Designing Your New Running PR Part II: The Fundamental Period

For Part I on developing your new running PR click here

The fundamental period of our training prescription should be designed to lay the foundation for your next body of harder work leading into a goal race.

If you are an experienced runner with many years of training under your belt, this phase may only last a month or so. If you have been away from the sport for a while, took a long break after your last big race, or simply need to recharge your batteries after months (years?) of serious training, then extend this period out to 8-12 weeks. 

Be sure to consult Part 1 of our EndurElite series to find your appropriate starting point and training level prior to launching into the fundamental period. These categories of training intensity should appropriate your relative volume and work load tolerance as we move through your next cycle.  

I will reference heart rate and perceived exertion levels a good bit in this phase of training. Using heart rate as your guide can be very useful, but it may not be for everyone. Some runners prefer to simply train off of effort during this period, so I will annotate all training sessions for both. Later, we will start to apply actual paces based on your racing goals for these runs rather than solely relying on heart rate/effort, but for now these parameters should keep you from overdoing any particular session and risking interrupting your optimum development.

If using heart rate, I would recommend purchasing a quality monitor with an actual chest strap for your most accurate readings.  The newer pulse rate monitors can be accurate enough for fitness training or purely recreational runners, but the chest strap devices are going to give you the best data long-term. Before beginning any new cycle of training, I would recommend retesting for your personal max heart rate rather than using the “220 Minus Your Age” estimator. A few ways to do that are as follows. Complete one of these field tests in good weather and in a well rested/fueled state.

Field Test #1:

  • Very Thorough Warm-Up, 1600m Time Trial @ Maximal Effort (track), Warm-Down
  • Record Your Highest Heart Rate During the Test
  • It Should Occur in the Second Half of the Run if Pacing Was Appropriate

 Field Test #2:

  • Very Thorough Warm-Up, All-Out Uphill Run for 3-6min @ a Moderate Grade, WD

-Record Your Highest Heart Rate During the Test

-You May Achieve Your Max Heart Rate Fairly Early in this Test, and It Will Likely Taper Down Towards the End as You Reach Muscular Failure 

-Can Use a Treadmill Set on a 4-6% Grade for this, or a long hill outdoors

Components of the Fundamental Period

Aerobic Volume

Famous coaches the word over have been touting the benefits of extensive aerobic training on long distance running performance for over half a century. From the early teachings of Arthur Lydiard to the modern research of Dr. Steven Seilers, they all agree on one thing- If you want to get faster, you have to go run. A lot. And do it again the next day.

And then the next… Consistent running volume over time is the biggest contributor to your race performance, so we want to include a good amount of aerobic volume in the fundamental period.  Those training for a 5K may reach their highest weekly running volume during this period, while marathoners will want to save their biggest weeks until closer to race day (due to event specificity).

Regardless of your target race distance, I would recommend looking at your average weekly mileage over the last six months to a year, and beginning the fundamental period about 25% below this figure after a brief reintroduction period following your previous season (and hopefully a short break from running!). As the weeks go by, try to gradually increase your running volume to a point where you are running 10-20% above your average mileage level. This will put you in a good place to tackle harder training to come, and stimulate your system with some extra running than you are used to doing.

Note- I don’t always like to follow the “10% rule” when it comes to adding mileage. This rule of thumb loosely dictates that you shouldn’t increase your running mileage from week to week by more than 10%, but I think that is quite flimsy. Rather than sticking to a generic rule, you will need to closely monitor how you are feeling from week to week, and only add volume as your body allows. On the flip side, you may be able to add mileage much faster than this depending on what you are used to from previous training blocks. You are your own best coach! Know thyself.

The aerobic volume component is not just easy running! We will be using the below effort/heart rate zones to fill our weekly mileage totals at this time. Details of how to incorporate these zones will be provided at this end of this chapter.

