Train Right for Your Run Type

According to the Italian school of running, as it has come to be known, there are two types of runners at any given race distance.

First, there are those who bring more speed than endurance to a particular race distance. What this means, essentially, is that these runners would fare better at a shorter distance than they would at a longer one. A good example of this type of runner is Shayne Culpepper. A 5,000-meter specialist, Culpepper is packed with fast-twitch muscle fibers and therefore raced successfully at 1,500 meters, too, but not at 10,000 meters.

The second type of runner at any given race distance is the type that brings more endurance than speed to the event, meaning he would perform better at a longer event than he would at a shorter one.

A good example of this type of runner is Bob Kennedy, who was also a 5,000-meter specialist (and still holds the American record in this event, at 12:58). Kennedy is more slow-twitch and fatigue-resistant than Culpepper; consequently, he competed at a very high level at 10,000 meters, but he never even dared to enter an elite-level 1,500-meter race.

According to the Italian school, speed runners and endurance runners need to train somewhat differently for the same event, especially in their event-specific interval workouts. If you have speed, the goal is to extend your speed over the race distance. You start with short intervals at race speed and then try to go longer and longer at the same speed.

If you're more fatigue resistant, the goal is to increase your speed over distance. Start with slower intervals of longer duration and then go faster and faster as you adapt. This approach is applicable to triathlon run training in addition to track, cross-country, and road run training.

Let's look at an example. Suppose you are training for an Olympic-distance peak race featuring a 10K run. First, ask yourself whether, given appropriate training, you are better suited to 5K racing or half-marathon racing. If you're not sure, simply ask yourself: If I were racing a runner of equal ability at a 10K, would my best chance of beating her be to outsprint her at the finish, or to push the pace early and outlast her?

If your weapon is your kick, or you're better suited to 5K racing than half-marathon racing, you should build 10K-specific fitness by extending your speed in race-specific interval workouts. If your 10K weapon is your ability to outlast well-matched competitors, or you're better suited to half-marathon racing than 5K racing, you should build 10K-specific fitness by increasing your speed over distance in race-specific interval workouts.

The table below presents a sample 12-week progression for a speed runner and a fatigue-resistant runner who share the goal of running a 40-minute 10K (6:26 per mile) in their peak triathlon. Twelve weeks out from your peak race is about the right time to begin doing race-specific interval workouts for late-season sharpening.

Speed Runner Fatigue-resistant Runner
Week 1 6 x 400m @ 1:36 with 400m jog recoveries 4 x 1km @ 4:20 with 400m jog recoveries
Week 2 8 x 400m @ 1:36 with 400m jog recoveries 5 x 1km @ 4:16 with 400m jog recoveries
Week 3 6 x 600m @ 2:24 with 400m jog recoveries 5 x 1km @ 4:12 with 400m jog recoveries
Week 4(Recovery week) 6 x 400m @ 1:36 with 400m jog recoveries 4 x 1km @ 4:12 with 400m jog recoveries
Week 5 4 x 800m @ 3:12 with 400m jog recoveries 4 x 1 mile @ 6:48 with 400m jog recoveries
Week 6 6 x 800m @ 3:12 with 400m jog recoveries 4 x 1 mile @ 6:42 with 400m jog recoveries
Week 7 6 x 1km @ 4:00 with 400m jog recoveries 5 x 1 mile @ 6:38 400m jog recoveries
Week 8(Recovery week) 4 x 800m @ 3:12 with 400m jog recoveries 4 x 1 mile @ 6:36 with 400m jog recoveries
Week 9 4 x 1 mile @ 6:24 with 400m jog recoveries 4 x 2km @ 6:32 with 400m jog recoveries
Week 10 5 x 1 mile @ 6:24 with 400m jog recoveries 4 x 2km @ 6:28 with 400m jog recoveries
Week 11 4 x 2km @ 6:24 with 400m jog recoveries 4 x 2km @ 6:24 with 400m jog recoveries
Week 12(Taper week) 2 x 2km @ 6:24 with 400m jog recoveries 2 x 2km @ 6:24 with 400m jog recoveries

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