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Coach's Q&A: Middle Distance Runners

Q: What is better for training, especially for middle distance - speed or miles?

A: Middle distance can be a real bear, because it is a little to long to be considered a sprint and a little to short to be considered a distance run. You really need to have the best of both worlds as far as energy system development goes. So, in this instance, there is no “better”. Rather, you need to be prepared to break your training up through out the week into more intensive days, where you are training shorter/more speed distances with full rest/recovery in between repetitions and extensive days, where you are doing longer runs and working on developing work capacity. I really like tempo runs for this as they help to develop work capacity, but allow you to get rest in between your sub-maximal runs so that you can focus on form and not allow high amounts of fatigue to destroy running technique.

Typically, because of the intensity of the speed work and the high amounts of neurological fatigue it can induce on the bodies system, you want to keep the volume of this work low through out the week. I feel that 2x’s a week of intense sprint work will be sufficient. The other days you can perform your tempo work and/or distance work (since I am unsure if you are a recreational runner that likes to just go out and run sometimes with the running groups in town. Not everyone is training to be a high performance athlete, and that is fine). So, at a weeks glance, your running program may looks something like this:

Monday- Speed work
Tuesday- tempo runs
Wednesday- off
Thursday- Speed work
Friday- tempo runs
Sat- easy run (or long distance if you typically run with a running group on a Saturday, as most do)
Sun- off

That would be a generic little program to follow. Another thing that you may want to keep in mind is that depending on where you are in the season, the amount of speed work and tempo runs or longer distance work may shift, as you can not and should not, train maximal speed year round. This is a great way to burn out and potentially get injured. The planning of your program should be set up by a qualified coach to ensure that the variables are set up properly.

Of course there are other things that you would want to consider. You may want to think about adding in some resistance training in order to help increase your strength and power and to fix any movement problems or technique flaws that you may have. This will not only increase your performance in the middle distance events (or in longer or short distance events), but also will help to prevent injuries.

A proper assessment is needed in order to understand what your limiting factors are in the race so that a solid training program can be set up. Again, just like with the running, strength, power and muscular endurance work are going to shift in volume through out the season in order to prevent over training and ensure that you are fresh and ready to run when it comes to race day. Also, when you add lifting into the schedule above, the schedule becomes very “busy”. It would be best for you to sit down with a qualified coach to determine the best way to set up your schedule for your goals and for the amount of time each week you are able to train.

The worst thing you can do is attempt to do too much and over-train yourself into a ditch. When it comes to speed training, the “less is more mantra” is always a great philosophy to follow. Always opt for low volume/low amounts of higher quality work rather than a high volume/high amount of low quality/poorly executed work. As they say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect!”

Good luck,