Of the five essential components to an effective training plan, Stamina work is where most of us put the bulk of our time and energy. But if we are not using our time effectively we won’t make as many gains as we potentially could. So I am starting this series with Stamina work, because even stamina, which we feel we’ve got a pretty good handle on, can be improved.
Most aerobic activities (running, cycling,
swimming, hiking, Nordic skiing, etc.) can help in maintaining or
increasing stamina, but it is how we place stamina work within our
training plan and couple it with other areas that will ultimately
determine our progress.
While there are plenty of forms of stamina work, I will break stamina work into three general categories: long runs, threshold runs, and maintenance runs.
long distance training program should be founded on the long run. It
should be a regular staple for any distance runner. Consequently, when
developing a training plan for myself of an athlete I coach, I structure
most weeks’ training around the long run. In the base and
pre-competition phases of the training plan I make it the top priority,
assuring that my athletes go into the long run rested from previous
workouts during the week. After the long run, I plan for adequate
recovery before tackling another high intensity or high volume workout.
Long runs can take on a variety of forms. One coach from whom I have learned a great deal is Greg McMillan.
Greg is not only an accomplished runner himself, but he has led
countless athletes to new heights. In 2011 he outlined some of the
tried and true methods of top marathon coaches in an article entitled, “The Marathon Long Run: Variations on a theme.” I highly recommend this article and the other articles Greg writes in his monthly McMillan’s Performance Page.
addition to the 16 week sequence of long runs Greg suggests in the
article above, two long runs that I have found to be particularly
beneficial for ultrarunners are fat-burning/glycogen depletion runs and
higher intensity progressive or threshold runs. Both serve different,
but equally important functions.
The longer (2-5 hours)
fat-burning run/glycogen depletion run is intended to simulate how the
body feels toward the end of a long race while also increasing the
body’s capacity to metabolize fat. While not as enjoyable as adventure
runs with a picnic in your pack, the objective of these runs is to
simulate what is commonly referred to as “the wall” or “bonking” by
limiting the consumption of sugars and limiting liquid intake to water.
Most people decrease their pace and mentally shut down when they hit the
wall in a race, however by training the mind and the body to run
through the wall it is possible to more efficiently transition through
this phase in the race. Then, when you are fueling regularly in the
race this painful process is delayed considerably and sometimes
The shorter (1-3 hours), higher intensity carb-burning run is still a long run, but is generally run at a m
faster pace. Whereas the over-distance run intentionally depletes the
glycogen stores, on some of these shorter, higher intensity long runs it
is possible to actually practice fueling for an upcoming race. Whether
carrying your fuel along with you or setting bottles out along the
course, these runs are perfect opportunities to test out drink mixes,
electrolyte caps, and gels. They are also important ways of gauging
one’s fitness and preparing the mind and the body for an upcoming effort
- often longer - in a race.
Both of these runs can be done solo,
but they are often much easier when you have some company. Join a group
or find a friend to join you on these runs as often as schedules
permit. If you are like me and live miles away from other long distance
runners, be willing to drive every once in a while to meet up with a
friend or sign up for a race and use that race (1/2 marathon – 100K) as a
long run in preparation for your goal race. Heck, that’s how I got
into this crazy sport – jumping into a 50K as part of a buildup for a
road marathon – and I’ve been at it ever since.
runs, also known as tempo runs, can take on a variety of forms, but the
overriding goal of threshold work is to run at or near your aerobic
threshold – the red line – for as long as possible. Overtime this will
not only increase your threshold, but also your capacity to sustain a
threshold effort, also known as stamina.
those making the transition to running longer distances this may simply
mean a series of short (400m) bursts at 5k-10K effort/pace followed by a
very brief (30-45 sec) recovery interval between each rep. This
workout, known as Georgetown 400s, were a common workout for former
Georgetown mid-distance Coach Frank Gagliano’s athletes moving up in
distance. Most of my high school athletes enjoy Georgetown 400s because
sustaining 20 minutes + of quality running is not always possible
(mentally or physically) for beginning runners. I have seen the benefit
of this simple workout for even more advanced runners training for a
half marathon or marathon.
For more experienced runners, threshold
work should mean a run between 20 minutes and 2 hours at half marathon
to marathon pace. As Dr. Joe Vigil likes to say, “There are many roads
to Rome.” His elite athletes run multiple threshold runs of varying
distances and intensities, but the underlying principle remains - the
goal is to increase your body’s capacity to sustain hard efforts. The
key is to work your aerobic threshold regularly - at least weekly.
Some people call these runs easy or recovery
runs. Maintenance runs are what I call all running that does not
specifically target speed or strength. Some people believe that all
running should be hard or fast, but maintenance runs are as important as
the harder, faster sessions. They keep us regular - on a routine - and
they serve as a means of increasing blood flow to parts of the body
that have been taxed through long or hard running. Maintenance runs are
just as important to the development of stamina as are higher intensity
and longer runs.
Maintenance runs can also serve as SKILL development runs. While the emphasis may not necessarily be on skill,
if there is a skill to develop, particularly adjusting to terrain
(grass, rocks, roots, cinder, mud, pavement, track, singletrack,
downhill, etc.), maintenance runs are a great way to allow the body to
acclimate to the demands of different terrain without overdoing it in a
workout, race, or long run. Over time, these regular runs allow the
body to adapt to the new demands of the foreign terrain and will better
prepare the athlete for harder or longer sessions on a similar surface.
work should be foundational to any training plan designed for distance
running. If you are missing any one of these elements in your training,
LONG RUNS, THRESHOLD RUNS, or MAINTENANCE RUNS, you can make noticeable differences by gradually introducing them into what you already do.
few years ago, after listening to some interviews of Greg McMillan and his athletes who were having great success, I began placing a
greater emphasis on long runs and threshold runs in my own training and in the training of those that I
coached. Over a short time, my marathon PR went from 2:35 to 2:25
simply by adjusting my training schedule to emphasize the long run. Similarly, I
dropped over twenty minutes on the same trail 50K course. My athletes
made even greater gains. Every school record from 800m to 5,ooom for men and women at my
Alma Mater where I coach cross country and track has been broken and
the top ten lists have been rewritten (I'm not even in the top ten
on any of the lists anymore:).,,My wife, Jen, went from a 21:30 5K to a
16:40 and a 1:35 half marathon to a 1:18. All of this can be attributed to a
greater emphasis on the long run.
It is certainly possible to make considerable improvements with a greater emphasis on STAMINA training, but over time without some emphasis on STRENGTH, SPEED, SUPPLENESS, and SKILL you will inevitably reach a performance plateau or be sidelined by an injury.
Next time, I’ll discuss the importance of STRENGTH work in a comprehensive long distance training plan.
Jacob Puzey is a competitive endurance athlete and USATF certified endurance coach. He runs for Altra, First Endurance, Swiftwick, and Trail Butter.
He also blogs for 100milesisnotthatfar.com. When he's not on the road with his athletes, he’s usually exploring
wild places with his family and friends. For more information about
Jacob and the coaching services he provides, please visit his site: www.columbiacorredor.com