Train too hard, and you'll probably burn out or get injured. Train too gently and you simply won't make the most of your potential (but hey, that's okay).
Training by heart rate is one good way of getting it right (see the links at the bottom of the page). Using this calculator is another. Just tap in a recent race time, and press 'calculate'.
The calculator will automatically show how fast you should run the different components of a training week (though don't do them all in one week...)
Top coaches and exercise physiologists believe that most runners should do 80 to 90 per cent of their weekly training at the easy run pace (this includes your long runs, done at approximately the same pace). Easy runs build your aerobic fitness, and your muscular and skeletal strength. They also help you burn more calories and recover for harder workouts.
Tempo runs help you improve your running economy and your running form. They are sometimes described as 'threshold' or 'hard but controlled' runs, and they will help you prepare for races of 10K to the marathon. Tempo sessions generally fall into one of two categories: steady runs of 2 to 6 miles; or long intervals with short recoveries. Here's an example of the latter: 4 x 1 mile at tempo run pace with 2 minutes of recovery jogging between efforts. You should do tempo runs no more than once a week, and they should make up no more than 10 to 15 per cent of your total training.
VO2-max training helps you improve your running economy and your racing sharpness. These sessions are sometimes called 'intervals', and are most useful when you are preparing for a race of 5K to half-marathon. Here's an example of a good VO2-max workout: 6 x 800 metres at VO2-max pace with 4 to 6 minutes of recovery jogging between efforts. You should do VO2-max workouts no more than once a week, and they should make up no more than 6 to 10 per cent of your total training. (When you run these workouts, you are running at or near 100 per cent of your maximum oxygen capacity, which scientists call VO2-max.)
Speed-form workouts help you improve your running economy, form and leg speed. These are also interval sessions tailored to help you prepare for races of 800 metres to 5K. Here's an example of a good speed-form workout: 8 x 400 metres at speed-form pace with 3 to 4 minutes of recovery jogging between efforts. You should do speed-form sessions no more than once a week, and they should make up no more than 4 to 8 per cent of your total training.
Yasso 800s are an invention of Runner's World US writer Bart Yasso, who has run more than 50 marathons and ultramarathons. They're simple: if you want to run a marathon in 2:45, 3:29 or 4:11, you should train to the point where you can run 10 repetitions of 800 metres in the same time: 2:45, 3:29 or 4:11. The only difference is that your marathon time is hours:minutes and your 800 time is minutes:seconds. Bart suggests doing Yasso 800s once a week as part of your marathon training. Start with perhaps 4 x 800 and build up to 10 x 800. Between the 800s, take a recovery jog that lasts as long as your 800s. A good Yasso 800 workout: 6 x 800m at Yasso pace with recovery jogs between the 800s.
long runs form the foundation of all marathon training programs. long runs build everything from your confidence to your discipline to your fat-burning. So, even when you're not training for a specific marathon, it's a good idea to do at least one semi-long run a week. Because long runs are done at a relaxed pace, there's great latitude in how fast you actually run. In general, we believe that slower is better than faster. Let your long runs be your slow runs, and save your legs for other days of the week when you might do tempo runs or maximum-oxygen runs. But there are a thousand theories about how to do long runs, none of which have yet been proven superior to the others. The important thing is building up the distance and training your body to keep going for 3, 4, 5 or however many hours it's going to take you.
Don't overdo your training!
We recommend that most beginner and intermediate runners do just two hard days a week. More advanced runners can do three hard days if they're careful. Each of the following is a hard-day workout: tempo runs, VO2-max sessions, speed-form workouts, Yasso 800s, long runs.
Hard days/Easy days
A hard session should usually be followed by one or (even better) two easy day sessions. Easy days can include rest days and cross-training days.
Most beginner and intermediate runners should run no more than 4 to 6 days a week. We recommend one or two rest days, when you do no training at all (or just take a relaxed 30-minute walk) and one or two cross-training days.
The world of cross-training has expanded dramatically in recent years. While research indicates that cross-training probably won't make you a faster runner, it can make you a stronger and healthier and less injury-prone runner. Runners do best with cross-training exercises that are non-weight-bearing. This includes swimming and aqua-running, strength-training, bicycling and rowing. We also like non-impact exercises, which include nordic skiing, elliptical training and step climbing.
Calculator programmed by Dan Burfoot.