Wise Running

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run.

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The Pieces of the Running Puzzle

The following is an excerpt from my new book, Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life, which is scheduled to be released in August 2013.


Going out for a run is good enough if your goal is to run. If your goal is to run over one mile quickly, however, there is a lot more to it. In the old days, they just worried about two things: speed and endurance. This, too, is oversimplified. The goal of this chapter is to give you an overview of what you really need to know in order to make informed decisions about training for any distance from a mile to a marathon.

The following framework is offered as a way to think about your training. There are much more technical ways of looking at running. Later in this book I have included a list of suggested readings if you want to know more of the details. In my own thinking, however, this is as complex it needs to be for effective training. I think about it in these three categories:

  1. Raw Speed & Power
  2. Short-Term Endurance
  3. Long term Endurance

Here is a brief description of each:

Raw Speed & Power

Raw speed and power is just as it sounds. Go out to a track and run 50 or 100 meters as fast as you can. For this kind of running, you are in the anaerobic zone. Literally, you are not breathing enough oxygen to provide enough energy using the aerobic metabolism. Your body shifts into anaerobic metabolism. The pace at which this occurs is called the anaerobic threshold. While this requires less oxygen, it also requires a lot more fuel. You burn out quickly, so you can only do this for very short distances. Even so, raw speed and power workouts are an important part of the foundation for training for races at any distance from 400 meters to the marathon!

woman running on trackTraining for raw speed and power takes repeats. Doing these sprints at distances from 100 meters up to 400 meters can build muscle and change your anaerobic threshold for the better. In order to add even more muscle, I also add natural power-building exercises after my repeats workout. I include things like power-skipping, hopping, jumping, walking lunges, and crossover running drills.

I do not recommend doing this raw speed and power workout more than once a week. It takes a long time to heal from these extreme workouts. In most marathon training schedules, raw speed and power workouts are limited to the first 1/2 or less of the training schedule.

Short-Term Endurance

When I speak of short-term endurance, I am referring to distances of 800 meters up to a mile or even two. These are distances at which you are not likely to cross the anaerobic threshold, but you are likely to cross another important line: the lactate threshold. While the anaerobic threshold is about the consumption of oxygen, the lactate threshold is about the buildup of lactate in your muscles. Lactate is not only a natural byproduct of the aerobic metabolism happening in your muscles but it is also fuel. Your muscles can recycle this byproduct and consume it as a secondary source of fuel. As such, lactate is good. The bad part is that your body is limited as to how fast this recycling occurs. When the muscles produce more lactate than they can burn, this leads to cramping. This cramping can slow you down or even injure you. Hence, you need workouts specifically designed to challenge your body to become more efficient. More efficiency in these processes means that you can run a faster pace without cramping from lactate buildup.

Training for short-term endurance takes interval training. There are several types of interval training, but they all have the same goal: being able to run faster before hitting your lactate threshold. Interval training methods also have the same characteristics in terms of how they challenge your body to be more efficient with lactate. It is simply alternating between paces: running a little faster than your lactate threshold pace and then switching to a little slower than lactate threshold to allow your body to catch up. Then without stopping, you accelerate to the faster pace again. This fast/slow sequence is done throughout the intervals workout to cue the body that it needs to change to adapt to faster running. As with speed and power workouts, doing interval training once a week is enough for almost any runner.

Long-Term Endurance

When you run significantly slower than your lactate threshold pace, you should be able to maintain that pace for a long way. Many of us might have enough glycogen stored in our bodies to run as far as a half marathon with no additional fuel. That does not mean, however, that your body can manage any distance just by training for those other levels. It does make it easier, but you still have to train for what you want to race.

If you want to race farther than two miles, you must train for the distance. In order to hold your newly enhanced faster paces for longer distances, you must practice two types of runs: tempo runs and long runs. A tempo run is simply running a fairly fast pace (but slower than lactate threshold) for a longer distance. You can do a tempo run that takes anywhere from 20 minutes up to an hour. A long run, however, is just that. You run much slower than lactate threshold pace, but you do it for a much longer distance. A long run can be anywhere from an hour to three hours. Both of these types of long-term endurance runs cue the body to develop more in ways that support more efficient oxygen and fuel delivery, more efficient metabolism, and more efficient lactate clearance. In addition, the longer runs do more to build and develop mitochondria which allow you to burn body fat more efficiently.

** Note for Marathoners: Research shows that no significant gain comes from running a long run beyond three hours. No matter what distance that is for you, I do not recommend running longer than three hours during training.

If you are going to develop a training plan for whatever goal you have in distance running, you will need to consider these three areas.

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run!

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Ask P. Mark: The Difference Between a Tempo Run and Intervals

This was the first question posted to me via the Ask P. Mark page.
Please visit that page to post a new question.  Thanks!

Q:  What is the difference between a tempo run and an interval?

A:  The short answer is that in an interval workout, you speed up and slow down several times.  In a tempo run, however, you gradually build up to the target pace and hold it until it is time to slow down for a cooldown.

There are a few people who will do more than one tempo run within a long run.  This is an advanced maneuver that I do not recommend for the average runner.

Here are the definitions for the Tempo and Intervals that I gave on the Getting Faster post:


Intervals are a lot like repeats, but have a different goal in mind.  While repeats are about increasing raw speed, intervals are more about maintaining your new speed over a distance.  Because of this, intervals should be at a little bit longer distance.  Aim for a distance that you could complete in less than 5 minutes.  800 meters (1/2 mile) is a common distance for interval training.

