Mark Carroll, Auburn cross-country coach
“There’s an old saying that ‘a little a lot is better than a lot a little.’ In other words, you want to start easy and build up, rather than doing too much, too soon.
I would also recommend for a beginner, making sure that medically everything is okay. Seeing a doctor and making sure that you have a clean bill of health before getting into any program. Assuming everything is okay health-wise, just building very slowly from two days a week to three days a week to four days a week. Maybe every second day until your body gets used to it. You’re putting a stress on your body that it wouldn’t be used to normally, and you’ve got to give your body time to recover.
Initially, you’re going to need more time to recover. As you get used to it, you’re going to need less time to recover. It’s okay to incorporate walking for a minute, jogging for a minute, or even running for a minute, walking for two minutes. It would really depend on where your starting point is, your fitness level to begin with.
If you’re starting from complete scratch, you might be better off not running at all, and building up to walking before you even start to run. Or maybe incorporating a little bit of biking or a bit of swimming until your fitness level is such that you can handle more running. With running, you have the impact on your joints, whereas in the pool or on the bike you don’t have the impact on your joints. Depending on your starting point, you do have to be a little careful when you’re starting out for the first time.
INTERMEDIATEFor that man or woman who goes out three or four days a week, I’m a big believer in having numbers. It’s a lot easier to get out the door if you’re going to meet a group. I would advise actively seeking out a group. They’ll probably have coaches in those groups who can give advice as to how many days a week or how many miles per day.
If you’re on the more advanced side of intermediate, incorporating what we would call a little bit of fartlek. That’s an old Swedish term that means “speed play.” It’s just going out for a run and sticking some 2-minute pickups, or 3-minute pickups, or 30-second pickups into your run, to change the pace a little bit. That will just give you a little bit more pace in the legs, a different stimulus. It will definitely help you, especially over a 5K.
Maybe three minutes harder, two minutes easier, three minutes harder. So it’s not just one pace the whole time. You’re advancing toward a goal, such as a 5K. It’s not just about running every day, you can get fitter and faster by putting some fartleks, or intervals, into your training, and doing that with a group usually is easier than trying to do it yourself. You want that base fitness first. You want to have a steady foundation of base miles, your easier pace miles. And then, if you do plan on running 5Ks or 10Ks, and you want to get faster, then you might want to incorporate the interval runs.
At the collegiate level, or even post-collegiate level, people preparing for marathons, we look at the endpoint, the goal, the race for which you’re getting ready. We then work back. We have different phases of training. Depending on the amount of time you have at your disposal to get ready, you can have three or four phases. It depends on the event as well.
The marathon obviously requires a lot more work than a 5K. You have different types of training that go into each phase. The last phase would be your pre-competition phase where you’re tapering down and you’re doing more of the faster type work. The earlier phases would be what we call the building blocks. Your longer runs, longer workouts, hill workouts. Then you refine as you go toward your peak.
That would be the difference between someone at a very high level and someone starting out. When you’re starting out, you want to be careful because your body needs to adapt to the training. With the higher athlete, we know the goal, the base fitness is probably already good. We now just need a plan where that athlete reaches their goal, and how do we get them from Point A to Point B.