Do Magazine Schedules Work?
A 50-year-old female runner recently emailed me. She had been running 2 years but was yet to break 60 minutes for 10km. After reading some magazines she came across an inverted pyramid session that she had been running each Wednesday – 1200m, 800m, 400m, 800m, 1200m. Each had a 2-minute walk between. The 1200m reps were to be run at her 10k pace, the 800m at her 5k pace and the 400m was flat out. She tried it for 3 weeks but her race times did not improve. This training came from a magazine but did not work. What could she do to improve it?
In another email a 26-year-old male runner told me that once a week he ran 20 x 400m on a grass track. He did this session as he had read about top athletes doing similar work in a magazine. He was a 33 minute 10km runner but after 4 months his 10km time had not improved. He was doing what top elite athletes were doing. What was he doing wrong?
Firstly, the pyramid session given is not something I would recommend for a 10k. The total distance of the schedule is 4800m and it covers a total of 2400m at 10k pace and 1600m at 5k pace. Training for a 10km needs to be more sustained. You do not run the first 1200 metres of a 10k race and then expect to have a 2-minute walk break. In the second case, trying to emulate what you read in a magazine does not always work. When it comes to a "week in the life of" you are only seeing a snap shot of the athlete’s work and not what has gone before or after.
The general rule for a 10k runner doing interval work is that you should train for at least 12km with reps paced at 102%-105% of your 10k pace. That means a runner with a 10k time of 6 minutes per km (360 seconds) could run 1km reps between 5m42s – 5m53s pace. Remember, walking never produced a quality distance runner. The rest between should be an ease back of 90% (i.e. add 10% to your pace). This means a pace of 6m36s for up to 1km.
Further development of this session can be after you have completed 3 sessions. At this stage, you need to increase the intensity or the volume of the session. For the next block, either increase the average pace of the recovery km by 3 or 4 seconds per km or increase the faster efforts by the same time. Alternatively, you could start the session by running 2km. Ultimately if you could run 4 x 2km (@5m53s pace) + 4 x 1km (@6m36s pace) then you would be very well placed to beat the 60-minute barrier. Most athletes can progress to that over 3-4 months.
In response to the runner doing 20 x 400m I suggested he follow the same 102%, 90% rule. He also needed to increase the volume to at least 12km which could initially be achieved with a longer warm up. Given that he could run 10km in 33 minutes meant that (on a track) he would average 79 seconds per lap. His 400m reps needed to be between 2 and 4 seconds faster. The recovery lap could be in 87 seconds. The session could be further progressed over the following months by reducing the recovery time to 200m in 43-44 seconds or by increasing the volume to 15 x 600m at the same pace. Doing the same session for 4 months without progressing the volume, the intensity or the recovery meant there was no increased stimulus and therefore no improvement.
Magazine programmes do not consider individual lifestyle or rate of improvement. The different intensities of the 102%, 90% session helps you build to the next level. Because it is based on percentages, the session can be used for 27 minute 10k runners right down to weekend joggers. You adjust your training times as you get faster. It needs persistence and effort but there are no easy miles in training if you have a goal to reach.