertains

to training topics. Therefore, let RunnersConnect help set the record straight.

Breathe through your nose or your mouth?

You should always breathe in and out primarily through your mouth. If your

nose wants to join the party and help get air in and out, that’s great.

However, when you’re running, feeding your muscles the oxygen they need

is of paramount importance, and breathing through the mouth is the most

effective way to inhale and exhale oxygen.

Breathing rhythm

Your exact breathing rhythm will depend on how hard or easy you are

running and/or the intended intensity of your workout. Breathing rhythms

refer to the number of steps you take with each foot while breathing in and

out. For example, a 2:2 rhythm would mean you take two steps (one with

your right foot and one with the left) while breathing in and two steps (again,

one with your right foot and one with your left) while breathing out.

Easy runs

Typically, you’ll find that a 3:3 rhythm (three steps – one with your left, one

with your right, one with your left – while breathing in and three more – one

with your right, one with your left, one with your right – while breathing out)

works best for warm-ups and most easy-paced days. This allows plenty of

oxygen to be inhaled through the lungs, processed and then exhaled with

relative ease.

Don’t try to force yourself into a 3:3 breathing rhythm on an easy day if it

isn’t feeling comfortable. Remember, the purpose of an easy day is to keep

your effort comfortable and to help the body recover. If a 2:2 rhythm is more

comfortable, go with it.

Breathing slower than a 3:3 rhythm is not advisable because you’re not

giving your body enough time to clear carbon dioxide. The average runner

takes about 180 steps per minute (some a little less, others a little more),

which means you take 90 steps with each foot in a one-minute span. A 3:3

rhythm enables you to take about 30 breaths per minute, ample time to

process carbon dioxide while still getting in the oxygen you need.

Moderate-paced runs

Runs harder than an easy run, but not all-out race efforts, should typically be

performed at a 2:2 ratio (two steps – one with your left, one with your right –

while breathing in, two steps – one with your left, one with your right – while

breathing out). A 2:2 breathing rhythm enables you take about 45 breaths

per minute, which is perfect for steady state, tempo runs and marathon-pace


Hard workouts and races

At the end of races or the end of a particularly hard interval session, 2:2 breathing might not cut it. In this case, you can switch to a 1:2 (one step breathing in, two steps breathing out) or 2:1 (two steps breathing in and one step breathing out) breathing rhythm. This will increase your oxygen uptake to 60 breaths per minute.

Avoid a 1:1 breathing pattern. At this rate, you’ll be taking shallow breaths and you won’t be able to inhale enough oxygen to maintain proper ventilation in the lungs.

You may not need to pay much attention to breathing rhythms at the end of races. Some runners prefer to run all out, focus on competing and let their breathing take care of itself. However, remembering breathing rhythms can be helpful to those runners who become anxious as the final meters approach.

Other good uses for breathing rhythms

While breathing rhythms can help you identify and monitor the intensity of your run, you can also use them to monitor and control other aspects of your training and racing.


Paying close attention to your breathing rhythm can help you monitor and “feel” your pace, especially on tempo runs or tempo intervals. Once you lock onto your correct goal pace for the work

Defined simply, VO2max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can

utilize during exercise. Your VO2max is the single best measure of running

fitness. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how much you like lung busting interval workouts), VO2max is not a big component of marathon training, but it is still useful, and it is important to include some VO2max

workouts and speed work in your training plan.

Training at VO2max increases the amount of oxygen your body can use.

Obviously, the more oxygen you can use, the faster you can run – that’s a

simple one. In addition, VO2max running can increase the efficiency of your

running and improve your form. Since these workouts are faster, they force you to run more efficiently and with better form so you’re able to hit the prescribed training paces.


Finally, training at VO2max also increases leg muscle strength and power,

which improves economy (how much energy it takes to run at a certain

speed). When muscles become stronger, fewer muscle cells need to contract

to hit a particular pace; thus, the energy expenditure is lower, which can

improve your fuel burning efficiency during a marathon.

In layman’s terms, the production of lactic acid (the waste product of energy

utilization) will remain relatively constant while running at an aerobic pace.

At this aerobic pace, your body recycles lactic acid back into an energy source

and efficiently expels the waste products. As you continue to run faster, the

production of lactic acid will slowly increase. At some point (usually a specific

pace per mile known as your lactate threshold), the production of lactic acid

will soar and your body will no longer be able to convert it back into energy

and expel the waste products. The lactic acid then floods into your muscles

and causes that heavy, tired and burning feeling. Ultimately, lactic acid is one

of the largest contributors to why you slow down as the race goes on.


In short, your threshold is defined as the fastest pace you can run without

generating more lactic acid than your body can utilize and reconvert back

into energy. This pace usually corresponds to a 10-mile or half-marathon race

pace. Therefore, a tempo run or threshold run is basically a workout that is

designed to have you running at just below or at your threshold pace.

But why is this important? By running just under your lactate threshold you

can begin to decrease (or improve, depending on how you look at it) the

pace at which you begin to produce too much lactic acid. For example, at the

beginning of a training plan, your threshold might be 10 minutes per mile,

which would mean you could run a half-marathon at this pace. As you do

more tempo runs, your body gets stronger, adapts to the increased

production of lactic acid and decreases this threshold pace to 9:30 per mile.

Now, since your threshold is lower, you are able to run faster with less effort,

which for the marathon means you can burn fuel more efficiently – saving it

for the crucial last 10k.

At the heart of all marathon training is the aerobic and anaerobic process. No

matter your goals or ability level, the scientific fact is that, to run, your body

needs to break down sugar and convert it to glycogen so it can be used as

energy or fuel. When the body has an adequate supply of oxygen for this

process, we call it aerobic respiration. When there is not enough oxygen, like

when you are running hard at the end of a 5k, this is called anaerobic


Aerobic Running

Aerobic running or respiration occurs when your body has sufficient oxygen –

like when you run easy miles with you friends. You breathe in, the body

efficiently uses all the oxygen it needs to power the muscles, and you exhale.

The waste products of aerobic respiration are carbon dioxide and water.

These by products are easily expelled through the simple act of breathing.

This is why your breath is carbon dioxide-rich and moist. Basically, when you

are “running aerobically,” your muscles have enough oxygen to produce all

the energy they need to perform.


Anaerobic Running


Anaerobic respiration happens when there is NOT sufficient oxygen present.

In this instance, the muscles do not have enough oxygen to create the energy

you are demanding from them (like in an all-out sprint at the finish). When

this happens, the muscles begin to break down sugar, but instead of

producing CO2 and water, your muscles produce lactic acid (that burning

feeling in your muscles at the end of a race). Unfortunately, lactic acid is

harder to remove than water and CO2. Thus, lactic acid accumulates in your

system, causing extreme fatigue.

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The importance of understanding these definitions is clear. If you begin to

run too hard in the middle of a workout or at the start of a race, your body

goes into an anaerobic state, producing lactic acid. If you “go anaerobic”

early in a race, you will feel fatigued sooner and become increasingly tired as

the race progresses. Basically, the accumulation of lactic acid pools in your

muscles and you have to slow down dramatically to get back to an aerobic

state. If you go anaerobic too early, your chance at a personal record is out

the window before the race is halfway over.

More importantly, in the marathon, running aerobically burns significantly

less energy – and a greater percentage of fat compared with carbohydrates –

than running an aerobically or below your aerobic threshold. Therefore, it is

critical for the marathon that you learn to run aerobically and train your body

to run faster while remaining above your aerobic threshold. To accomplish

this, you want to perform tempo or threshold runs.