Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By that definition, most recreational runners are truly bananas, plodding along the same route at the same pace day after day with expectations of a slimmer waist, a faster 10K, a stronger heart, or a body that scoffs at very the idea of injury. But the reality is often quite different, especially where injury is concerned. Indeed, such aerobic OCD is more likely to find you among the 40 to 50 percent of runners who land on the disabled list each year. All of that repetitive pounding has its price.
Fortunately, the fix is simple: Mix up your training. By weaving the five workouts below into your training plan, you’ll improve your odds of achieving all of the results mentioned above. Skinny jeans? Check. Sub 40-minute 10K? Check. Runner’s knee and plantar fasciitis? Not in your body. Not anymore.
“Each run serves a different purpose and together they build endurance, speed, strength, and mental toughness,” explains Jenni Nettik, a Denver-based coach and owner of Mercuria Running. “Mixing up your training also helps keep things interesting and challenging.”
That last part is key when it comes to exercise adherence, which is arguably the most important training variable of them all. Without consistency, you’ll never achieve your goal. But before you can worry about achieving your goal, you need to figure out what it is. So let’s start there.
STEP 1: Determine Your End Game
Maybe you want to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Perhaps you simply want to give the couch-to-5K thing a try. Or maybe your objective is much simpler: Shaving a few inches from your waist and a few points from your blood pressure reading.
“Training is all about figuring out your goal and working backwards from it,” said Nettik. “A program should have intentional peaks and recoveries throughout the training cycle so that you have the needed endurance, speed, and mental toughness to perform your best on race day.”
What follows are plans for achieving two of the most common goals: Weight loss and a personal best in a race. Both are based on a four-month training cycle, which allows for the peaks and recoveries mentioned by Nettik. But keep in mind that no one plan is perfect for everyone. “What works for you might not for your training partner,” says Kristy Campbell, a Road Runners Club of America certified coach and founder of Run the Long Road Coaching, in Philadelphia. “Some can handle more mileage than others, and some recover better than others. Every runner is an experiment of one. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.
If your goal is to lose weight and generally improve fitness:
During the first month, do three to four easy runs and one long run per week, increasing the distance of the long run weekly. You can also switch out one of those easy runs for a cross-training activity like swimming, rowing, or bicycling to reduce the impact on your joints as you round into shape. During weeks five to eight, swap out one of your easy runs for hill repeats or a tempo run each week, alternating between the two from week to week (if you do hill repeats one week, do a tempo run the next).
During the final two months of your training cycle, drop the hill repeats from your training program, and start doing a tempo run and an interval session each week in addition to the easy and long runs.