Dear Runners,

Welcome to the first e-mail from Coach Shawn.  We will usually send these notes weekly throughout the training season and in each one we will cover a different topic about running, training or racing.  I am going to use these notes as a means to communicate several points of the science of running and training.  Since each person is different, even in the same training group, some of the information in any given week may be more of less applicable to your individual running scenario. 

Also, at the end of each note, I try to include a YouTube video about running. 

So now…on to our first topic. 

The Training Plan

Most runners know that there is a method behind the madness of setting up training plans but that method may be elusive.

To start, you should know that physical training is based on a principle called progressive overload and recovery.  That is to say, we overload the body by running a longer distance or a faster pace.  This overload breaks down the body by reducing energy stores and introducing tears in muscles and tissues.  However, when we give the body time to recover then it adapts and becomes trained to a new, higher, level.  If we neglect the recovery periods the overload effect can accumulate and lead to injury. 

This progression takes time and needs to be done consistently for the body to fully adjust.  In fact, it takes the body about 6 weeks to fully train to each incremental step up in mileage, although some systems take more or less time. 

On a similar note, the same process that allows the body to become trained also works in reverse and allows the body to become detrained.  That is why people run slower after being off for several weeks.  The body simply becomes trained to the lower level of fitness. 

Let’s take a few minutes and look at some definitions and rules that are important to training plans. 

Base – the base is the cumulative miles a runner runs in a week.  So if you run 4 times per week for 5 miles each run then your base is 20 miles (4 runs x 5 miles = 20 miles/week).  You shouldn’t increase your weekly base by more than 10% each week.  So if you ran 20 total miles this week, next week you should not run more than 22 total miles.  Increasing by more than 10% weekly can lead to injury. 

Long runs – The long run is exactly what the name says, it is the longest run you perform in a week.  You want the long run to be about 50% or less of your weekly base.  Thirty to 40% of weekly base is even better.  You only want to do one long run a week and every 2 or 3 weeks you should back your long run down for one week to give your body additional time to recover. Long runs are considered very hard on the body and need to be performed with the appropriate recovery days following.

Easy runs – the easy run is one of the most underappreciated types of runs and many runners try to skip these because they are shorter than other runs and are typically slower.  However, these are important runs because they keep your base high and ensure that your other types of runs don’t dominate your mileage and cause problems. 

Hard runs, Semi-Hard runs, and Daily runs – these comprise the bulk of a runners mileage as there are typically 1 or 2 such runs every week and they are middle mileage runs. 

Rest days – you guessed it, rest days are days where you rest and do not run.  It is really important to take rest days after very hard efforts like say a 12 mile long run.  Remember progressive overload and recovery from before?  Rest days are the primary tool for incorporating recovery into your schedule. 

Speedwork – there are several types of speed work runs including tempo runs, intervals, fartleks and more.  These runs are incorporated later in the training plan and are designed to help you run faster.  Speedwork is hard on the body and needs to be followed by rest.  Also, speedwork should encompass no more than 10% to 20% of your total mileage.  So if you are running 20 miles weekly you should keep your speedwork at or under 2 total miles. 

Now that we have some definitions let’s talk about the bigger picture with training plans.  Most training plans for runners consist of four parts called mesocycles as follows:

  • Basebuilding – designed to increase endurance, improve recovery, and simulate race duration effort.  Mostly done in the beginning.
  • Sharpening – designed to increase the speed of the runner.  This cycle is often combined with the basebuilding in the later parts of the basebuilding cycle.  Sharpening is also used to adapt the body to race specific conditions like terrain, time of day, and environment. 
  • Taper – this is a period of extended reduced mileage immediately before the big race to rest the muscles, maximize fuel stores, and prepare mentally for the race.
  • Recovery – a period of reduced but increasing mileage after a race designed to get the runner’s base built back up.  This time is designed to replenish fuel stores, repair tissue and provide a mental break from training and racing  Recovery is often neglected in a runners training but when done correctly can get you back to running more quickly than an unstructured program. 

When a training program is put together it needs to balance several goals including increasing total mileage and distance of long run as well as increasing running speed.  If you look at the training plan for this program, you will notice a few training principles in action including:

  • Every long run is followed by a rest day. 
  • All runs are followed by a rest day or an easy day
  • Speedwork is added only after the base begins to develop
  • Base mileage and long runs increase at about 10% weekly
  • After a period of weeks the total mileage is reduced for one week to give the body additional time to recover
  • The mileage in the 2 weeks before the half mini marathon is reduced (tapered) to allow the body to be rested and in top condition for the race. 

Even though this is a long note, there are a lot of details like specificity and microcycles that were skipped in the interest of time.  However, the next time you look at your training plan hopefully you will have a better understanding of the purpose of the different runs and how they are structured.  If you have any questions about this note please feel free to reach out to any of the coaches or any of the awesome staff from Fleet Feet.

Oh, and let’s not forget the video.  This video is titled “Inspirational Running Video” and is a great reflection of how training is supposed to work…”small determined steps over time, creating who you are, who do you want to be and what are you willing to do to become that person?”  It’s good stuff.  Enjoy: 

Run well…


Shawn Herbig is an RRCA Certified Running Coach.  In his day job he owns a market research and data analytics firm called IQS Research. 

© 2013 Shawn Herbig