Designing Your New Running PR Part III: The Developmental Period

For Part I on developing your new running PR click here

For Part 2 on developing your new running PR click here

Developmental Period

Now that we have covered certain elements of training that lay a strong foundation in the Fundamental Period, we can transition to what I deem the most important phase of your optimum training cycle- the Developmental Period!

What Is The Developmental Running Period?

I identify the developmental period of every training cycle as your opportunity to build upon and maximize several universal training needs that apply equally for all events from the 5K-Marathon. In fact, following this phase for 8-16 weeks would likely illicit very positive race results for these events even if our next phase (the Specific Period) was not completed. You may consider just using the elements introduced in this phase if you are a young runner (or high school coach working with a large team), a Masters runner who is more vulnerable to soft-tissue injury with harder track/road sessions, or if you tend to race over a variety of different distances each season.

In this portion of our series, we will address the following key training foci that work in sync to raise your comprehensive fitness level. These elements are typically completed in two-week micro-cycles, and these micro-cycles can include a week of recovery running between them if needed (a traditional “down” week with less volume and intensity) to comprise three week developmental blocks. All fundamental elements of training are maintained in this phase, and volume levels will reach a temporary plateau as these new facets are introduced. 

  • High-End Aerobic Endurance and Stamina
  • Strength-Endurance
  • Aerobic Power
  • Lactate Dynamics Training

While I would love to introduce the following key developmental sessions as something catchy like the “Quality Quartet” or the “Famous Four”, this is not a Runner’s World article… So, let’s not.

However, I do want to emphasize that these four quality workout types are research-supported, highly-effective when used systematically in your training, and will drastically enhance the aerobic/muscular foundation for all other quality sessions to come in your training.   

Extensive Aerobic Tempo Runs

From my coaching experience, this is perhaps the most game-changing type of workout a serious runner can complete. Once you have a base of solid running volume, strength/technique/speed training, and sound muscular integrity in place, adding an extensive aerobic tempo run to your regimen can drastically improve overall performance. These runs are designed to increase one’s pace at aerobic threshold (around 2-3mmol of blood lactate), boost one’s aerobic efficiency, and build mental fortitude/concentration for racing long distances. International coaches such as Renato Canova and the late Arthur Lydiard employed these runs extensively on a regular basis with all of their medal-winning athletes, and these runs are regaining popularity in Western training programs thanks to coaches such as Scott Simmons, Mark Wetmore (the “Magnolia Road Long Run” in Running with the Buffaloes would fall into this category of training, in my opinion), and Brad Hudson.

The Prescription- A Moderately-Challenging, Sustained Aerobic Run Performed at 75-85% MHR (close to marathon pace for many runners), Typically Completed as Part of a Long Run Over 90min

The Dosage- Complete one of these sessions every 10-14 days in lieu of a more traditional easy to moderate long run. The optimum duration is 30-90min of faster running, or 5-15mls depending on one’s performance level and goals. 

The Progression- After your fundamental period is complete and a base of moderate-paced long runs over 80min has been laid, start incorporating these workouts beginning with 30-45min in duration, and build to 70-90min in depending on your event, experience level, and tolerance to increased training loads. I would recommend adding ten minutes of faster running to each Extensive Aerobic Tempo session. There is probably a point of diminishing returns after 80-90min at this intensity level, so once you have reached this point simply try to cover more ground at the same effort level during your extensive tempos.

An example session- Easy 20min, Skips, Drills, 40-60min @ Extensive Aerobic Tempo Effort (6-10mls for many competitive runners), Easy 20min, Skips, Drills

Notes- It is very important to go by feel when first incorporating these runs into your training program. Don’t worry about adhering to a specific pace so much as finding a nice, steady rhythm where you are working moderately-hard, but could still lightly converse with your training partners. Finding a route that is scenic, familiar, and easy on your mind is great for these runs, and you can gauge your progress via this consistency if the course is somewhat hilly and more subjective in nature.  

If you garner nothing else from this series, I hope you will experiment with adding a longer aerobic tempo to your current training. It’s one of the few ingredients I have found to really move the needle in athletic performance for myself and personal coaching clients.

Strength-Endurance Circuits

This element in my developmental training prescription is perhaps the most complex and intense in its execution. However, if you have completed the prescribed fundamental strength, technique drills, and short alactic sprints, these workouts will be easy to blend into your training program. The primary goal of these sessions is to introduce a high amount of lactate into your muscle fibers in a non-destructive way as it pertains to your aerobic system. These workouts are designed to train your body to keep working efficiently through acute fatigue, and have a strong peripheral effect on your ability to “kick” at the end of the race because you will have practiced staying relaxed through discomfort many times in training.   

