Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Runday: Training Schedules 101

Welcome to Sunday Runday!  This presents what I hope will be a weekly series of posts relating to running and race training, all leading up to our group race day (see here).

This week's post:  Training Schedules 101

Now, I am, by no means, an expert in health or fitness.  In fact, one of my New Year's resolutions this year was to purposefully exercise once a week because sometimes I go (quite a bit) longer than that without moving.  But I present some basic compilations of information in this post, and invite you to please share your own knowledge/experience with race training!

The Basic Idea of Training

Following a training plan allows you to gently teach your body to run a particular distance (perhaps at a particularly speed).  Following a training schedule may minimize your chance of becoming injured while running.

The Elements of a Training Schedule

Most training schedules are relatively formulaic and contain several key elements:

  1. Regular Runs:  You'll run two or three times a week for distances that are significantly less than your ultimate race goal.  (If you're following Hal Higdon's great novice 8K plan, you'll have two regular weekly runs.)  For beginners, speed is less of an issue on regular runs.  (More advanced runners may add a few "speed training" sessions to their schedule.)  Beginners should run these distances at a comfortable pace.  You don't need to worry about the speed at which you want to actually run the race for these runs (your "race pace"); it's okay if you're running a bit slower than your goal here.

  2. Long Runs:  You will have one long run each week.  The long run helps you get close to your eventual race distance.  For those who are working towards a new long distance, these runs will assist in pushing your body to its limits and training your muscles to recover.

  3. Cross Training:  "Cross" refers to some kind of aerobic activity that is NOT running.  Do something you like---it could be swimming, biking, playing a team sport, or you could just pop on the elliptical. Cross training is important both in improving your overall level of fitness and also in developing your muscles while varying the movement of your activity.  You are resting the precise muscle groups that you use while running, but still improving the condition of your heart.  I like doing the 30 Day Shred on cross-training days because it helps build substantial core strength, which in turn helps me run faster and stronger.

  4. Rest:  Rest days are vitally important to the training process.  You are working your muscles hard when following a training plan, and rest days allow your muscles to recover so that they are ready to work again.  You'll probably notice that your runs feel better after you've had a day or two off from running.
One of the keys to following a training schedule is to make sure to listen to your own body.  If you're injured or otherwise in pain, don't force yourself to do a particular exercise.  (Note: this physical pain is different from the existential pain we all feel upon hearing the alarm clock go off at x:30 am.)  If your muscles are hurting too much to run, but you're comfortable on the elliptical, then replace your run with elliptical training.  

If you have to take a rest day (or more than a rest day), then do it.  The whole point of training is to avoid injuries, so if you find yourself exacerbating them, then something is wrong.

What are your training tips?  How do you make your training schedule fit with your daily life?

For those who are interested in joining in the fun, click here for more information about running a race in March!  (For those in D.C., we'll be running a St. Patrick's Day 8k on March 11.)

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