Not all workouts are created equal, and I’m not just talking about length (I ran for an hour) or distance (I ran 8 miles). In order to get stronger, faster, and build more endurance, we need to train our bodies accordingly. That is not accomplished by going out for as long and fast as possible every time. There are specific ways to train to achieve different things.
Admittedly, I used to scoff when I saw a 3-mile run as part of a training plan. I took it at face-value and dismissed this distance as too short to be doing any good. Not any more! I can tell you that some of the hardest workouts I’ve done were only three miles long and I was begging for them to be over.
You may hear me talk about completing “a long run” or some such verbiage. I’m going to give you a sense of what I mean by that and how I classify my own workouts.
** Disclaimer: I am not a coach. I am not a Certified Personal Trainer. I am an amateur athlete largely doing my own thing and these are my own opinions. **
<20 miles: speed work or SFRs/hill repeats
Contrary to what I used to believe, I don’t always need to go all-out to get in a good cycling workout. This distance is great for doing drills with sprints or hills. Otherwise, if I am going out for fewer than 20 miles, I consider it “recreational” riding or errands. Still burning calories (and not burning gas)!!
20-40 miles: intervals and/or power work
This distance is long enough to get in some decent HR intervals and even some one-legged drills while maintaining good speed and building endurance. Examples — I will work on maintaining cadence over varying terrain or reestablishing my average pace after a long climb. For me, this cycling range is my go-to for most training rides.
40+ miles: endurance
This is butt-in-saddle time for me. I will sometimes incorporate some intervals, but it’s largely a time for me to settle in at race pace and grind it out. I watch my HR and average speed, but also keep in mind the need to go the distance and pace myself accordingly. This is what I will refer to as “a long ride.”
<4 miles: sprint intervals or recovery
Nothing wrong with a good recovery run, and anything under 4 miles ought to do it. That said, if you’re looking to get faster, I dare you to go out there and sprint for 30 seconds at every half mile for four miles. You will be tired (and faster) when you get done.
4-6 miles: anything goes
This distance can do anything. You can go for a tempo run or mix some sprint intervals in. Run on trails or hilly terrain to mix it up. This is a go-to distance for me because I can vary it so widely.
6+ miles: endurance
My average pace settles around 8:20-8:30 these days, so most runs over 6 miles get into the hour range. I consider that a long run. These are usually tempo runs, but I have been better about mixing in hills to acclimate myself better for race conditions. The goal is then to get my average speed back up to where I need it on the flats.
This is an entirely different beast.
Again, the time or distance doesn’t matter — it’s what you do with it. You can build a speed workout that is 1000 yards or 2600 yards. The same goes for a workout that focuses on form. The takeaway here is to not just get in the pool and grind out some set distance and think you are helping yourself. Go in with a goal and work toward it. If you need to improve your form, stop looking at the clock. If you are doing speed work, you better have a shit-ton of intervals planned.
Weekly Workout Wrap-up
Monday – 2600-yard swim
Tuesday – Track Attack + 7 mile power walk
Wednesday – 21-mile bike ride + 7 mile power walk
Thursday – 7.5 mile run
Friday – OFF
Saturday – 2550 yard swim + 8.5 mile run