  • Run your intervals at race pace, but no faster.  Remember: Race pace is the pace at which you could run a 5K now, NOT the pace that you hope to achieve later.
  • Instead of being fully rested as you did in repeats, interval training does not allow for full rest.  The time between intervals should be about the same time as you took to run the last interval.  Unlike repeats, you jog during the recovery time between intervals.
  • Since the distances are longer than the distance for repeats, the number of intervals that you complete in one workout should be less.  You can do 3-8 intervals as long as you continue to maintain your relaxed form.

Tempo Runs

If you are racing longer distances, then you will want to practice running faster for even longer periods of time.  This is the goal of a tempo run.

  • Run your tempo miles a little slower than race pace, about 80-90% of the full effort that you would use in a 5k race now.
  • Tempo runs can be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on your fitness and goals.
  • You can choose to do one or more tempo runs as part of a longer run or have it as a stand-alone workout.  In either case, make sure that you run a warmup and a cooldown in addition to the tempo miles.
  • To get faster, seek the combination of distance & speed that pushes you consistently near the limit of what you can maintain.  If you can’t maintain relaxed form, you are pushing too fast or too long.


The Gift of Running is now available in both paperback & ebook

Paperback Version – Amazon.com

Ebook Version – Kindle Store




Running Faster: My New Weekly Routine

“I’ve always felt that long, slow distance produces long, slow runners.”   – Sebastian Coe

I am in the “Crazy Speed Training” phase of 2012 as determined by my annual goals & plan.  As I plan my weekly routine, I have to think about the types of runs to include.  I have blogged recently about “How to Run Faster” and it is time to follow my own advice.  In that blog, I listed several general types of runs:  repeats, intervals, tempo runs, & easy/long runs.  Hence, that list was my starting point when I sat down to establish a basic weekly schedule or runs.

Repeats:   1 Day of 400 meter repeats

Crazy speed is my main goal for the next few months, so any training routine must begin with repeats.  Since the biggest goal I have for this time is running mile in less than 5 minutes, it makes sense to run my repeats at 400 meters.  400 meters is a good distance to train because it is about 1/4 of the goal distance.  I can run 400 meters at a much quicker pace than the pace that I can maintain for a mile.  Training at this new speed will gradually strengthen my legs.  The plan is to run eight to ten 400 meter repeats at a pace that is a little faster than my goal pace.  Remember that in repeats you get full rest in between.  It is speed training, not endurance training.

For the next few weeks, I will run the 400s between 71 seconds and 75 seconds.  When that seems comfortable, I will speed them up a few seconds for a few weeks.  Once my legs have adjusted to this, the pace for a 4:59 mile will feel easy & relaxed compared to the pace on the repeats.  🙂

Intervals:  1 Day of Yasso 800s

Bart Yasso, the Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World magazine found a relationship between his 800 meter interval training and the pace of his marathons.  He noticed that if trained regularly on ten 800 meter intervals with  jogging 400 meters in between and no rest, that his pace on the 800s would predict his race results.  If he ran the 800s at 2 minutes & 50 seconds, then his marathon time was around 2 hours and 50 minutes.  If he ran 800s in 2:40, then he would finish his marathon in around 2:40:00.  That is why this workout is named after him.  Not everyone gets the same exact results, but it is a good starting place for training for a faster marathon.  Since my secondary goal is to run a faster marathon, this workout seems to be the next piece of the puzzle as far as a training regimen.

Remember that this is interval training, so these will not be nearly as fast as the pace for the repeats.  Repeats are about building speed.  Intervals are about getting used to a slightly faster pace.  In the first week, I intend to run my Yasso 800s in 2:40.  I was running them around 3:00 a year ago, but I am a lot faster.  In a few months, I want to be running the Yasso 800s in 2:30 or a little below.

Tempo Runs: 2 Days of Short runs (3-5 miles)

Even though I am working on raw speed for a while, I have already gotten quite a bit faster over the last year.  I want to use my two short runs of the weeks to embrace that new level of speed.  In my last training schedule, short runs were supposed to be run at around an 8 minute mile pace.  In this speed-focused phase, I want to keep the pace of my short runs between a 6:40 mile pace and a 7:10 mile pace.  This is a lot slower than my repeats and intervals but it is still a lot faster than my pace a year ago.  In a few weeks, this pace will feel routine.

Long Runs:  1 Day of 8 to 15 miles

I love long runs, so this is my day to rekindle the passion for running deep in my heart. On my long run days, I will not display my pace or time on my Garmin.  I will only use it to tell me how far I have gone.  I am setting my third screen to only display the distance.  This is my day to relax and enjoy the run.

As for the distance, I have just wrapped up a marathon training phase.  Hence, any long run less than 20 miles feels like taking a break.  I will set a minimum distance for the day and run farther if I feel like it.  I can do that because my mileage will be so much lower on the other days that I can afford to add a few miles safely.

Rest Days:  2 Days of “Full Rest”

By full rest, I mean days in which I don’t run.  I can still mow the lawn or go for a walk in the park.  Full rest just means no running.  No running, even if I feel healthy and refreshed.  I am 44 years old.  I need these days to heal.  Rest days are an important part of getting faster!

So that is my new weekly routine.  I have not preset the order in which these days occur.  The details of my life and how my legs feel will determine this.  I just have to get it all done.

After a couple of months, I will add the sub-5 minute mile to my list of accomplishments for the year and begin a new training routine.  I’ll let you know as I go.


“Train hard, race easy, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor




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