Finding Success with a Fall Running Program

Triathletes running on a country road
December 14, 2016

D3 Staff


September marks the transition to fall for most people, bringing kids starting school, cooler days, and the winding down of the summer triathlon race season. Often, we're left feeling a little shortchanged by the end of summer or the race season, feeling like we still have something left to prove. Sometimes we feel exhausted and thankful that we're done, but most athletes end up asking, "WHAT'S NEXT?"

This often becomes the time when many race-addicted athletes start planning a fall or winter running training and racing off-season. Maybe it's getting a little too cool to swim in open water, and perhaps it's getting dark a little too early for that long after-work bike ride. But now that it's a little cooler, it's perfect running weather! Maybe you really want to try your first half marathon in this "off-season," or perhaps you want to work on your run for next season's triathlons. Either way, starting a training program to focus on running for a bit might be just the thing to do next.

But will "just" running get boring? One of the best ways to improve running speed and performance and to break up a stale running schedule is to include in your training at least three different types of run workouts: endurance or over-distance, tempo, and intervals. And the intervals can vary a whole lot from hill repeat intervals to speed intervals. Although most of your run workouts may focus on building endurance, spicing up your routine with these key workouts as part of your regular training will teach your body variety, get you out of your comfort zone (necessary for improvement), and help you shave some time off that next race. Plus, you might actually ENJOY some of these workouts.

When you're looking at any run training program, don't just look at the time or distance of the run prescribed. READ the fine print and get the maximum benefit of the workouts. One of the most common things I see coaching runners is that they say, "Yes, I followed the program." They did the time and the mileage, but sometimes they don't follow the intervals and the INTENT of the workout. So next time you're looking at a running plan, look for the INTENT of the workouts and make sure you understand that before you go on with it.

So, what is the intent of the workout? Many people might think that running faster simply means training harder or training more. This isn't necessarily the case. There are several components to running performance, and if we work on only ONE of them, we might be leaving a whole lot on the table to be gained. To get a more complete picture, we want to look at cardiovascular fitness (base endurance), aerobic capacity, lactate threshold, anaerobic capacity, speed skills, muscular strength and endurance, and overall running economy. A good run training program will incorporate runs that work on at least a few of these areas to improve your running.

The key is to follow EACH workout's intent. I coach many athletes who will ignore one type of run or another. When I prescribe an EASY run, it is to develop the cardiovascular system, not to work on aerobic endurance or intensive endurance. When I prescribe tempo intervals, it is to work on intensive endurance and try to raise the threshold, not simply to get in base mileage. So next time you're looking at a running program, REALLY look at what it has to offer. And then really follow the intent of each workout. You may find more success if you're following the path.

So "what's next?" Maybe this fall, embrace the run season and embrace a new run program that can keep you interested AND help you improve.

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