Below we describe the most important principles that form the basis of how we approach our thinking about training. This is our view and philosophy, it is not a universal truth. However, it is based on over 30 years of combined experience in the sport, years of study and talking with many coaches and athletes. The focus of our view is how to become the best runner you can be. Although we try our best to make the training enjoyable, in the end it’s all about what makes someone a better runner.
First of all, we don’t follow any standard approach. Some coaches might refer to themselves as ‘high mileage’ coaches or as ‘quality over quantity’ coaches. We have come to realise that there is no standard training theory that works for everyone. There is no ‘all-inclusive and universal philosophy of training’ that can be applied to every runner. What works for one person, may not work for another. However, here are 15 principles, that guide our thinking on training and coaching:
1. Training can be seen as stress. Stress + recovery leads to improvement
The art of training is to give the right amount of stress, at the right time. Too little stress (easy training) leads to lack of improvement. Too much stress in high doses leads to over training.
2. Change of stimuli
When we apply the same type of training over and over again, this is not a stress for our body (or mind) anymore. Training stimuli have to change so that they surprise and challenge the body and create a response. Include things like hill work, long runs, speed work (1500m-10k speed), fartlek, tempo runs, longer intervals, gym sessions, etc. This way you stimulate your body every time with something new.
With experienced runners, it’s more important to be creative with the workouts. Never leave anything out for a long time, rather, always pay attention to all aspects of performance. The only thing that changes is how much emphasis we place on some of those aspects.
3. Recovery is essential
When we apply the right training without giving enough time for recovery, that training will not lead to improvement. Recovery, in the form of rest days or easy runs, is essential. After a relatively easy workout, one day of recovery can be enough. After a hard workout, sometimes two or three days of recovery are needed.
4. Value of easy runs
Easy running in between the harder workouts is important. Generally speaking, athletes who can handle more mileage and do more easy runs, can recover faster from the workouts and make more improvement. There are pretty big differences in the amount of (easy) running athletes can handle. Most top athletes run 140 – 180K per week and close to 80% of their training sessions are easy, which means at 60-75% of max HR. If athletes are not limited by time, building up the amount of easy running they can handle, is one of the goals.
5. Flexibility in the program is key
When designing a program, try to be flexible with the workout days. Giving a workout on fixed days of the week (for example every Tuesday and Friday), means that the amount of recovery is fixed, so you can’t make the training stress higher or lower. If you learn to be flexible with the days, you can more easily alternate lighter workouts and harder workouts. Try not to be fixed in any way. This also increases your ability to give different stimuli.
Flexibility also means: dare to make changes. It almost never happens that our training programs are done in exactly the way the program says. No coach can predict the future! Different factors can lead you to change the program during the month. An athlete pushed harder than expected may need more recovery, so the next workout has to change. If someone feels tired from daily life stress, the program has to be adjusted to that. But also when an athlete does a certain session better than expected, that can lead to changes in the program. This is why communication between athlete and coach are essential.
6. Aerobic training is the base
For most distance runners the aerobic training is the most essential. This includes easy running but not just that! Also sessions at marathon, half marathon and 10K race pace are almost purely aerobic. Often the key to top performances, also in events of 1500m and 5000m, is a very strong aerobic system. This does not mean that speed is not important, but the bulk of training is spent on building up the aerobic system.
7. Strength and speed training are also essential
Training of strength plays an important role in most programs. Building up strength helps athletes to be able to handle more training without getting injured. It also helps them to maintain good running form and to make powerful strides. Most of us are so inactive in daily life that our muscles became too weak to handle much training. We need strength and conditioning to work on that.
Running at high speed is something we also do with all runners. This can be in the form of hill sprints, or in the form of 200-300m repetitions at a pretty fast pace, or in the form of maximum sprints over 30-60m. What and how much is needed depends on the runner and his/her event.
8. Specific training
As a rule of thumb, when coming closer to the race, the training should be more specific. This means that you run a lot at race pace, plus a bit faster and a bit slower. So for example, if you want to run a 10K in 40.00, then we train a lot in 3.45 – 4.15/K (in the specific phase).
9. Base training
Far from the race we put more emphasis on those training forms that are not specific (many coaches call this base training). This means everything that is slower and faster, with just a bit of race pace. We also include more strength.
Training should always be progressive in nature. This means; if you start with 6 x 1000m in 4.00, with a recovery of 90 sec, then you either work towards 10 x 1000m in the same time with the same recovery, or you increase the speed, or you reduce the recovery – what you should do, depends on the race you are preparing for. But the key is the progressive nature of the workouts.
11. Save the best for last
Progressive also means; training should not be too demanding early in the season. An athlete is like a battery, which needs to be recharged and can be empty. Don’t empty yourself before the races start. Build up the intensity of the program and make sure to follow some heavy weeks with a relatively easy week.
12. Setting up a training program
When making a program, the starting point should be the race that you are going to run. Choose the most important race in the coming months/year and start counting back; how many weeks do you have? How many of those weeks do you need for specific training? How many are left for working on your base? When can you train hardest and when do you plan an easier week?
It’s good to run competitions. First of all, it’s a good way to evaluate yourself, to see whether you have made progress. Secondly, it’s the moment when you really push yourself to the limit, more than in any training session. For longer distance runners, one competition per month is enough. Middle distance runners may run more than that.
14. Central Governor Theory
Central Governor Theory: we are not only limited by our physiology, but also by our mind. When we push ourselves to the limit, it’s not the tiredness itself that slows us down, it’s the perception from the brain that what we do is dangerous for us. The only way to deal with this is to, step by step, teach our brain that what we are doing is okay and that it won’t harm us. That means that training sessions should take us out of our comfort zone, so that we learn to overrule the Central Governor. Competitions play an important part here. Mental training, like visualization and positive self-talk is also very important. It teaches us to focus, to be in the present and in that way ignore the signals of distress that come from the body.
Each person is different. One person might do well on high mileage and less speed, while another needs more speed and less mileage to get the same result. So observe yourself, keep a logbook and try to understand what makes you to improve.