The Prescription- Complete 10-20min total of very high-intensity circuit training, optimally in repetitions lasting 3-5min with full recovery between each (3-5min of jogging and/or walking). These are usually done uphill, but can be performed on a track. Strength-Endurance Circuits accomplish many of the same goals as high-intensity interval training or traditional V02 Max intervals, but without breaking down one’s aerobic base or placing undue stress on the musculoskeletal system. An example of a ~5:00 continuous hill circuit is below for reference, but you are free to create any combination of stresses that suits your training environment and preferences (just make each work-bout hard, and recover fully in between!)-

12x Body-Weight Squats

30-40sec Fast Uphill

12x Push-Ups

30-40sec Fast Uphill

20x Jumping Jacks

30-40sec Fast Uphill

30sec High Knee Run

30sec Bounding

12x Squat Jumps

30-40sec Fast Uphill

Walk/Jog Back Down the Hill for a Full 4-5min Recovery Between Each

The Dosage- Begin with circuits lasting approximately 2min in duration, and build to 4-5min until you have reached 15-20min of total training time. These can be completed every 10-14 days, and maintained into the specific period for all events in individually assigned amounts. 

The Progression- Remember, quality is much better than quantity with this type of training. Each repetition of the circuit should be completed at your best level of intensity on the day. These segments are not designed to be easy, but you do want to maintain good form on some of the more trying exercises such as the squat jumps.

Example Progressive Sessions-

SWU (~30min), 4x 2:00 Strength-Endurance Hill Circuit w/ 4:00 Recovery Jogs Between Each, WD

SWU (~30min), 5x 800m Strength-Endurance Track Circuit w/ 800m Slow Recovery Jogs Between Each, WD

SWU ~30min), 4x 4:00 Strength-Endurance Hill Circuit w/ 5:00 Recovery Jogs Between Each, WD

SWU (~30min), 4x 5:00 Strength-Endurance Hill Circuit w/ 5:00 Recovery Jogs Between Each, WD

Aerobic Power Intervals 

This type of training is all the rage right now in research coming out of labs across the world. Dr. Steven Seilers is touting the benefits of using these sessions heavily in the context of his 80/20 training recommendation (suggesting that 80% of your training be rather easy, while 20% should be rather hard, as in this zone), physiologist Tom “Tinman” Schwartz of Let’s Run fame is having great success with his “critical velocity” assertions (which fall into this category), and Dr. Joe Vigil has accrued many an Olympic medal and championship title by relying heavily on this type of work, as well (just ask Meb and Deena). So, how can this help you better your running performance?

For our purposes, we will apply a wide effort range to this type of training that can be easily manipulated to fit your needs and goals. “Aerobic Power” is a broad physiological term that encompasses what I consider the two most important thresholds for endurance running performance- the lactate threshold (around 4mmol of blood lactate concentration, close to half-marathon pace), and the pH threshold (the point at which blood becomes marginally acidotic, close to 8K-10K race pace for most runners). Training in this zone for the recommended amouts of time has been shown to improve not only your pace at these thresholds, but also to boost V02 Max and aid in the oxidation of your Type IIa muscle fibers. In short, this is the money zone and should not be ignored in your training!   

The Prescription- All research in this area suggests that completing 20-50min of running at 85-92% of MHR is optimal to garner the benefits of aerobic power training on a consistent basis. These can occasionally be completed as sustained tempo runs, but we will typically use longer repetitions separated by periods of recovery to achieve the same results. According to Steven Seiler’s research team working with elite athletes, repetitions of 8:00-12:00 are prime for capitalizing on this system, but other studies show that reps as short as 5:00 or as long as 15:00 would produce similar benefits. Above 15:00, you might as well just complete a steady, hard tempo run of 20-30min and call it a day.     

The Dosage- Complete one of these sessions every 10-14 days in a progressive way. On each work-bout, you should aim for a consistent rhythm across the hard segment. Heart rate can be monitored after 2-3min of faster running on each, but the basic perceived effort level would be “difficult” and speaking in very short sentences should be all that you can muster if running with a partner. The pace zone will fall somewhere between half-marathon and 8K race pace, depending on the length of each repetition, terrain, and training environment.  

The Progression- Introduce this training in the form of 6:00-8:00 repetitions completed at a manageable effort, accruing 20-30min of total faster training time. Build incrementally across your developmental period until you are able to handle 40-50min of faster running at the relative intensity zone prescribed. These sessions will transition into race pace intervals or longer bouts on the track as you enter the specific training phase.    

