Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 22 May 2001 08:41:56 -0400

Half Enough


I'm into my second running class at the University of Oregon, this one training 5-K racers. After my opening-day spiel, describing the training plan, a young man said, "I won't be coming back. I'm training for triathlons and marathons, and your program sounds too easy for me."

I had to laugh. This program is built around runs of a half-hour or so. I wouldn't change that amount even if the class period allowed us more running minutes.

Boston Marathon week seems a good time to bring up this subject. Boston has been more responsible than any other race for glorifying the marathon. But marathon mania also has been responsible for devaluing shorter runs like those lasting a mere 30 minutes.

Yes, half-hour runs can be absurdly easy for an experienced runner. But they also can be brutally hard for the best of runners.

A world 10-K record can be set in less than a half-hour, with time left over for a victory lap or two. Tell these runners this was "too easy."

A half-hour is the most versatile or adaptable length of run. Record-breaking 3000-meter races would fit into 10 minutes, but this isn't even a warmup at easy pace. Half-marathons have been run within an hour, but even running that hour slowly isn't easy (at least not for me).

Half-hour runs can be whatever you want to make them -- very hard to very easy and every degree of difficulty in between. You can't train for marathons and other long races by running no more than 30 minutes a day. But no matter what your ambitions might be, you can do a lot in the time it would take to watch a sitcom or to eat a fast-food lunch.

This is enough time to gain and maintain basic aerobic fitness without turning this quest into a second job. It's enough time but not too much to run on recovery days. It's enough time to train for speed and enough to race well for at least a 5-K.

This isn't to say that each of these runs is alike, or that half-hours are created equal for all runners. My class began the spring with a get-acquainted run. It would tell the students and me their real fitness level -- not what they once did or dream of doing, but what they could do now.

The test was a half-hour run for distance. Almost two miles separated the fastest and slowest runners, but all ran with similar effort for the same time span.

Half-hour runs are the same in size but not substance, which self-adjusts to how you're running each day. Even while running this amount more often than any other, I never take quite the same run twice. The possible combinations of courses, weather, pace and feelings are infinite.

Little of this can be planned. But you can schedule variations in day-to-day effort within the basic half-hour framework.

These fall along a sliding scale beginning with walking the whole time on a rest day, and topping out with going the entire time at current race pace. In between come many options:

1. Run 10 minutes, walk 20 on days when the warmup mile shouts "enough!"

2. Run an easy 30, whatever this might mean that day.

3. Run a second 30, later in the day.

4. Run an easy 10, then a fast 10 and another easy 10, with the middle portion usually being a timed mile with brief walks before and after.

5. Run three sets of five minutes easy, five fast.

6. Warm up for 10 minutes, then alternate a minute fast and one slow (10 of each) for the remaining time.

7. Run a few minutes of warmup (enough to fill the half-hour), then three straight miles, each faster than the one before.

8. Run the entire 30 minutes, checking the distance covered in that time, as my class did.

The half-hour run can be as varied as the imagination allows, and as easy or as hard as you care to go. Whatever you choose to do and however you do in it, the run always ends on time.

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