Ideally, when training to improve your running, athletes should have a mix of easy effort and quality workouts. The way those workouts are traditionally set up is that the athlete would focus every quality workout on ONE goal — like speed, strength or endurance. A common mistake for runner is to use the same workout every week to both go longer AND faster. These are skills that should be developed separately and independent of each other.

But what if you can only run one to two days per week?

This struggle was shared with me recently by a friend of mine. She has small children at home and her husband leaves early for work which means she really only has one day every week where she actually can get out for a run. Now, let me qualify this by saying that she also works out at home other days per week. (True “weekend warriors” take note: if you’re only working out one day per week then we need to have an entirely different conversation first.) Also, I should point out that she isn’t training for any races either — her goal is to simply gain strength, speed and efficiency.

My friend’s situation is clearly not ideal but it is her reality. And as is the case with many other things in life, you sometimes have to play with the cards you’ve been dealt. So, here’s my advice on how deal with this struggle.

FIND YOUR CONVERSATIONAL PACE

The first thing every runner should do — not just those who have the issue I’m addressing here — is to nail down their conversational (or easy effort) pace. It’s called conversational pace because it’s a pace that you should be able to hold while carrying on a conversation with someone. A good test is to recite the Pledge of Allegiance while you’re running — if you can’t get out more than a couple of words without gasping for air, you’re going too fast. On the other hand, if you can sing while running, you’re probably going to slow.

Rather than finding one specific pace, I recommend narrowing this to a 30 to 45-second range of paces. This is because your conversational pace will differ some from day to day based on your hydration, how rested you are, how hilly the route is, the humidity, the temperature, etc. A range gives you more latitude based on the circumstances.

This is your baseline. Please know that this doesn’t mean you’re slow or that this will be your running pace forever. It also doesn’t say anything about you, your value, your competency as an athlete, or your racing ability. Seasoned athletes train slow and race fast, it’s the way it goes and it’s totally normal. Most people have a conversational pace that is somewhere between one to two minutes slower than the pace they’re capable of racing.

HOW TO IMPROVE ON ONE DAY PER WEEK OF RUNNING

If you only have one day per week to run, I’d suggest alternating between the following two workouts:

  1. Easy Effort Run. The focus of this run is solely on building distance. The idea is to gradually increase your mileage from where you are to where you want to be. These miles should all be completed at conversational pace.
  2. Mixed Effort Run. For this workout, you’ll run some miles at conversational pace and others a little faster. Here’s how it works: start with a warm-up of one to two miles at conversational pace. Then, spend the next mile or couple of miles running at a pace that is between 1:15 and 1:45 faster than your conversational pace. Cool down with a mile or two at conversational pace. This run should be slightly shorter than the Easy Effort Run you did the week before.

HOW TO IMPROVE ON TWO DAYS PER WEEK OF RUNNING

If you’ve got 2 days per week to run — or if my friend’s situation changes to where she can add a run during the week — here’s what I recommend:

  1. Tempo Run. This workout is shorter in distance and faster in pace. The focus of this run is to build speed and efficiency. Start with a mile at conversational pace to warm up. Then, run a mile at a pace which is approximately is 1:15 to 1:30 faster per mile than your conversational pace (“tempo pace”). Finish up with a cool down mile at conversational pace. Every week, gradually increase the uptempo portion of the run until it reaches 30 minutes. Aim for consistent pacing and good running form throughout. Even though it’ll feel harder as the mileage goes on, fight to hold that tempo pace throughout until it’s time to cool down. These runs build efficiency and grit. Keep in mind that this shouldn’t be turned into an anaerobic workout – in other words, it’s not a sprint.
  2. Long Run. This workout is longer in distance and slower in pace. The focus of this run is building endurance by gradually increasing your mileage. These miles should all be completed at conversational pace.

What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to running? Send me a message on my Facebook page.

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