Endurance athletes often use repetitions in their training but just make sure they are specific to your goals, says David Lowes
For most runners, repetitions are a staple of training. However, it’s often the case that a particular distance has been selected without contemplating the associated volume, speed and recovery.
In fact, there are many considerations when planning reps – you need to think about ability, age, the time of year you are doing them, the speed, recovery, distance and, of course, how many reps you are actually going to complete.
In terms of a basic rep sessions, an 800m runner can do 400m reps on a track and so can a marathon runner. But their chosen outcomes and goals are poles apart. If we throw varying surfaces – tarmac, grass and even sand – into the mix, you begin to see how varied a reps session can be and how many factors should be considered when planning them.
With youngsters, the best way to start off is by setting a low number of reps with a decent amount of recovery and not too much emphasis on speed. The reps can be slowly increased as fitness and strength develops and, in turn, recoveries can be reduced. The speed will come naturally once fitness improves.
A growing body and developing muscles and bones should always be factored into the planning of any session. Likewise, veteran runners are going in the opposite direction with degenerating muscles and joints and any session has to be planned with this in mind.
It should be noted that an increase in reps, speed and a decrease in recovery are not done at the same time – one step at a time is the development pathway. Let’s look at three different training zones that all have a big bearing on event development:
Speed: This is the ability to run as fast as you possibly can (that is, to sprint). Sessions such as ‘flying 40m’ are a good start, even if they come at the end of the main session.
It gives the athlete the opportunity to run at their top speed without any restraints from lactic acid.
Run 20m at ‘800m’ pace, then explode over 40m and repeat 5-6 times with a reasonable recovery – it involves good form, use of ‘fast twitch fibres’ and it’s a wake-up call. Also, try 30/30/30m – 30m at 1500m pace, 30m at 800m pace and then flat out.
Speed endurance: This is the ability to run at speed for a prolonged period, despite the build-up of lactic acid. This type of training helps the athlete to buffer lactate and perform better. Sessions such as: 10x300m with 45-60sec recovery at race pace or slightly faster; 6x500m with 80sec recovery at race pace or slightly faster; 8x600m with 90sec recovery at race pace or slightly faster.
Strength endurance: This is the ability to produce strength over a long period of time with a minimal decrease in efficiency. It involves working against resistance to develop strength and endurance. Although more commonly used in weight-related training, it is nevertheless a staple type of work for distance runners.
The shorter middle-distance events use this work mainly in winter with sessions like 16x400m with 60sec rest at around race pace or slightly slower, depending on event.
Starting with 200m reps on a track, an 800m runner may perform these as: 3x4x200m with 30sec and 5-6min sets at ‘date race pace’.
A marathon runner may rarely attempt 200m reps, however for some variety in their mundane voluminous workload, 40-60x200m at half-marathon pace with a 100m ‘float’ at marathon pace may be a change from the monotony of tarmac as a standalone session.
The 800m runner has much more in the locker, though. In the winter, 2x8x200m with 45sec rec at 1500m pace may be a good way of keeping some pace while still utilising the aerobic system purposefully without any alarming rises in lactate.
Putting the above session into the context of other surfaces and a slight incline/decline could be used on the roads as well as grass.
On compact sand the grass session can be replicated while softer sand can give a much different aspect to the session where speed is not the main criteria and leg stresses along with posture may be the main determinants.
Not all sessions will be run at a constant pace or with short recoveries or voluminous reps and any session can be basically broken down into aerobic or anaerobic and within those ‘zones’ of:
» Speed endurance
» Strength endurance
Some examples of these are –
» 2x4x400m >1500m pace with 2min rec 5-8min sets
» 4x400m at near 100% with 5-8min rec
» 2x4x400m with 200m at 1500m pace, final 200m at 800m pace with 2-3min rec and 5-8min sets
» 3x3x400m, 100m at 800m pace, 200m at 1500m pace, 100m at 800m pace with 2-3min rec, 5-8min sets
» 8-10x400m at 1500m pace with 60-80sec rec
An 800m specialist will rarely do reps over this distance, although they may be incorporated into some winter conditioning. However, a 1500m runner may tackle some of the following:
» 4x800m at race pace with 2min 30sec rec
» 2x800m at >1500m pace with 6-8min rec
» 6x800m (400m at 5000m pace, 400m >1500m pace) 3min rec
A 5000m specialist could incorporate:
» 6-8x800m at 3000m pace with 2min rec
» 6-8x800m (300m at 1500m pace, 300m at 5000m pace, 200m at 1500m pace) with 3min rec
A marathon runner may attempt:
» 12-16x800m at marathon pace with a 200m float in 50sec rec
» 12-16x800m at half-marathon pace with 200m float in 75sec
A 1500m runner may do these reps in the winter months on road/grass such as 4-6xmile at 5km pace with 3-4min rec. A 5000m staple session could be a confidence boosting 3x1600m at race pace with 5min rec.
The marathon runner will relish 6-10x mile at half-marathon pace with 4-5min rec (typically roads).
Mixed distance repetitions
Although most rep sessions stick to the same distance, there are instances where you can mix it up to achieve an end result:
» 5x400m with 80sec rec, 5x300m with 60sec rec; 5x200m with 30sec rec – all at 1500m pace.
» 5x400m with 50sec rec at 3km pace, 5x300m with 70sec rec at 1500m, 5x200m with 30sec rec at >1500m pace.
» 1x800m at 3km pace with 2min rec, 2x200m at >1500m pace with 30sec rec, 1x600m at 3km pace with 90sec pace, 2x200m at >1500m pace with 30sec rec, 2x400m at 3km pace with 60sec rec, 2x200m at >1500m pace with 30sec rec, 1x300m at 100%.
As well as mixed distance reps, there are also mixed terrain sessions where you may start on the track, move to the grass and then back to the track.
The golden rule? Enjoy your reps and make them specific to your needs.
Make sure your reps are varied by addressing the following:
» Slower than race pace
» Race pace
» Faster than race pace
» Short recoveries
» Medium recoveries
» Long recoveries
» Voluminous reps
» Reps broken up by sets
» Reps with ‘float’ recoveries
» Reps with decreasing recoveries
» Reps with differential paces
» Reps that involve fast starts, cruise, fast finish
» Reps that involve many changes in pace
» Reps with different distances (pyramid or similar)
* All these session examples are for well-trained, mature runners and youngsters and veterans should be on a much reduced programme.
» David Lowes is a UKA Level 4 coach, BMC Academy chair and ex-GB runner on the track, cross country and road