Example Progressive Sessions-

SWU, 4-5x 6:00 @ HM-10K Effort w/ 3:00 Recovery Jogs Between Each, WD

SWU, 3-4x 8:00 @ HM-10K Effort w/ 3:00 Easy Recovery Jogs Between Each, WD

SWU, 4-5mls Hard and Hilly Tempo Run on a Familiar Course, WD

SWU, 3-4x 10:00 @ HM-10K Effort w/ 3:00 Easy Recovery Jogs Between Each, WD

SWU, 12:00 @ HM Effort, 10:00 @ 15K Effort, 8:00 @ 10K Effort, 6:00 @ 8K Effort, 4:00 @ 5K Effort w/ 3:00 Rec Jogs, WD 

Lactate Dynamics Training

I describe lactate dynamics workouts as the training “glue” that binds your high-end aerobic sessions with your faster repetitions in a race-specific way. This type of training has been used for many years by many names, but for our purposes we will define lactate dynamics training as any form of interval training that aids in the expedient “shuttling” of lactate entering a cell and then being dispersed back into the blood stream. From the research of such top physiologists as Dr. Peter Thompson and Dr. Veronica Bilat, we know that the best way to accomplish this is by combining relatively short, high-intensity work-bouts with slightly less intense recovery intervals in a systematic way. We term these alternations as “Fast/Float” workouts, and the possible combinations in which you can apply these are largely endless.

From Bilat and Thompson’s research, they have shown that incorporating regular lactate dynamics training in one’s program can aid in boosting pace at lactate threshold, V02 Max, and running economy, all while building the mental tools needed to race at your best. These sessions are tough, as there is no real rest allowed while in the thick of the workout, but can bring about expedited improvements in overall fitness as racing season nears. For a comprehensive overview of this type of training, please visit Dr. Thompson’s website www.newintervaltraining.com

The Prescription- 15-30min of short, fast repetitions of 30-90sec in duration alternated with equally brief periods of active “recovery” called ‘floats’. These “float” recoveries should be a brisk effort slightly faster than your daily easy run pace, but not so hard that they take away from the quality of the faster segments.

A favorite session in this category for me and my clients is the classic “Moneghetti Fartlek” coined by top Australian marathoner Steve Moneghetti. This workout consists of a continuous 20min run done as follows- 2x 90sec @ 10K-5K Effort w/ 90sec Floats, 4x 60sec @ 5K Effort w/ 60sec Floats, 4x 30sec @ 3K Effort w/ 30sec Floats, and 4x 15sec Sprints w/ 15sec Floats. A slight variation of this workout would be a 26min version where you would simply complete 4 sets of everything, starting with the 90sec runs. I love this workout because it can be completed anywhere, at any phase of training, in a condensed, easy-to-follow fashion. This workout can be very challenging when completed fresh and rested, or it can be used as more of a transitionary workout between harder runs when somewhat tired.     

The Dosage- Complete one lactate dynamics session every 10-14 days during the developmental period as either a fartlek session of roads/trails/grass, or as a more formal workout on the track. If new to this type of training, it may be more palatable to break these work bouts into sets of 5-10min each with 2-3min of recovery between them rather than trying to tackle 20-30min of alternations all at once.

The Progression- In this training category, while in the developmental phase, we want to keep most of these sessions relatively controlled and not overly taxing. I much prefer these in fartlek form over know courses than as measured sessions on the track, but some people will want to monitor their pacing a bit closer based on personal preference. My top recommendation for optimal lactate dynamics training would be to find a familiar 3-5ml course near your home (it can be hilly!), and complete fast segments of 30-90sec alternated with equal duration floats for the entirety of the route. Take your total time for the loop at the end of each session, and actively try to run the course a bit faster each time you complete a LD workout. Some other examples are below!    

