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Improve My Training: Optimize Timing of Strength Work, Tune-up Races and High Load Days

We evaluate a masters member’s training log and provide three practical tips for improvement as she looks towards running Boston in October.

We’re offering PodiumRunner and Active Pass members the chance for a personal coaching consultation. Submit two weeks of your training and answer a few questions about your running history and goals, and we’ll publish selected logs along with three suggestions from an expert coach for improving your training. To be eligible to submit your training, sign up for Active Pass or Podium Runner Pass. If you’re already a member and would like your training evaluated by an expert running coach you can submit your training here.

Runner Profile

Name: Naomi Morita
Age: 59
Goal: 2021 Boston Marathon

Sample Two Week Training

Saturday (3/20) 5.6M @11:30
Sunday (3/21) 5M @10:30
Monday (3/22) 3M @ 12:30
Tuesday (3/23) AM strength-training, then 4M @11:00
Wednesday (3/24) rest
Thursday (3/25) 1M easy hike
Friday (3/26) 5.5M/1000′ trail run, average pace 13:00, then 2.5M of hill repeats
Saturday (3/27) 8M/1200′ trail run, average pace 13:30, then 4.7M/1000′ hike
Sunday (3/28) rest
Monday (3/29) 7M/1100′ trail run, average pace 13:30
Tuesday (3/30) 7M/1300′ trail run, average pace 12:00, then afternoon strength training
Wednesday (3/31) AM strength training, then afternoon 1M warm-up, 10x strides w/10:00 jog recoveries, 1M cool-down
Thursday (4/1) 1.25M warm-up, drills, 4x 3-min tempo @ 8:30 pace, 1.25M cool-down
Friday (4/2) strength training

Like so many runners, due to COVID and the lack of races Naomi’s training and racing has been thrown into turmoil. Despite feeling “aimless and uninspired” she’s been averaging 30 to 35 miles per week mostly at a slower pace on the trails of Hawaii and California – lucky her. She is anxiously waiting to hear if she gets accepted into the Boston Marathon this October. Fortunately, Naomi moves up one age bracket and with a qualifying time of 4:02 at the 2019 New York City Marathon she has an 18-minute buffer. She is looking for a mid-term goal to get back mentally and physically into racing shape and ready for Boston!

Naomi Moritat finishing a race
Photo: courtesy Naomi Morita

Training Evaluation

We asked Cory Smith to evaluate Naomi’s training. Smith is the founder of Run Your Personal Best, an online running coaching business that has helped hundreds of runners achieve personal bests in distances ranging from 800 meters to 100 miles. He holds a USA Track & Field Level 1 and 2 Endurance Certification and was the former Head Cross Country/Track Coach at Penn State Brandywine. Over his running career Cory has held three Maryland state records, was a two-time National Championship qualifier while at Villanova University, and holds personal bests of 4:03 in the mile and a 8:05 3k.

Let’s start off with two things Naomi is doing well.

Praise #1 – Keeping the Base

I commend Naomi for doing a great job of maintaining a base level of running over this difficult time. Not an easy task if you’re motivated by racing. Improvement in running is all about consistency with your running, even if that means cutting back on volume and intensity. If you can operate at 50% to 70% of full training load instead of stopping completely, the road back to peak fitness will be much shorter and easier.

Praise #2 – Staying Strong

Naomi has done a great job maintaining her leg strength. While I would recommend spacing the sessions out a bit better (see below for explanation) periods with no races or decreased running load are ideal times to focus on building strength. I really like how Naomi has been running trails with a good amount of elevation. The undulating terrain of trail running is a great way to strengthen your legs. I also find that during “uninspired” times, as Naomi puts it, getting out on the trails can be more motivating.

Three  tips to improve Naomi’s training.

Tip #1 – Run Before Strength Training

I noticed twice during the sample two weeks Naomi did her strength training before running. If you want to maximize endurance gains and you must do strength on the same day as a run, it’s best to do it following the run. This is due to something called the interference effect As famed sports endurance journalist, Alex Hutchinson points out in Sweat Science “you’re better off doing endurance before strength training. That’s because the endurance signals only stay elevated for about an hour following exercise, while strength signals stay on for 18 to 24 hours.” Our Runners Guide to Strength Training is a great resource for anyone seeking to add strength training to their running.

Tip #2 – Practice Racing Again

Racing is a skill. As with all skills if not practiced regularly you will lose the ability to perform at your maximum capacity. The best way to hone your racing skills is, you got it – race! Assuming Naomi gets into the Boston Marathon I suggest she finds three 5k’s between April and the end of May. Take a one-week break from running mostly as a mental getaway. Then start a marathon training cycle 18 weeks out from Boston and look for a ½ marathon race roughly 8 to 7 weeks out from Boston as a tune up/test of fitness. I’m a huge fan of scheduling tune races a bit further out from goal races because it gives you ample time to recover before putting in a solid block of 4 to 5 weeks of hard marathon training leading to your goal race.

Tip #3 – Spread Out High Load Days

I noticed Naomi had a stretch of five days (3/30 to 3/26) that made up more than 50% of the volume over the two weeks. In addition, each run had over 1,000 feet of elevation gain and she followed up with a tempo two days later. This is a huge red flag for injury, since it’s such a drastic increase in both volume and intensity from all the other days. Whenever possible it’s best to distribute high loads of volume and intensity equally with easy or rest days.

I see this all the time: if you were tracking weekly mileage on a Monday to Sunday schedule Naomi’s volume seems fairly constant, because the five days are spread between two different weeks. It’s important always to pay attention to your training density, or the spacing of high volume or intense sessions. A safe rule of thumb is always have at least two easy days between these sessions.

I wanted to thank Naomi for submitting her training for Podium Runner’s training evaluation. I wish her the best of luck in Boston in fall. If you’re an Active Pass or PodiumRunner Pass member and would like your training evaluated by expert running coach Cory Smith you can submit your training here.