It’s been a few weeks since I’ve really committed myself to a hard week of training. Yes, there have been some good runs, and some particularly hilly and interesting ones at that, but in general I’ve been taking it pretty easy in preparation for the restart of team sessions and, possibly (although I think it is doubtful considering the recent coronavirus spikes), some racing in the autumn.
The time to pick things up again is now, and I thought I might write a little about what my running routine looks like. This routine is important to me because I believe it has given me what I sorely needed when I was a younger runner, something that is perhaps the single most important factor when it comes to developing endurance: consistency.
The main difference between a casual week and a more focused week is planning. During my three weeks off from sessions I didn’t really think too hard about what I wanted to do. It was a case of do a few miles here, a few miles there, and make sure I hit a couple of days in the gym to hit the muscle groups that I know need work. A focused week isn’t really that much more mileage, and it’s only more effort on or two more days a week, it’s the planning that really sets it apart.
On a Sunday I sit and plan my week out on a whiteboard. I give myself extremely simple instructions: EASY, SPEED, HILLS, LONG, and GYM (and probably some signifier about what exactly the gym sessions should be attacking). With this instruction comes a distance, always rounded. The routes I can take out of my door to the road, or out to the woods, are rarely nice round numbers, and they don’t need to be. It’s about time on legs, and effort spent. My legs don’t really know the difference between 6 and 7 miles, so I don’t get caught up in my exact mileage.
I try and think in rough blocks of miles when it comes to a weeks total mileage: 30-35, 40ish, 45 or over, under 50…etc. I do this because there is little point in killing yourself over these pointless incrementations. My body knows when I’m working hard, or when I’m taking it easy, and I have to listen to what my body says. If I need to drop a day’s training in mileage or effort, I leave the room to do that, and if I do I still have the potential to achieve what I set out to achieve at the start of the week, because that target is never wrapped up in deathly specific metrics which require 100% compliance day in, day out.
When it comes to the speed workouts, I leave the specifics up to my coach, who posts three sessions a week (for Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday). He doesn’t expect everyone to do every session every week, so I take my pick of which workout is most appropriate for where I am with my training. I always accompany these speed sessions with strides and drills, to improve my conditioning, and when possible I double up with a gym session. It can be tough going (also note I prefer to run before a gym workout, not vice versa) but I do this to really ensure that my hard days are truly hard, and that my easy days can be really easy.
Easy days are determined by effort, not speed. These are the most plentiful session on the whiteboard. I switch my watch face to operate only as a watch, and usually listen to an album or a podcast on the way around. I’m not a slave to any pace, which is to say I’m not trying to run faster, or slower, than any set marker. If it feels easy, it’s easy. Some days this is actually more of a steady pace (think 7:00-7:20), but some days it might be significantly slower than that (think 8:00+).
Hills and long runs are pretty free form. Sometimes a hill run will be steady on rolling hills in the woods, or sometimes it might be an extra set of intervals up a road hill. Long runs are 90 mins or more of running. Exactly what the pace of that run is depends on where I am in my training block. Six weeks out from a race I’ll be running them with at least some miles put in at half marathon or marathon pace, but earlier in a block, or very late and close to the race, it’ll be an easier effort stretched out for the ninety minutes rather than the 40-60 mins my usual easy runs are.
I do like to factor in TEMPO runs and FARTLEK’s, but these will usually take place as an easier speed session, or on the hills, in which case I’ll factor it under hill work.
With all this in place I can fall out of bed, see the number on the whiteboard, note the effort, and get to it without really thinking too much about exactly whether or not I want to do it. Every runner will meet people in their lives who question how or why they do what they do, especially if they get up early in the morning to do it. The truth is that when it comes to answering that question…I don’t really know how I do it, because most of the time it just happens. By writing down what I want to do, and still leaving myself room to breathe, I’ve managed to create a consistency which is self-perpetuating.
I run every day, because I run every day.