It can be more practical and psychologically beneficial to focus on the duration rather than the distance covered during a training session .
Two runners arrive at a training session. Athlete A can run seven minute mile pace quite comfortably at this stage, whilst Athlete B currently trains at about ten minute mile pace. The coach sends them out for a six mile run and suggests they each run at about 80% effort. They set off and Athlete A duly arrives back at the base having worked moderately hard for a little over forty minutes, whilst Athlete B returns after working at the same intensity for an hour. Have they had the same workout? Not really.
Instead, if the coach had asked them to each to run for, say, fifty minutes at 80% effort, then we could expect a similar training effect and recovery time. Of course, if athlete B wants to complete a marathon, then they will eventually have to cover over 26 miles, but they can work towards this gradually, perhaps taking in 5k, 10k, 10 mile and half-marathon races before going for the big one. And at any stage they can say, you know what, I don’t think that the marathon is for me at the moment and I think I’ll stick with races up to, say, 10 miles for now.
Psychologically, I believe that running for a set time is usually easier to handle. It doesn’t matter how strong you feel on a particular day, as there is no reason why the workout should be any easier or tougher providing you just aim to put in a given level of effort for a specific time. When you feel dreadful, you might not cover as much ground as you would otherwise, but if you have taken on board the principle of running for a set time, then that won’t matter to you. And when you say to yourself ‘When is this going to end?’ you simply reply to yourself ‘in exactly 32 minutes and 25 seconds’. If your mental arithmatic isn’t that great, wait until your stopwatch comes up to a round number such as 5:00, 10:00 or 15:00 minutes before asking this question.
Running for at time and fat burning
There can be little doubt that running is one of the best ways of losing weight and getting rid of body fat, even in comparison to other excellent aerobic activities such as cycling and swimming. But training your body to burn fat is also important for performance, especially in very long events such as marathons and ultra-marathons. This is because our natural fat stores provide us with a more efficient and longer lasting energy source. So if you can train your body to be a more effective fat burner, you should be able to maintain your energy levels for longer on the big day and hopefully avoid hitting the dreaded marathon ‘wall’ (right).
So how can we become better fat burners?
Diet clearly has a part to play in fat burning, and I will be looking into this in later posts, but the way you train is probably the most important factor. The good news is that fat burning capacity is best developed by running slowly and well within your capacity. The less good news is that you need do this for prolonged periods of time to really benefit, though if you enjoy being out running then that is not actually a bad thing at all! This is more likely to be the case if you can run with a training partner or in a group, with the obvious social benefits making the whole thing fly by. And natural pace control is available, since an inability to talk comfortably means you are going too fast.
How do I plan a route for a time?
Its easy to run for a fixed time on a treadmill, or doing laps around the local park, but most of us prefer to do our steady runs around a single long circuit, preferably in pleasant countryside. A bit of trial and error is required here, but you’ll soon get a feel for how long it usually takes for you to get around a particular circuit. I always take my wrist stopwatch on my runs, but make sure you avoid the temptation to treat each run as a time trial. You can always run around the block a couple of times if you arrive home early, or walk the last bit if the route takes longer than you had planned. Try not to be too OCD about it, but its important that you gradually increase the amount of time you spend running, so try to ensure that you stick fairly close to your plan on each training session.