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Training & advice

Making progress

Putting together a training programme designed to ensure you reach your target is a little like putting together a recipe to bake a cake for a specific occasion. Your running target could be a parkrun, a marathon, a trail or fell race. The occasion could be a picnic, a birthday tea or wedding. There are certain ingredients that need to go in: butter, sugar, eggs, flour (or should that be endurance, speed, strength and technique?) But how much of each ingredient should be in there will depend on the type and then within each ingredient there could be variations just as there are with plain flour v self-raising flour or margarine v butter.

So once you have decided what your target is and how much of each ingredient you will put into your programme you will need to consider the specifics of each session. Most endurance runners work on building a good aerobic base to begin with, in other words, gradually increasing endurance. Once they have reached the required distance the next step is to work on speed-endurance so that they can run the distance faster.

There are many ways to improve speed endurance and we have plenty of suggestions in the rest of this section on the runbritain website including interval training, fartlek running and threshold running. Those training techniques have been around for years and started in the days when the fastest marathon runners were a good half an hour slower than they are now. They would usually run the first half of the marathon faster than the second half but today most marathon runners aim for a negative split.

A negative split means running the second half of the marathon faster than the first half. To be able to do this in a race you would need to have practiced it in training. Recently a new session has become more well known and popular - The Progression Run. Many runners actually carry out a progression run more often than they realise. Do you ever notice that on your out-and-back run that you come back faster than you went out? Sometimes that is because you become more warmed up as the run goes on and sometimes it is because you are eager to get back and so you tend to pick the pace up as you get close to home.

A progression run is a type of threshold run in that it works the anaerobic lactic system and, if carried out optimally within a runner's programme, will, over time, raise a runners lactic threshold. Here are a few ideas for progression runs:

Out and back

Run out at an easy pace for 25 minutes, turn around and try to come back more quickly. The ideal location for this would be along a trail with a smooth surface, such as a disused railway track, a canal towpath, park paths or a farm road.

Fast finish

Run the very last part of your run at a much faster pace than the rest of the run before cooling down. This should be at the very end, as you would if you are in a race, can see the finish line and are trying to shake off another runner. The best run to do this in would be your longest run of the week, particularly if you are training for a marathon as this will teach you to run hard when you are tired.

Gradual progression

Make a conscious effort to up the pace or change gear five times during your run. If you are going for a 45 minute run you could run the first ten minutes easy and then change gear every 5 minutes until you get to 35 minutes. The last ten minutes should be a cool down. Alternatively you could use distance as a marker to up the pace. If you have a track where the miles or kilometres are marked you could up the pace every time you get to a marker and check your progress by timing each section.

Split thirds

You should split the total time into three segments so if you are running for 45 minutes each segment will be 15 minutes long but you should also put a cool down on the end. Run the first 15 minutes at an easy, warm up pace. The second 15 minutes should be done at your threshold pace (or half marathon race pace) and the last 15 minutes should be as fast as you can. Don't forget to cool down afterwards. As you get fitter you could increase the volume of this session so that you repeat it twice but maybe reduce the segments to 10 minutes ie 10 minutes warm up, 10 minutes at threshold, 10 minutes fast, 10 minutes easy, 10 minutes threshold, 10 minutes fast, 10 minutes easy = 70 minutes.