Example Progressive Sessions-

SWU, 4-5mls of 30sec ‘Fast’, 30sec ‘Float’ Alternations on a Hilly Course, WD

SWU, 16-20x 200m @ 8K-5K Effort, 200m ‘Float’ Alternations on the Track, WD

SWU, 20-26min Moneghetti Fartlek on a Course of Your Choice, WD

SWU, ‘Aussie Quarters’ on Track (4800-6000m of 400m @ 5K Effort, 200m ‘Float’ Alternations), WD

Putting It All Together

Age Group Ace: 5K to 10K

Day 1- Extensive Aerobic Tempo: Easy 20-30min, Skips, Drills, Aerobic Tempo @ 30-45min, Easy 20-30min + CLC 

Day 2- Rest Day or Cross-Training

Day 3- Easy Aerobic Volume + Drills and Strength-Training

Day 4- Easy Aerobic Volume + NMT (ie- 6-8x 100m Strides)

Day 5- Strength-Endurance: SWU (~30min), 5x 2:30 SE Hill Circuit w/ 3:30 Recovery Jogs, WD

Day 6- Rest Day or Cross-Training

Day 7 - Easy Aerobic Volume + Strength Training

Day 8- Long Run: Easy to Moderate 1:30-1:45 + CLC

Day 9- Rest Day (Professional Massage?)

Day 10- Easy Aerobic Volume + NMT (6-8x 15sec MHS) 

Day 11- Lactate Dynamics: SWU, 20-25min of 30sec ‘Fast’, 30sec ‘Moderate’, WD

Day 12- Easy Aerobic Volume

Day 13- Easy Aerobic Volume + Strength Training

Day 14- Aerobic Power Intervals: SWU, 4-5x 6:00 @ HM-10K Effort w/ 3:00 Easy Recoveries, Longer WD

Regional Racer: 10K to Half-Marathon

Day 1- Extensive Aerobic Tempo: Easy 20-30min, Skips, Drills, Aerobic Tempo @ 40-50min, Easy 20-30min + CLC 

Day 2- Cross-Training or Regeneration Run

Day 3- Easy Aerobic Volume + Drills and Strength-Training

Day 4- Easy Aerobic Volume + NMT (ie- 6-8x 100m Strides)

Day 5- Strength-Endurance: SWU (~30min), 4-5x 3:00 SE Hill Circuit w/ 4:00 Recovery Jogs, WD

Day 6- Regeneration Run

Day 7- Easy Aerobic Volume + Strength Training

Day 8- Long Run: Easy to Moderate 1:35-1:50 + CLC

Day 9- Rest Day (Professional Massage?)

Day 10- Easy Aerobic Volume + NMT (6-8x 15sec MHS) 

Day 11- Lactate Dynamics: SWU, 4-5mls of 30sec ‘Fast’, 30sec ‘Moderate’, WD

Day 12- Easy Aerobic Volume

Day 13- Easy Aerobic Volume + Strength Training

Day 14- Aerobic Power Intervals + Speed: SWU, 4-5x 8:00 @ HM-10K Effort w/ 3:00 Easy Recoveries, 4-5x 200m @ 3K-1500m Effort w/ Full Recovery, Longer WD

*Regional Racers may consider adding secondary easy runs or cross training sessions of 30-40min a few times a week to raise total volume levels based on their goals and experience

National Competitor: Half-Marathon to Marathon

Day 1- Extensive Aerobic Tempo: Easy 20-30min, Skips, Drills, Aerobic Tempo @ 50-70min, Easy 20-30min + CLC 

Day 2- Regeneration Run

Day 3- Easy Aerobic Volume + Drills and Strength-Training

Day 4- Easy-Moderate Aerobic Volume + NMT (ie- 6-8x 100m Strides)

Day 5- Strength-Endurance: SWU (~30min), 4-5x 4:00 SE Hill Circuit w/ 5:00 Recovery Jogs, WD

Day 6- Regeneration Run

Day 7- Easy Aerobic Volume + Strength Training

Day 8- Long Run: Easy to Moderate 1:45-2:15 + CLC

Day 9- Rest Day or Cross-Training (Professional Massage?)

Day 10- Easy Aerobic Volume + NMT (6-8x 15sec MHS) 

Day 11- Lactate Dynamics: SWU, 5-6mls of 30sec ‘Fast’, 30sec ‘Moderate’, WD

Day 12- Easy Aerobic Volume

Day 13- Easy-Moderate Aerobic Volume + Strength Training

Day 14- Aerobic Power Intervals + Speed: SWU, 4x 10:00 @ HM-10K Effort w/ 3:00 Easy Recoveries, 4-5x 200m @ 3K-1500m Effort w/ Full Recovery, Longer WD

*National Class runners will want to add several secondary Easy 30-40min runs or cross-training sessions to boost their weekly mileage, and these may become longer 40-60min sessions as they enter their specific period (depending on goal time and experience level); YOU DO NOT WANT TO ENTER THE SPECIFIC PERIOD TIRED, so use your best judgement and take it easier than you think you “should” when feeling fatigued

That’s all for this week! Tune back soon to see how we combine all of this material in the specific phase, and thank you for reading!  

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.