When you’re under pressure and time is as scarce as a kind word from your boss, it’s a good idea to fall back on simple processes and routines. There’s a good reason that high risk/high consequence tasks such as flying a passenger jet, rebooting a nuclear reactor or performing surgery are built on the foundations of well-considered, documented procedures.
Humans are not robots and when we’re under the pump we make mistakes, overlook the otherwise obvious and generally tend to stuff things up. A simple process, or cheat sheet, can prevent the simple, but disastrous from befalling unwitting victims. In the mindboggling complexity of surgery, forgetting to remove a sponge or clamp before sewing the patient back up leads to serious ramifications.
While running isn’t brain surgery, and doesn’t require a detailed understanding of subatomic particles, it can be easy to mess up your training when the rest of your brain is swamped with the demands of your job. Here’s a simple training structure you can fall back on when you’re uncertain about which city you’ve woken up in, or where you are in time and space. It’s designed for a runner with some base running fitness, so if you’re just starting out, reduce the volume of running to a level where you can sustain good technique for the duration of each session.
Six weeks of simple
This program has three different types of running (easy pace, tempo pace and speed) and each of these is done at a different pace, which is important for developing the physiological attributes required for running a decent 5-10km race or half-marathon. On the mechanical flipside, these different types of running also help stimulate and let you practise technical improvements.
So while I’ve presented this training structure as a six-week plan, you can swap each element around to suit your location and even what you feel like you can cope with on any given day. The important thing is to try and do at least one of these different-paced runs each week – the actual structure of the session you do is less important. Keep in mind this program is your failsafe plan, rather than one you’d follow if you had all the time and headspace in the world to apply to your running.
Notes to the program
The idea with this program is to keep maximum flexibility while maintaining the base structure as best you can. If you can do one run of each type every week for six weeks, you’ll have done a great job. If you have time to sneak in a fourth easy run: even better. If you’re really busy and stressed, don’t do any more running than that. Think about doing some strength training or a yoga or pilates class as an additional stimulus and chance to relax.
Allow recovery between each of the harder sessions (speed and tempo work) of at least two days. Within each training session give yourself as much recovery as you need to get your breath back and be able to start the next interval or run feeling in control. For speed work and hills, walking back to the beginning is a good idea. For the tempo pace, take it easy between intervals: a one to three-minute jog (or more) might be needed, depending on how fit you are.
Pace / effort
Easy pace is slow enough so that you could talk while running, and this is exactly what you should do if you have the chance: take a friend or colleague along for a run, rather than meeting for a drink after work. Your main easy run for each week should be the longer run, but only go as far as you feel strong enough to run well: there’s no point flogging yourself at a desperate plodding pace.
Tempo pace is a solid pace: close to your 10km or half-marathon race pace. These sessions are about sustained effort and concentration on good technique rather than all-out hard running.
Hills and sprints are to be done fast but in control: 70-85% efforts so you can maintain good technique and strength.
The order as presented in the diagram above progresses slightly in difficulty, but feel free to modify or swap these training sessions around to suit your needs.
Enjoy your six weeks of simple running!