Aerobic Zones Based off Heart Rate and Effort

Regeneration- A very gentle effort, relaxed jogging purely for recovery; goal is to simply get fresh blood to the muscles, clear metabolic wastes, and oxygenate the body; 50-60% of max heart rate; optimum duration is 20-40min to ensure recovery between harder sessions; this can also include cross training activities such as biking, using the elliptical machine, rowing, or swimming

Aerobic Endurance, Level 1- This is your “daily easy run” zone that we all know and love; the effort should be comfortable throughout, but a little quicker than the slow jogs needed to achieve regeneration; this zone seeks to build your base of aerobic enzymes, increase capillary beds/mitochondrial development, and improve technique/biomechanics as you spend longer amounts of time running each week; 60-70% max heart rate for 45-75min is optimum for easy runs, but training time in this zone can be extended almost indefinitely for longer efforts (I don’t recommend runs of more than 150-180min except on very rare occasions).  

Aerobic Endurance, Level 2- This is your “moderate aerobic zone” where you are starting to push the pace a bit, perhaps getting more assertive as a run progresses, but you should still be able to converse in shorter sentences with your training partners; this zone accelerates all the benefits of training in AE 1, but is becoming more specific to the paces and efforts you will use for harder training and races to come; 70-80% max heart rate for 30-120min (as the second half of an easier run or by itself following a warm-up)

Aerobic Power, Level 1- This zone falls into a slightly gray area where you are starting to put more stress on the aerobic system to improve stamina near the lactate threshold (a steady state reached when approximately 3-5mmol of lactate is present in the bloodstream); the effort is hard but controlled; we will use this zone sparingly in the fundamental phase, usually appearing as shorter fartlek reps or within progression runs, but it will increase in importance in the development period coming later down the road; 80-88% max heart rate for 15-75min is optimal (always following a warm-up)

Muscular Fundamentals

The fundamental period is a great time to work on your overall strength and athleticism as a runner. The muscular component here refers to ensuring that your body is strong, stable through the joints, and better able to handle increasing layers of stress to avoid injury.

I will leave the specific details to you, but researching core routines, weight training programs for runners, lower-body circuits, and rehabilitating any lingering injuries (your trouble spots, everyone has them!) should be pursued thoroughly at the time. I recommend completing 20-40min of core, hip, lower-body, and (yes) upper body resistance training 2-3 times per week. You don’t need a gym and heavy weights to target the right muscle groups to make you a better runner. I would advise focusing on the prime movers, deep abdominals, lower back, glutes, and hip stabilizers in your routines.

Balance the strength work with mobility, flexibility, and self-massage modalities to keep your body healthy and durable.

Speed, Power, and Technique Training

Many distance runners avoid things such as sprinting, completing drills, and strength work like the plague, but I feel that this is a key reason runners often get injured when introducing more traditional hard workouts such as tempo runs, intervals, etc.

In our rendition of a proper fundamental phase, we will be running fast from week one and building upon these elements as we move along. The below methods of increasing speed, power, and technique should be completed each week during the fundamental period to ensure that you are truly preparing your musculoskeletal system and neuromuscular pathways for the demands of more intense training to come.

  • Short Hill Sprints- Popularized by Coach Renato Canova as a key fixture of his training programs for all distance events, these short, maximal hill sprints are a great way to recruit your fast twitch muscle fibers and improve explosive power (the base of speed and specific endurance for your event). Towards the end of an aerobic run, find a hill, parking deck ramp, or overpass that is quite steep. You will be running some fast sprints up your chosen incline for 12-20sec, so make sure it is long enough for these. Set aside a few minutes after your set of sprints to jog and/or walk so you don’t leave the session overly tense. Runners with naturally shorter, choppier strides should complete 18-22sec hill sprints focusing on increasing stride length and exploding off the ground as they cover the distance. Runners with naturally longer, more loping strides should complete 10-15sec sprints focusing on stride rapidity and speed off the ground. Start with 2-3 sprints in your first week of fundamental training, and build to 8-10 reps as time goes along. Recovery between these sprints needs to be complete to fully recruit your FT fibers; 90-120sec of walking should be fine for this. No hills in your area? Running stadium stairs or something similar will simulate many of the effects of a fast uphill run, but use extreme caution if you need to resort to this training due to the inherent acute injury risk.
  • Technique Drills- A solid set of drills which exaggerate certain aspects of the stride and force you to move in all three planes of motion is a great way to improve overall running technique and muscle recruitment patterns. Drills will be used as part of our standard warm-up for workouts and races (outlined in chapter three), but will be most often used for post-run form work in this period of training. Complete 1-3 sets of the following sample drills over 40-60m each. These can be done on grass for added resistance, but the road or track is fine, as well. Recovery should be achieved after 20-40sec of walking around, as these should not be too difficult.

