Running Guide For Busy People
If you have ever dedicated yourself to training for a marathon while working a full time job or caring for your family, you are likely familiar with the exhausting grind of running every day, often early in the morning or late at night, and having little time for anything else. Alternatively, if you are a person with a tight schedule, you may be deterred from training for a race due to your inability to put forth hours upon hours of weekly training. Fortunately, there is hope for busy people who want to race while running minimally.
Is High Mileage Necessary?
The accepted belief in running is that more is always better, especially in terms of mileage. However, with more mileage also come more incidences of injury, burnout, fatigue, and overtraining. In fact, a number of coaches advocate for lower mileage running, most notably running guru Hal Higdon. However, his programs are backed less by science and more by experience.
Instead, a science-backed training program, pioneered by two runners with degrees in physical education and exercise physiology, has been developed that proves less can be more. The Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) studied runners in 2003 and 2004 using a 3-day running program. After the preliminary test in 2003 showed promising results (i.e. improved VO2 max and lactate threshold), a larger study was proposed. Here, 25 marathoners committed to training using a 16 week, 3-day, high-intensity marathon program that culminated in the Kiawah Marathon. Of the 25 initial participants, 21 made it to the starting line, 15 runners set personal bests, all 21 participants finished the race, and four of the six runners who did not PR ran faster than their most recent marathon.
Principles for Efficient Training
At this point, the results may sound too good to be true: run less, but perform better? In reality, there are a number of components that go into running on a limited schedule.
Quality over Quantity
The most important variable in training only three days a week, as opposed to six or seven, is to make each run count. The FIRST training plan incorporated three highly specific workouts per week: an up-tempo long run, a tempo run, and a speed workout. When maximizing running workouts, each effort should be hard.
When limiting the number of runs and workouts you are putting in each week, it is important to add as much variety as possible in order to stress the body in different ways. While a traditional marathoner may be able to get away with doing the same tempo loop week in and week out, a limited mileage runner should focus on incorporating hills, intervals, fartleks, tempos, and progression runs into his or her rotation.
Whereas many marathon programs tout the slow, long run, when only training a few days per week, it is important to increase speed on the 12–20 milers. Instead of running 90–120 seconds slower per mile than marathon pace, as some training plans call for, the FIRST program, for instance, recommends performing long runs 40–60 seconds slower per mile than 10k pace. For a 4:00:00 marathoner, this would be the difference between running long runs at 9:30 pace instead of 10:30 pace. A faster pace is intended to make the run more difficult to increase the aerobic benefit without making it impossible.
For some busy people, it may not be feasible to go for a 60-minute run, but hitting the gym for a quick bike ride or rowing session can have major aerobic benefits – so long as sessions are kept short and hard. For instance, a 30-minute ride on a stationary bike at 20 mph is worth more than a 60-minute ride at 12 mph.
Sample Workouts and Training Weeks
The beauty of the 3-day-a-week running program is that training can occur over the same period of time (typically 16 weeks) as other training cycles. Listed below are sample running workouts, as well as sample weeks that a busy runner may perform during a training cycle.
A great workout-in-disguise is the progression run, in which a runner continually increases speed throughout the run. For instance, a common progression run is 6–8 miles where each mile is 10–15 seconds faster than the previous mile.
Tempos are the cornerstone of most marathon training programs and can be incorporated in a number of ways. A common tempo is 8 miles at marathon pace; however, if you are pressed for time, running 4 miles at half marathon pace is a good substitute – just be sure to run at least one mile for warm up and cool down.
A fartlek, which is a Swedish word meaning “speed play,” is a great way to incorporate speed, endurance, and strength all into one workout. During a fartlek, periods of fast and slow running are alternated in order to stress multiple systems of the body. Common fartleks include 4 miles alternating 3:00 at 10k pace with 2:00 recovery, or 20 minutes alternating 2:00 at 5k pace with 1:00 recovery. Again, a short warm up and cool down should be completed.
The secret to efficient running is to have more efficient form, which often is only gained through running high mileage and high intensity workouts. One way to short cut this process is by incorporating strides and form drills at the end of workouts. Strides, which are 100m sprint bursts, help a runner increase cadence while building functional strength for fast running. Form drills, such as A-skip, B-skip, C-skip, and high knees help build muscle memory required for proper turnover.
Like fartleks, hill repeats are a multifunctional workout that build speed, strength, power, and turnover. Find a hill that is 200- 400m long and try to get to the top as quickly as possible while maintaining good form.
Finally, intervals (also called repeats) are a great way to quickly improve aerobic and anaerobic capacities. Short speed sessions (200–600 m) can be performed at half marathon pace or below, while longer sessions (800m–1600m) are often performed at marathon pace.
Monday: 6-mile progression run
Saturday: 10 miles 40–60 seconds slower than 10k pace
Monday: 5 x mile at marathon pace
Wednesday: 8 x hill repeat
Saturday: 16 miles 40–60 seconds slower than 10k pace
Monday: 8-mile tempo at marathon pace
Wednesday: 8 x 400 m at 5k pace
Saturday: 20 miles 40–60 seconds slower than 10k pace
If you wish you could keep a regular running routine, know that’s possible even with your busy schedule. Between family, work, friends and the countless errands and obligations we often juggle, it’s quite hard to find enough time for a run. It does not have to be that way, and all you need to do is build a simple and consistent running routine that will easily help you reach your running goals.
Don’t brush it off until the next day. Don’t blame it on an excuse. All of these are creating the perfect environment for running inconsistency. Start now and make real, lasting improvements as a runner.