The RW SmartCoach combines two equally important fields of knowledge about training for runners: the "collective wisdom" of many runners over the last 40 years, and the best math/science relating to running. The collective wisdom consists of those guiding principles that have been proven effective by hundreds of coaches and literally millions of runners. Among these principles: train in a gradual, progressive manner; increase weekly mileage by about 10 per cent per week; mix easy training days with hard training days; do 75 to 80 per cent of your training at a relaxed pace; take regular "recovery weeks" and follow a taper period leading up to races. The SmartCoach follows all these principles, and more.
The math/science behind the SmartCoach springs primarily from the pioneering work of exercise physiologist Jack Daniels, PhD. In his early books, including "Conditioning For Distance Running" (1978, with Robert Fitts, PhD. and George Sheehan, M.D.) and "Oxygen Power" (1979, with Jimmy Gilbert), Daniels published two equations relating oxygen consumption to the speed and length of various running performances. These equations have since formed the foundation of virtually all training programs for runners. They point the way to determining your best training paces for slow, medium, and fast workouts. More specifically, they indicate that easy running should be done at about 70 per cent of your VO2 max, tempo training at about 88 per cent, and speedwork at about 100 per cent. The RW SmartCoach does not use Daniels' original equations, but rather other pace ratios that are one generation removed from Daniels' work.
The SmartCoach also owes a debt of gratitude to the forward-thinking Canadian exercise physiologists, Francois Perronet, PhD. and Guy Thibault, PhD. Perronet and Thibault actually created a SmartCoach-like product in the late 1980s. They named it Hermann. In those pre-Internet days, Hermann required a stand-alone computer, and a pre-payment of $20. Hermann then produced a highly sophisticated hard-copy, 160-page book of individualized workouts for the end-user. It was brilliant and way ahead of its time. Few runners paid for the service, and Hermann soon disappeared.
The Technical Specifications Behind the SmartCoach
This article will provide more detailed information about how SmartCoach uses your input to create a personalised, progressive training schedule that will help you achieve your best race times.
Your Recent Race Time: SmartCoach uses a result from one of the four most popular race distances - 5K, 10K, half-marathon or marathon. When you input your results from different races, you will receive different training paces, because some of your race results are probably better or worse than others. It is important that you enter race times that represent your current fitness level. If you find that your SmartCoach training schedule is too easy, you can always get a new one by inputting faster race-result times.
Your Current Weekly Training Mileage: Again, be realistic and be sure to consider your available time for training. If you bite off more than you can chew, you'll probably regret it. Remember that SmartCoach will give you a progressive training schedule. In other words, your total miles per week will increase, as will the time necessary to run those miles. A training schedule that doesn't look very difficult in Week One can become quite challenging by Week 13.
What's Your Training Goal: SmartCoach will provide training schedules for the following race distances: 5K, 10K, 10 mile, half-marathon and marathon. Simply choose the one you want.
How Hard Do You Want To Train: If you choose "moderate" - the best selection for most runners - your weekly mileage will increase by about 10 per cent per week. Every fourth week, your workout paces will get a little faster. If you choose "hard" your mileage will increase by about 15 per cent per week, and your paces will get a little faster (the same as in a moderate schedule) every fourth week. If you choose "very hard" your mileage will increase by about 15 per cent per week, and your paces will increase three times as fast as they do in the moderate and hard schedules. If you choose "maintenance", you will get all the sophisticated workouts and paces that are contained in the other schedules but your miles (and time commitment) will not increase.
Easy Runs And Long Runs: SmartCoach will assign you an easy run/long run training pace for more than 70 per cent of your weekly miles. You don't need to do a warmup and cooldown with these runs. If you find the pace too slow, don't be tempted to run faster simply because you can or because you think you will get in shape sooner. Slow runs are slow because that's the best pace for you to follow to build endurance without overtaxing your body. Just relax and enjoy.
Tempo Runs: Depending on your selected race distance, SmartCoach will give you a number of workouts labelled "tempo runs". Tempo runs are preceded by a warmup and followed with a cooldown, and can be described as "hard but controlled". You shouldn't be able to talk comfortably during a tempo run, but nor should you feel as if you are racing. The warmup and cooldown are normally one mile each, but they can increase as appropriate for you to hit your total distance goal for the day.
Speedwork: Depending on your selected race distance, SmartCoach will give you a number of workouts labelled "speedwork". These workouts include a warmup and cooldown. In the middle of the speedwork session, you will run repeats of 800 to 1600 metres in a given time. Each repeat should be followed by a recovery jog, and then another repeat, up to the total number of repeats for the day. Speedwork should be harder and faster than a tempo run, but again, you should not feel as if you are racing. SmartCoach carefully chooses paces that are appropriate for your ability and fitness level. If you have never done speedwork before, don't be intimidated. You'll find these workouts do-able, and you'll find that they can lead to dramatic improvements in your race times. The warmup and cooldown are normally one mile each, but they can increase as appropriate for you to hit your total distance goal for the day.
Recovery Weeks: SmartCoach training schedules generally include recovery weeks every fourth week or so to give you a break in terms of both total mileage and tempo/speed days. You don't have to take the recovery weeks, but they are a good idea as part of a training schedule that emphasizes gradual, intelligent adaptation to stress.
Taper Weeks: SmartCoach understands the importance of a taper period before your race. All training programs include a taper period, ranging from one to three weeks, depending on the length of your training schedule and the race distance you have selected. This taper period allows you to build up the full benefits from your training schedule, and race your best on race day.
Choose Your Long Run: SmartCoach allows you to select the day when you want to do your long run, be it Sunday, Saturday, or any other day. After you pick your long-run day, all the other days of your training program readjust automatically, so you are doing all the workouts in the correct order.
Time-Limited Training Programs: If you select a training schedule that's shorter than 16 weeks, SmartCoach will still give you a schedule that follows all the "gradual-adaptation-to-stress" principles of the full schedules but these shorter training schedules include fewer recovery weeks, so your training is slightly "speeded up". You won't reach optimal fitness, but you'll get in the best shape possible for the limited weeks of your training. Occasionally, SmartCoach will provide a cautionary warning that accompanies your training schedule. This warning will explain that you do not have enough time to train optimally. It will suggest that you consider changing your plans, or that you should be prepared to run very conservatively in your chosen race.