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If you have been struggling to find time to run five or six days a week, or you find you're just going through the motions whenever you get a chance to run, running four quality days may be the answer for you.
The four-day training week works for me because it allows me to maintain my level of fitness and race from time to time, but does not leave me feeling sore and tired. I also believe running four days a week helps prevent injuries through over-training and leaves more time for other activities such as hiking and biking. It also frees up time for social activities, family and rest.
Each of the four days of the plan has a different purpose. You can organize the types of runs to fit into your busy schedule.
DAY 1 - SLOW RUN
The most important workout is the long, slow run, which I usually run on the weekend. The longer distance and slower pace increases endurance and burns fat really well - two reasons to start this weekend.
When going out on a long run, go about two minutes per mile slower than your 5-kilometer race pace, which is hard to do at first because it seems too slow. For those who don't know their 5K pace, running at a relaxed, conversational pace will work.
A long run usually lasts an hour or more, but if you haven't run that far yet, you can add five minutes to your longest run each weekend until you reach that goal. From then on, increase the length of your long run by a half-mile to mile every week for three or four weeks, and then cut the mileage in half for a recovery week before continuing to add more distance.
The long, slow run should be no more than one-third of your total weekly mileage. It's nice if you can find a couple of friends to join you and if you can get out on some of the scenic local trails.
DAY 2 - TEMPO RUN
The second important quality run is the tempo run. This is steady, comfortably hard pace that's just past your lactic threshold - the point at which muscles produce lactic acid faster than your body can get rid of it.
Tempo runs, often called threshold runs, often leave your legs feeling fresher than they were before you started.
They are run slightly slower than a 5K race pace. The intensity of the tempo run burns a lot of calories and helps prepare you for races. A typical tempo run might last for 20 minutes, after running 10 minutes easy as a warm-up, and followed by a cool-down jog of a half-mile or so. I like to schedule tempo runs on Thursdays.
DAY 3 - SPEED RUN
The speed workout, the third type of quality workout, will increase your foot speed, build aerobic capacity and strength, and make your metabolism work for you long after the workout is done. Speed work, sometimes called intervals, is faster than tempo runs and much shorter in distance. I like to run intervals on Tuesdays and alternate between the track and smooth, flat trails.
Intervals are run at slightly faster than 5K pace, or fast-but-controlled, but not all-out sprinting. They are often run on the track where it is easy to measure out short distances such as 400 or 200 meters. Always, warm-up for 10 minutes before running intervals and finish with a similar cool down.
A typical workout would be to run repeats of 400 meters fast followed by 400-meter recovery intervals of easy jogging.
Each week you would add one more set of fast/slow intervals up to 10 to 12 sets.
When running intervals on a trail, use a watch to time yourself with two minutes of fast running followed by two minutes of slow running.
DAY 4 - RECOVERY RUN
The fourth quality run in your four-day week is the recovery run.
Have some fun on this slow, smooth, relaxed run. Explore a new trail, run with fun, talkative friends, or leave your watch at home and just run based on how you feel.
Sunday or Monday would be a good choice for a recovery run. You should feel completely comfortable on this 20 to 40 minute run, stopping before you feel tired.
The length of the run depends on your overall weekly mileage and how you're feeling that day. It's a reward for your hard work on the other three days.
I suggest that you give the four-day training week a try, customizing it to your current level of fitness. I think that you will find it's a motivation booster and your legs will feel fresher more often.
It also gives you three days off.
Nancy Thomas is a former Juneau-Douglas High School running coach and past president of the Southeast Road Runners. She can be reached at email@example.com.