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

Mon, 4 Feb 2002 08:39:03 -0500

Simply Wonderful


When we left Jack Farrell last week (RC 398), he had returned to coaching at Thousand Oaks High School in California. He'd come back from his sabbatical with fresh ideas about how his runners would train. He would simplify their program, running them about the same distance at similar effort nearly every day.

An early test subject was Erik Spayde. During track season of his senior year, his runs began at five miles and seven-minute pace.

"He increased his mileage to six in January and seven in February," the coach recalls in a series of articles he wrote for a coaching website ( "He remained on seven miles per day the remainder of the season, running eight miles each Monday. His pace dropped to six minutes per mile about mid-season and even below near the championship meets."

The Results? That season Spayde improved his 1600-meter time from 4:29 to 4:12, his 3200 from 10 minutes to 9:14. "I was so encouraged by what I saw in his training and others I worked with that spring," says Farrell, "that I stayed with the same basic program I described above."

Boys teams from Thousand Oaks won state cross-country championships in 1993 and '94, and ranked as high as second nationally. A girl from that school ran even better.

Farrell writes, "In the 1995 season, her fourth year utilizing these training principles, Kim Mortensen won the Foot Locker National Cross-Country Championship. During the 1996 track season Kim posted nation-leading times in the 1600, 3000 and 3200." The 3200 time of 9:48.59 remains a national high school record.

The training? "Kim spent most of her sophomore and junior years running comfortably at 7:00 pace. By her senior cross-country season, her comfort zone had improved to 6:20 pace on the roads, and sometimes dropped as low as 5:55 pace during the latter half of the track season."

Farrell didn't say how far Mortensen ran at that training pace. Even if the distance was far less than seven to eight miles... or if the quoted pace was for a short course... or if the "5:55" was for certain individual miles and not an overall average, that's still very fast training for a high school girl. But note that she averaged a minute per mile faster than 5:55s in her record-setting metric two-mile race.

JACK FARRELL says that no single training run is all-important. What counts more is stringing together dozens or hundreds of runs. His young runners improved through simple, consistent, "comfortably paced" -- or moderately hard? -- runs repeated for months or years on end.

So what might this plan have to do with a runner old enough to be a parent (or grandparent) of these high school kids? What might it mean for someone racing far greater distances -- or not racing at all?

Certain key elements still might be worth trying for any runner: run almost daily, run about the same amount and at the same comfort level most days, run slightly longer and faster only as the improved comfort level allows, and run significantly longer or faster only sparingly.

I have little urge to race anymore. So I have little reason to stretch my runs extra-long or push them extra-fast. Yet Jack Farrell has influenced my running.

His writings have prompted me to smooth out my efforts. To make all days more alike, in other words.

For years I've taken one big day a week, usually on a Saturday. Its distance has been 100 percent or more beyond my weekday average. Or its pace has been 20 to 25 percent faster than my norm.

Both the long and the fast runs have ventured too far out of my comfort zone. As a result, the weekday runs have suffered.

The past two months I've made easy runs a little harder and the hard ones much easier. I've upped the average length of weekday runs by just one minute a week -- which becomes about five minutes a month, which could grow into... well, wherever it might take me comfortably. Long runs are shorter than before (only about 25 percent above the daily average length), and fast runs are slower (only about 10 percent beyond normal pace).

I run for today, not to get ready for a race someday. This always-about-the-same plan is simply wonderful if it makes more of the days better.

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