Workout Types for Minimal Mileage Programs – What works best?

Merv asks about what workouts might be best on a rather minimalistic training program.

I just started runnning in April this year and completed a 10K in June (47:58) and did a half marathon at the start of September (1:35:59). I’m really enjoying it and have been devouring everything I can from various sources about how to get my training together. I’ve read various articles about focusing on quality workouts rather than ‘just doing the mileage’.

I really like this approach, because my knee has been a bit dicky and it suits me to do 3 quality workouts/week with 48/72 hours recovery in between, rather than running 4 or 5 workouts per week of less quality and less recovery time (it also suits my work/life balance).

So at the moment my winter plan is a tempo, a speed or hill workout and a long run per week. I had been intending to keep this up as until about January when I will start a training phase for a marathon in late May. However, I’ve saw you mention a couple of times about the recovery required from long runs and to only do them every 2-3 weeks, so what should I replace them with?

I like my hill workouts, so would it be a good idea to do a speed workout and a hill workout in the same week? My main focus is getting my speed up, so that when I start my marathon training I can, hopefully, benefit from a good fast base which will enhance all the workouts that I do then.

Under a rather minimalistic approach to running each run carries with it more importance. Using sound training principles based in the research you can still do wonderful things with consistent yet sparse training. Consistency though is critical; you won’t have many miles to fall back on for conditioning. Your emphasis on gaining speed is right on. With your speed development, all paces will be dragged upwards with your max speed. Also, all slower paces will feel comparatively easier. Of course, with this approach it also means – no garbage miles.

Let me address several points you point out. First – long run recovery. Long is certainly a relative term, but for marathoners think about the two-hour range as a run which would require extended recover. The 2-3 week quote is on runs in the 20 mile range. Muscle cell damage has been seen as much as 3 weeks after these very long runs. Thus, for racing purposes – marathon race day – in order to be fully recovered, you should plan on 2-3 week taper. For training purposes, since we don’t typically run full marathons in training, those longer runs simulate the rigors of the full marathon by being done in the context of a training schedule – without tapers. But, some recovery is needed to avoid excessive break down.

So, alternating one week with a long run (15-22 miles) with a long run which is run at your goal pace (8-15 miles) is a good pattern to repeat for most runners. You can do the “long” long run every third week once you get up to that 20 mile range. If you are a veteran runner or exceptionally strong you could do them every other week.

Hill workouts are ideal for strength development. Hill workouts alone do not make you faster but allow you to develop strength which can be translated into faster paces by then doing speed work. So, keep the hills during the winter. You can do a quality run or speed workout every other week. With rest days, there is no reason why you can’t do both in the same week – every other week.

I would alternate a tempo run (remember that pace is between your 10k-15k RACE pace – and only for about 25 minutes at a time) with your eventual marathon goal race pace. Either of these runs could be about 6 miles. The tempo run would be 1-2 miles warm up, 3 miles @ tempo pace, then mile cool down. The goal paced run would be run entirely at your goal pace. It is critical that you become efficient at your goal pace and a great way to do that is running at that pace. In small chunks… it adds up.

Keep variety in your running over these next months. I would also advise you to race shorter distances during this time. It is excellent as a quality workout, good for mental toughness development and motivation as short term goals.

And so that you know, I have used this minimalistic approach with myself as with a number of other runners with great success. It is perfect for the busy professional. I even have a coaching service specifically tailored to these clients called the Executive Athlete.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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One Response to Workout Types for Minimal Mileage Programs – What works best?

  1. Merv says:

    Hi Dean

    Thanks for the advice, I thoroughly appreciate it, it’s given me a few things to think about. I hadn’t considered using goal pace runs, especially for a *short* long run; a lot of the time during long runs I’ve felt like I’m holding back on the pace because the aim of the workout is primarily endurance. Upping the pace on these should give them a twofold benefit. I’m not doing any more than 12/13 miles in a long run at the moment, so you’ve cleared up my confusion about the recovery aspect, but I’ll certainly take what you say into account when I do start upping the mileage.

    I saw the plug for your book on your latest post, I’ll be keeping my eye out for it 🙂

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