I started running so I could be better at Obstacle Course Racing. I realized early on that to beat the guy in front of me I needed to be faster and have better endurance than him. Crossfit alone won’t get you there. Sport specific training will get you there and OCR is 90% running.
I learned all this amazing stuff in 2014 and began to train like a runner. I’m too stubborn to hire a coach, so I hit the books, studied up, and executed.
Here’s how I did it and you can too:
Building base mileage/making a foundation
You need to start from the bottom and build a foundation. This means a lot of running and running consistently. Some people think that consistently means 1-2x a week. No, consistency to me means 4x-7x a week. The only way to get better at something is to do it more. After work, run for 30-40 minutes before dinner or throw in a run before or after your regular workout.
Don’t worry about speed work because you’ll only get hurt. Going out fast without a good foundation is how you get shin splints. I did this and got a shin splint, go fucking figure. You just want to get as much time on your feet as possible to strengthen them up and the slower you run, the more time you get on your feet, and the better base you build.
Why? Well, aerobic conditioning improves the function of slow twitch muscle fibers and increases blood volume, therefore increasing the amount of oxygen available to your muscles. So everything in your lower body is becoming bigger and more efficient.
A good visual to describe this is: Imagine you’re a tree and running grows roots. The more you run the more roots you grow. The more roots you grow the more energy you can consume and the stronger you become.
More running = more roots
How? = Run consistently and keep this up the rest of your life, or until the race you are training for. Gradually build mileage. Example:
Week 1 = run 3 miles 5 days a week.
Week 2 = run 4 miles 4 days a week. Throw in a 90 minute long run day 5.
Be creative, your body is your project, just keep adding up the mileage.
Do one long run a week. Aim for a 60-90 minute long run at first then build that long run up to 90-120 minutes. Eventually you’ll running 200+ minute long runs or a marathon a week. Boom, you’re a big tree!
An easy way to build a base is to make running easier and more enjoyable. You don’t have to lace up and charge your phone for every run. It shouldn’t be a big thing. Put on some shorts and run around the block, explore a new area, or go high and find a viewpoint.
I travel a lot and whenever I get to a new destination I drop my bags and go for an easy run to scope things out. During this time I orientate myself on the location and search for a place to get food and drink later.
If you don’t travel have your significant other drive the car home from the grocery store and run back. Or if you need to motivate someone to run drive away and ditch them. Get a quick 20 minutes in before dinner. Don’t think “oh I need to change, warm up, run, cool down, then take a shower, I don’t have time”. Don’t be a sissy runner. Drop your shit, put on running shoes, and go out for a jog. When you get back walk straight to the table and eat with your hands. Be a man. You can stretch and clean yourself later.
The hardest run to motivate yourself for is the long run. Knowingly going out and running for 2+ hours is hard to swallow. Easiest way to get out there is to find a new area to explore. Look for a trail on the internet or go run around a new part of town. Don’t overthink nutrition cause this can psyche you out, just grab a bottle of water and a few gels which will easily get you past the 2 hour mark.
RUN CONSISTENTLY to build a base. Base building and maintenance is a never ending project. It takes months to build and years of consistency to make stronger. Becoming a good runner is not like taking on a diet. It is a permanent lifestyle change.
Obviously you can’t keep running flat roads forever and expect to become a good mountain runner and OCR athlete.
Building strength in the legs and hips
“Hills are speedwork in disguise” – Frank Shorter
Since you can’t run fast yet because you’ll hurt yourself. The next step is to feed that need for speed by running up hills.
Why?…Because running up a hill increases strength, running cadence, and aerobic capacity. It also reduces impact, therefore reducing injury.
When you run up a hill you have to lift your leg higher to take the next step and propel yourself to be high enough to take the step after that. This builds strength and power. It also means that your foot hits the ground higher in your stride reducing the impact. It’s easier on the joints but hell on the heart and lungs.
In order to avoid walking you need to shorten your strides and pick up the tempo, this increases running cadence meaning you are taking more steps every minute. The more steps you take, the more propulsion you have, the faster you run.
“Hills are speedwork in disguise”….makes sense now.
How?….start including hills in your weekly runs. Best way to start hill work is to find a small hill that you can run “all the way” up without stopping and do hill intervals. Run up at a steady pace, turn around, jog down, and repeat.
Once that hill becomes easy, find bigger and steeper hills. Eventually you’ll graduate to mountains and you’ll be running up trails that you used to curse at while you were hiking.
Now that you have a solid aerobic base, hill climbing strength, and can run for hours at a time. It is time to incorporate speed work.
Incorporating Speed work
Fine tuning the machine
“Why should I practice running slow? I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast.” – Emil Zatopek
*First take note: speed work is dangerous. Go out too fast and you could get an injury. I wouldn’t start doing speed work until you’ve been base building and training hills for 2-3 months.
Best way to start is with Fartleks (Swedish for speed play). To run a fartlek go on your regular training run and after a 10-15 minute warm up start picking objects to sprint to. In the beginning keep the sprints down to 15-20 seconds and take a long recovery. This is still the beginning and you shouldn’t go out too hard.
Once fartleks become regular you can step up the game and begin to extend the speed and reduce the recovery. Try 10-20 rounds of 1 minute hard and 1 minute easy.
*Remember to always warm up (10-15 minutes) and cool down (10-15 minutes) after speed sessions.
Next step is to start working through all your gears. Imagine you’re a bike and during a race on a bike you need to use different gears depending on if you’re going uphill or down, or gunning for a pass or slowing down to a steady pace. Same thing happens during a race when you are running. Time to work those gears.
A way to do this is to do speed work at different intervals during a run. I like to do this like a pyramid. So first sprint is 200m, recover for 100m, sprint is 400m, recover for 200m, sprint 800m, recover for 400m, sprint 1000m, recover for 500m, sprint for 1600m (1 mile), recover for 800m. Then descend back down. This is a great workout and a great training run in preparation for a 5k.
Speed work is the best part of training, get creative with your speed workouts. This keeps running exciting and your mind engaged.
Training for the race
Now that you’ve built a foundation, strengthened it with hill climbs, and become more sexy with speed work, it is time to fine tune the machine for a race.
How? The best way to do this is to train “speed endurance” for the length of the race you want to run. Say it’s a 5k. Go out and run a time trial and find your 5k time. Not happy? Good, time to work on that.
To train speed endurance pick a time you want to run your 5k in. Now do some math to figure out how fast you need to run each mile to get that time. Now go out and run that pace for 800m with 200m rest afterwards. Do this 5 times. You just ran a 5k and put in 4k of work at the pace you want to run your next 5k in. Make sense? If you can’t carry that pace for 800m then reduce the interval to 400m with 100m recovery and so forth.
Now as this gets easier you can up to the rounds to 6 or 8 or 10. Before you know it you’ll be running a 10k at the pace you wanted to run your 5k. Life is awesome.
Be creative with your ratio’s. Planning the workout is the best part. Executing is a different story.
Reducing mileage prior to a race to let the body soak up the training
Reduce mileage by 70% 2 weeks out and 50% 1 week out.
Cut out your long runs 2 weeks prior and hill work 1 week prior.
Week leading to race keep runs short but intense. Do strides in between jogging recovery. Rest, eat, and prepare mentally for the race.
So a little recap:
Step 1: Build aerobic capacity and endurance by running often.
Step 2: Build strength by running hills
Step 3: Incorporate speed work to get faster
Step 4: Sharpen your skills by running race specific training sessions
Step 5: Taper
Steps 1&2 are year round and forever.
Steps 3-5 go into the training phase leading to a race.