*Reverse Skipping

*Transverse Skipping

*High-Knee Run

*Tail Kicks

*Caraoka

*Bounding

*Power Skipping

*Straight-Leg Run

*Fast Feet Run

*Forward Skipping

  • Fartlek Strides- Since our hill sprints in this phase are exclusively done at the end of a run, I like to include “strides” (short, fast runs over 50-200m for basic speed and technique) in the middle of a run after you have warmed-up for a few miles or towards the end of longer runs to work on form when tired. Run these efforts at a sub-maximal intensity (Think 5K race effort and faster, but stay relaxed and light on your feet) for 20-40sec bursts of speed at a time. Start with 4-5 pick-ups in your runs, and build to 10-12 over the fundamental period. Recovery between these should simply be relaxing back into your planned running rhythm of the day until you feel ready to run fast again. Your body will thank you for the change of pace and muscle action, and these can be very fun when done with a group. Vary the terrain, intensity, and stride duration of each set to maximize this early form of faster training. 

Putting It All Together

So, what does a week in the Fundamental Period look like for our three categories of runner? Let’s delve deeper!

Assume these runners are healthy, motivated, and gearing-up for their next big race between the 5K and Marathon. These weeks would likely fall in the middle or latter portion of a 6-8 week fundamental cycle.

Age-Group Ace

Sunday- Easy Long Run of 80-120min + Strength Training (a leg circuit, core, etc)

Monday- Rest Day

Tuesday- Easy 40-60min, 4-6x 12sec Steep Hill Sprints, Jogging/Walking Warm-Down

Wednesday- Easy to Moderate 50-70min + Strength Training (weights, core, etc)

Thursday- Aerobic Cross Training for Regeneration or Rest

Friday- Easy 40-60min + Technique Drills

Saturday- Easy to Moderate 50-70min w/ 8x 20-30sec Strides in the Middle

Regional Racer

Sunday- Easy to Moderate Long Run of 90-120min + Strength Training

Monday- Rest Day

Tuesday- Easy 50-70min, 6-8x 12sec Steep Hill Sprints, Jogging/Walking Warm-Down

Wednesday- Easy to Moderate 60-80min w/ 8-10x 20-30sec Strides Towards the End + Strength Training; Optional Secondary Easy Run or Cross Training  

Thursday- Regeneration 30min

Friday- Easy 50-70min + Technique Drills; Optional Secondary Easy Run or Cross Training  

Saturday- Easy 30min, Moderate 20min (Aerobic Endurance, Level 2), Fast 10min (Aerobic Power, Level 1), Easy 10min 

National Competitor

Sunday- Long Run: Easy 30min, Moderate 45min, Fast 15min, Easy 15-30min + Strength Training

Monday- Regeneration 30-40min

Tuesday- Easy 50-70min, 8-10x 15sec Steep Hill Sprints, Jogging/Walking Warm-Down; Secondary Easy Run

Wednesday- Easy to Moderate 70-90min w/ 8-10x 30-40sec Strides Towards the End + Strength Training; Secondary Run

Thursday- Regeneration 30-40min

Friday- Easy 50-70min + Technique Drills; Secondary Easy Run

Saturday- Fartlek: Warm-Up, 5-7x 3:00 @ Aerobic Power, Level 1 w/ 3:00 Easy Running Between Each, Warm-Down; Optional Secondary Easy Run or Cross Training

Next week we will go one step further in designing your new PR by focusing on what I consider the most important phase of training for all distance events- the Developmental Period!

About the Author

Peyton Hoyal was a 2009 NAIA Track & Field All-American at Berry College in Georgia, and now resides in Charlottesville, VA where he works as a sales manager in the running footwear industry. A former high school teacher and coach, he honed his craft with young runners before taking-on a private coaching enterprise in 2013.

Peyton has worked with the ZAP Fitness Olympic Development Group as an adult coach, writes extensively on the sport through various media sites, and has spoken at such events as the annual Endurance Magazine Fitness Expo in Raleigh, NC. He still trains at a high level himself, and is available for personal coaching to anyone who wants to take their running to the next level. He can be contacted at phoyal123@gmail.com.