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The Ultimate 7 Training Hacks For The Distance Runner

The pillars of any runners success

Karen is a keen distance runner who has a bursting desire to run faster but isn’t sure how. She has consulted her friends who love to boast about their superior PB times and how they train, but her improvements have stagnated. What appeared to work for her friends hasn’t transferred to Karen’s race day performance. But why is this?  


Running isn’t one size fits all. Many of you will relate to Karen’s story, falling into the trap of believing what works for others will work for you too, often forgetting a fundamental principle - you’re human, and, therefore, you’re unique. You have your own unique training background, some of you have been running for years, others are former hockey players, footballers, and some of you are completely new to sport altogether. You’re unique, and this should never be forgotten and always respected. Fortunately, by all being human we all share some physiological similarities, whether you’re male or female. Here are 7 tips that I believe will be key to your running success, listed in order of descending importance. I encourage you to think of these as a pyramid, without the solid foundations of tip 1, tip 7 is never going to work for you.

Training Hack 1: Volume Is The King And Queen Of Your Running Plan.

Does this mean that you need to train a lot? You’ve guessed it. The number 1 rule of any runners training plan is volume. Without it, you won’t be able to endure the event. By simply training more, you can increase your VO2 max (your ceiling for aerobic respiration - it's your physiological capacity in terms of distance running). Perhaps best exemplified by Bente Skari, a 5-time Cross-Country Ski World Champion, who increased her VO2 max from 65 mL·kg–1·min–1 to an outstanding 74 mL·kg–1·min–1 in parallel to increasing her annual training hours from 335.5 to 745 hours.  Whilst Bente was not a runner and therefore didn’t have to cope with the forces of approximately 3* her body mass with every step (for a 65kg runner = 195kg/step), allowing her to sustain much greater training hours than a runner would have [1]. We can be assured that an increase in your hours spent running at a low intensity will likely translate to an increase in your VO2max, thereby increasing your physiological capacity to endure your next race.

Training Hack 2: High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Helps You Run Faster

Now that you have the solid foundations of your training pyramid in place, you can support this large volume of training at a low intensity with a small amount of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), increasing your VO2 max even more. Indeed, HIIT arguably provides the best bang for buck in your time spent training and should be incorporated into your running plan. The trick, however, is getting the balance right.    


Training Hack 3: Does The Pareto Principle Extend To My Running Training?


However large volumes of HIIT might violate the famous Pareto principle. I propose that in keeping with this “rule” of effects vs causes, you’re achieving 80% of your adaptive gains with 20% of your training and wasting valuable training energy when this balance is not achieved. But why? If I were to analyse your weekly runs, it’s likely that you’ll be spending a large volume of your week in the heavy exercise domain (Zone 2 of a 3 Zone Heart Rate model). As a result, your legs are never fresh enough to meet the demands of your HIIT sessions, thereby blunting your adaptative gains. You are not alone, however - 1 in 2 recreational runners get this wrong by doing close to 50% of their training in the heavy exercise domain (Zone 2 of a 3 Zone Heart Rate model) [2]. I encourage you to demand more of your training, by running smarter to run faster and stronger.


Training Hack 4: Periodization


Should your training week look the same every week? Before considering any potential physiological gains from training variation, I’m sure you can agree that training exactly the same every week is unlikely to bring you much satisfaction. Indeed, you’re likely to miss runs owing to boredom. Arguments can be made that the implementation of periodization to running plans is merely driven by tradition not science [3], and that running is not the same as building a garage, whereby the foundations must first be built before the roof work may commence. What we do know, however, is that subtle variation to your running plan will induce a better training stimulus. Your body adapts to the stimulus placed upon it, so inducing the same stimulus week in, week out is unlikely to bring you any significant physiological gains.   


Training Hack 5: Training-Stimuli Enhancement


If you perfect tips 1-4 of your running plan, to take the next step in your running performance it is time to consider additional approaches to increase your training stimuli. After all, your body has become accustomed to your current training and is unlikely to adapt any further. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. Namely, running in an overnight fasted state. Such training can increase your lipid oxidation rates, increasing your capacity to oxidise fat as an energy source. An adaptation key to your performance in the latter stages of a long-distance event when your glycogen stores are depleted. You may also wish to consider altitude training, to trigger the production of more red blood cells, thereby increasing the amount of oxygen delivered to your working muscles. Allowing you to produce more energy (Adenosine Triphosphate).


Training Hack 6: Race/Pace Training


Assuming you have built a strong pyramid, perfecting tips 1-5 in your running plan, you may wish to consider undertaking pacing training - but why? To perform at your very best, you must run at your optimal pace.  If you were to simply go all-out at the start line, you would quickly burn out of energy stores and fade out.  This is best overcome by practicing pacing in your training, which may also serve to stimulate pace-specific fitness adaptations.


Training Hack 7: Training Taper


In the final weeks prior to an important race, it is important that you recognise that your fitness levels are unlikely to change with further training. Instead, this is the time to consider priming yourself for race day. To put it simply, performance = fitness - fatigue. This can be best achieved by a combination of decreasing your training volume and increasing your training intensity




When Karen learned these tips and designed her running plan to running success, she always remembered that she is unique, therefore what worked for her friends won’t necessarily work for her. To design an effective training plan, I recommended that like Karen, you start at tip 1, ensuring that you have the solid foundations in place before considering tips higher up in the pyramid - a rule that extends to the very elite. Paula Radcliffe reportedly ran ~200km/week in her prime, a training load that could only be tolerated after years of training. 

Hopefully, that gave you some great ideas on what actionable changes you can make to your running plan. Set aside an hour, and I think you'll be amazed at what pours out if you use these tips!


(1) Seiler, Stephen, Tonnessen E. Intervals, Thresholds, and Long Slow Distance: the Role of Intensity and Duration in Endurance Training. 2016;:1–27.

(2) Gilman MB. The use of heart rate to monitor the intensity of endurance training. Sport Med 1996;21:73–9. 

(3) Kiely J. Periodization paradigms in the 21st century: Evidence-led or tradition-driven? Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2012;7:242–50


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