Training For a Fun Run: A Load off your Mind

It's 2 weeks to the HBF Fun Run, the last 10 weeks have been torturous, up and down with aches and pains as you train for the event. Maybe your knee or your ankle is your Achilles heel? Maybe you're weaker in one limb than the other? Maybe your training has been the culprit the whole time! 

Training for a Fun Run is a delicate balance of under vs overload. Don't train hard enough and you won't improve your running time or endurance, train too hard and you risk overloading the body's soft tissue and aggravating underlying injuries. This delicate balance is hard to achieve especially if this is your first Fun Run or organised sporting event. Both under and overload are important parts to training, under-load can be useful to allow rest within a training program and reduce cumulative stress on the body and mind. In an ideal world the scales are slightly tilted towards overload, this allows you to appropriately stress your cardiorespiratory system and musculoskeletal system without significant  breakdown of system function. Appropriate stress on these systems allows for faster running times and more efficient function of your heart, lungs and muscles. So how do you plan for a Fun Run, a half marathon, marathon?

Training Load! Load is a figure made up of the volume of training you perform in a set amount of time whether it be a day, a week or a month. It also depends on the intensity of training you are performing. There's a difference between walking 3km per day and running 3km per day. As a run is more intense than walking, the stress on the heart, lungs and muscles is more and the training response as well should be more compared to walking. 

Volume x Intensity= Training Load

Volume can be broken up further into two seperate components; frequency of training and the amount of time spent training. Frequency relates to how often you train and influences the amount of time spent applying stress to your  cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal systems. The common unit of measurement between the two factors would be the sum of training time in minutes or hours spent training.

Intensity relates to the rating of perceived exertion or maximal effort involved with training. This relates to the speed of your run as the faster you run the harder the effort for your cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal systems.It is either calculated as a percentage of maximal effort or a rating of difficulty out of ten (ie. 10/10= hardest exercise ever experienced, 0/10 absolutely no effort, might as well be sleeping). In either case the end product is calculated as a numerical value between 0-10 and multiplied by volume to establish training load. Type of training also factors into intensity as some forms of exercise are more or less intense than running alone. For example swimming as a form of cross training is less intensive training for your musculoskeletal system compared to running. Whereas rowing is an example of  more intensive exercise for your cardiovascular system ran running alone. Lets assume for the sake of the Fun Run, your intensity stays a constant 6/10 intensity for the entirety of your training. This allows your to experience moderate physical stress without significant discomfort or intense physical effort.

Now some might think that it would be smart to start off with 1km runs and increase by 1km per week for the entire 12 weeks. Whilst this seems to be a logical systematic increase in load, particularly for those who have experience in running,  there is considerable risks of exposure to significantly increased training load in the first few weeks of training. Running 1km one week and 2km the next week represents a 100% increase in training load. This is the same as running 5km one week and then 10km the next week. Such large increases in training load is grounds for overload of previously healthy musculoskeletal tissue. A common rule amongst runners is the suggestion that training loads should be adjusted by no more than 10% per week. This minimises the chance of overload of soft tissues and promotes gradual increases in training load which is far more sustainable than 100% or even 50% of the previous training load.

A rough guide to planning your training program should start with your goal distance in mind. For example if your goal is the 12km Fun Run, your aim should be able to run at least twice that distance in a week if you were training 3 days a week running. This would equal two 6km runs and one 12 km run for a total of 24km per week. The week prior to this should be 10% less than this, repeat this until you meet your comfortable maximum running distance. If you can maximally run 3km in one go, it would take roughly 16 weeks of training to reach your goal distance of 12km as per the following table.

 Sample Running program for 3km runners: Compares Total load to 10% Load Increases per week, yellow scores indicate an increase in load greater than 10%

In theory this program should allow you to achieve your goal in 16 weeks, unfortunately as this is an ideal scenario, often the reality of a training program fails to account for changes to lifestyle or stress associated with everyday life. Therefore it is suggested that every 2-4 weeks the training load should be the same or slightly less to allow for under-load to assist recovery and reduce physical and mental stress. This also allows you to adapt your training load as you see fit over the course of your training, as your program should be individually focused after all.

The take home point associated with training for Fun Runs or recommencing running training is to plan ahead. It's much more difficult to plan when there is a set date of competition and you must plan your schedule to a time frame you cannot completely control. If you wish to improve your running ability, take your time and slowly progress your training load, keeping in mind the volume and the intensity of your training. Overall the process should be enjoyable, isn't that the point of a Fun Run?