Get Out of that Rut
Make hard days hard and easy days easy
Master trail runners often slip into a rut—they run the same trail at the same pace. ...
Illustration by Kevin Howdeshell
Master trail runners often slip into a rut—they run the same trail at the same pace. Over and over. Almost every master I have worked with does easy runs too hard and hard runs too easy. Variation in your training pays big dividends.
You may have heard of the hard-day, easy-day training method developed by Bill Bowerman, the famous coach at Oregon State University, and his assistant coach Bill Delinger. It was, simply, train hard one day, really taxing the body, and then take it easy for one or several days to recover. Masters often say that hard days are their key workouts each week. But the easy days allow you to rebuild strength and prepare for the hard days.
I extend the hard-easy concept to weeks and training phases throughout the year. For example, if you are training for a 25-mile trail race, do longer and more intense runs one week (which might include a 20-mile run) and the next week fewer miles and less intensity.
Also, split training into yearly phases. After the holiday pounds have been added, start training with base building. Your base (total weekly mileage including the long run) will be determined by the length of the trail runs and races you intend to do. The base building phase should all be done at an easy pace, with the goal to simply spend time on your feet.
How Do You Measure Hard?
A hard workout should really stretch you, whether it be speed work, a long trail run, intervals, a tempo run, fartleks, on a treadmill or a hilly trail run. There are several ways to measure the intensity of your workout. If you are just starting a hard-easy program, use perceived level of exertion or the talk test to determine hard. A more precise method is to monitor your mile pace or heart rate.