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Training - How Much Is Enough?

A question often asked by aspiring athletes is how much training they should be doing to achieve their goals.  Obviously the work content of any schedule is determined by many factors including:
  • What level does the athlete finally hope to achieve - Regional, National, International?
  • How much time is available for training purposes?
  • Is there is a time limit to achieving their goal?
  • Is there any physical impediment that would restrict such a goal?
  • Is the athlete mentally equipped to sustain a long term intense training regime?
  • Would outside commitments restrict such training e.g. family or work?
  • Are finances available for injury insurance, warm weather and altitude trips?

Once you have determined where you are on the ladder and how far you want to go, and taking into account answers to the questions above, a plan can be formulated for short– medium– and long-term goals.

Possibly the most difficult task a coach has is painting a picture of just what an athlete can expect in their future training, and acceptance from the athlete that they can clearly visualize themselves undertaking and completing such a task.

With regard to an individual training programme, there are many paths a coach can take to achieve elitism for their athlete, plagiarism to a degree is always prevalent when formulating a training schedule as there are some general principles that are common to all training programs.

So reference to an international athletes training schedule can at times give an insight in to what an athlete can expect if their aim is to achieve a similar status.  Without knowing just what it takes to achieve Olympic selection a false premise can easily be made.  Runners like Keith Anderson and Billy Burns are just two athletes who have taken the time and trouble to train with elite Kenya athletes and learn first hand just what it takes to reach that elite status.

Similarly at club level, seven minute milers usually pay pretty close attention to any five minute milers who are discussing their training, and will pick up any snippets of info like a squirrel collecting nuts - to keep logged away for future use.

Following information on training schedules from a book can be a little impersonal; it is more easily assimilated if the information is from someone who can demonstrate that it’s working - close at hand.  What you can take from books and elite training schedules is a more holistic view on the general principles of training and hopefully the motivation to follow your own personal schedule.

Below is a schedule set out by Bruce Tulloh for an athlete who was aiming for a 27 minute 10k.  It will give you some idea of the training level undertaken by an elite athlete.  It will also show you a comparison to the schedule below which was used by Richard Nerurkar for his marathon training.

A big difference in race distances does not necessarily mean a big difference in the mileage or intensity of the training undertaken by the athletes.

27 minute 10k Schedule

  am pm
Sun 20 miles 6 miles, inc 12 x 150
Mon 8 miles steady 10 x 1K in 2:45
Tues 8 miles steady 10-12 miles fartlek
Wed 8 miles easy 8 x 800m in 2:07 plus 10 x 400 in 61‑ 63 secs
Thur 5 miles easy noon: 5 miles fast tempo run
evening: 5 miles easy fartlek
Fri 5 miles easy noon: 5 miles fast tempo run
evening: 5 miles easy fartlek
Sat 5 miles easy club track races
Total distance: 120 miles


Schedule for Richard Nerurkar: marathon preparation

  am pm
Sun 22 miles, starting easy, finishing fast gym work plus swim
Mon 5 miles easy 7 miles inc sprint drills + swim
Tues 6 miles steady 10 miles, inc 6 at threshold pace
Wed 10 miles inc 3 x 3000m in 8:30 (5 mins rec) 6 miles easy + swim
Thur 5 miles steady 6 miles easy + 10 x 100m stride
Fri 6 miles track workout, 10 x 1000m,
average 2:45 (2:30 recoveries)
Sat 10 miles steady 7 miles
Total distance: 120 miles plus swimming and exercises

The message has always been clear, if you want to achieve at any level then the training has to be commensurate, and the higher up the ladder you want to go the more effort is required.  Sounds pretty logical but in reality the effort perceived by some athlete’s bears little resemblance to the target they have set.  It is essential that athletes have the knowledge of just what levels of intensity are required to move gradually onto the next rung.

Most athletes after the initial settling in period of their running career usually find that PB’s come around much less frequent as the plateau syndrome is established.  Once the routine of over 50/70 miles a week is established and the weekly sessions have settled in place, it does require new initiatives and fresh targets each year to keep the momentum going.  Keeping a detailed diary is a necessity, where progression – or not – can be recorded.  Unless you regularly add something new to your schedule or lift the mileage or intensity level you will make little progress.

Coaches need to constantly re-evaluate the athlete’s performances and tweak the training schedule accordingly.  Long term aims on strength gains have to be put in place with regular testing to see if the current program is working effectively.

To avoid training staleness new approaches to regular training sessions have to be introduced with occasional ventures into cross-training and different training methods like ‘Swiss Balls’, ‘Stretch Banding’ and ‘Medicine Ball’ routines.

As the years go by more attention can be paid to nutrition so that an optimum dietary intake and variety can be found.

Closer attention to the running action and its bio-mechanical efficiency can be investigated, with corrective drill-work to iron out any small irregularities.

Attention to detail is now essential with all the athletes’ strengths and weaknesses examined in detail, with appropriate plans in place to correct any anomalies.

Every athlete is unique and their training program must reflect this.  What is enough for one athlete can be too much for another.

The ability to know what is enough training at any one time in an athlete’s career is a combination of targeted goals, planned progression and regular testing.

Never be afraid of approaching the club coach for advice, they are there for that purpose irrespective of your current level of performance.

Knowing what’s right for you is best evaluated by someone who has the experience and knowledge of coaching and who takes an interest in your progression, you can DIY and most athletes do, but can you be sure that you are optimising your training time, and are your goals realistically applied?

Good luck with your running.

Norman Matthews © 2001-2004
Head Senior Coach
Horwich RMI Harriers