The Best Running Workout – Building a Workout That Does It All
By Rick Morris
One of the great things about running workouts is that they are so versatile. You can design a workout for any purpose or goal. One of the most common questions I’m asked as a running coach is how to design workouts or in this case the best running workout. Fortunately for me, running and coaching isn’t rocket science. It is a simple matter of designing a workout to meet the goal. To illustrate the process lets design a generic workout that anyone can do.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were one workout that did everything? Just one training run that improves your endurance, stamina, lactate turn point, VO2 max, vVO2 max, speed, neuromuscular conditioning, surging ability and finishing kick. Unfortunately, there isn’t one single workout that is ideal for improving your fitness at all of those paces and goals, but is it possible to design a training run that at least touches on all training goals? I think there is – let’s try to design the best running workout.
Throughout my long career as a running coach I have found that no athlete is exactly alike. Every runner needs a training program that is designed specifically for them and their goals. I love coaching and I think the part of coaching I enjoy the most is the process of building training runs to meet specific goals. That is where workout building starts – with the goal of the run.
The goal of this workout is to at least touch on each of the following:
- Build Endurance – The workout will need to be of moderate to long length to meet this requirement.
- Increase Stamina – The best way to build stamina is to run moderate to long distances at a just slower than lactate turn point pace.
- Improve Lactate Turn Point – To improve your lactate turn point you need to flood your body with lactate. That is best accomplished with short to moderate length runs at faster than lactate turn point pace.
- Raise both VO2 max and vVO2 max – Studies have shown that both VO2 max and vVO2 max are best improve by running at very fast paces – 3K pace or faster.
- Increase Speed – Top speed is mostly neuromuscular in nature. Running at sprint speed does a great job of improving that system.
- Improve Neuromuscular Conditioning – Neuromuscular conditioning is related to the ability of your central nervous system to deliver signals to your muscles and your muscles ability to receive and act upon those signals in an efficient manner. Studies have shown that high intensity running is the best way to improve your neuromuscular conditioning. The rapid fire contractions of high intensity running will improve both your neuromuscular conditioning and your running mechanics.
- Improve Surging Ability – Surging is a critical skill for race management. It is also something that you can train for. Inserting fast paced surges into your workout will train your body to quickly increase your pace and then recover at race pace.
- Finishing Kick – Running at sprint pace when you are already highly fatigued is difficult for every runner. Add in a sprint finish to the end of your training runs so your body is properly prepared for race conditions.
OK – that’s what we want to do, so let’s build a workout.
- Distance – The workout needs to be long enough to have a positive effect on our endurance. This would really need to be adjusted to our specific race goal, but since this is a generic workout let’s go with an 8 mile run. This is long enough to touch on endurance, but short enough to be appropriate for any race distance.
- Pace – The need to meet multiple goals make the pace somewhat tricky. We need to work at just under LT pace for a moderate distance to improve our stamina. We need to run at LT pace to develop our lactate turn point and at VO2 max pace to increase our VO2 max and vVO2 max. One of the best ways to do that is with a multi pace run that starts at endurance pace and gradually increases to VO2 max pace. To build stamina I would like to see about 2 miles at stamina pace. A good stamina pace is between marathon and 10K pace. So the workout would start with 1 mile at endurance pace, and then gradually speed up to about 10K pace over the next 2 miles.
Now we need to work on our lactate turn point. You need to flood your body with lactic acid to maximize improvements in your lactate turn point. The best paces to do that are between 10K and 5K pace. You need to recover a bit at this point so slow down to endurance pace for 1 mile, and then speed up to between 10K and 5K pace for 1 mile. Then slow to endurance pace for one mile of active recovery.
Next it’s time to develop your surging ability and vVO2 max. Speed up to 10K pace and begin a sequence of 1/4 mile at 10K pace and 1/4 mile at 3K pace. Repeat that sequence three times for a total of 1.5 miles.
The final part of our workout is the finishing kick. After your last ¼ mile at 3K pace slow down to 10K pace for ¼ mile before finishing this 8 mile workout with ¼ mile at sprint pace.
Here’s what we have:
- 1 mile at endurance pace
- 2 miles at stamina pace
- 1 mile at endurance pace
- 1 mile at lactate turn point pace
- 1 mile at endurance pace
- 1.5 miles surging between LT pace and vVO2 max pace
- .25 miles at lactate turn point pace
- .25 miles at sprint pace
Total – 8 miles
Well – There is our workout. We have touched on endurance, stamina, lactate turn point, vVO2 max, neuromuscular conditioning, surging and finishing kick, all in one workout. Keep in mind that this is a very generic workout. It isn’t designed for a specific goal distance but it is a good overall training workout. It’s a tough one, but should give good results. Try it and let me know what you think.