My experiences from a year of slower, higher volume running.
By the end of the 2015 triathlon season, I felt that I had made a definite breakthrough with my triathlon results. However, I was frequently (and frustratingly) losing positions on the run leg of triathlon races. I use a power meter on the bike so knew that my relatively poor running position was due to my running fitness rather than over-cooking the cycle during triathlon races. The table below summarises a few of my race results during 2015 and where my split time in each discipline ranked.
Looking back through my training records now, it’s apparent that my run training was sporadic prior to 2015. I had previously achieved some decent run times but had issues with training consistency due to picking up niggles and full-blown injuries and also from feeling sore for days after running workouts. The chart below shows my weekly running volume throughout 2012. The volume is low but most of my runs (usually 2-3 per week) were either fast (intervals or threshold pace) or long.
In the period from August 2014 to July 2015, I made a conscious effort to try to increase my running volume and during this time I was typically running 3-4 times per week. However, the chart below shows that the volume of my running training was still a bit sporadic.
I had stumbled across the ‘BarryP’ running program and, having read of other people’s positive reviews, decided to give it a go. You can read the full details of the BarryP program at the link here but I’ll summarise it below.
The idea is to improve aerobic running capacity in the medium-to-long term with a consistent volume of running. Any race over a few kilometres in length will predominantly be an aerobic-level effort. The BarryP plan improves aerobic capacity with a volume of running achieved with high frequency (running around 6 times per week). However, almost all of the running at a relatively easy pace. By running frequently at an easy pace, the chance of injury is relatively small.
Here’s how the structure of the Barry P program works… take your CURRENT running volume per week (not your target or maximum weekly total!). This weekly run volume is divided into 6 days of running per week as follows:
- 3 days per week of short runs (each short run is 10% of your total weekly distance).
- 2 days per week of medium length runs (each medium length run is 20% of your total weekly distance).
- 1 day per week of a longer run (the longer run is 30% of your total weekly distance).
A medium and/or longer length runs should never be on consecutive days to give the body an opportunity to recover. The precise schedule is flexible to suit your time availability; the longer run could be any day you choose. For example, for someone who currently runs 40km / 25 miles per week, their BarryP running schedule could look something like this:
Over time, slowly increase running volume (keeping the same general structure of shorter, medium and longer length runs) in order to increase training stress and get faster.
The pace of these runs should be relatively easy. If you go to the Jack Daniels (not that JD!) running calculator here and pop in a recent race time, you want to be running around the slowest end of the “easy pace” stated under the “training” tab. You may be surprised at how slow this is; I was definitely doubtful that running at this speed would result in me getting faster.
The BarryP plan encourages long-term, conservative thinking with your running. If you can’t run 5-7 days per week then you’re running too fast.
What I Did
I started running around 6 times per week from August 2015. Between October and December 2015, I had a well-controlled period of running volume increase. By February 2016, I was regularly running around 80km per week and continued this volume until my Ironman Wales taper in September 2016. For a few weeks volume was lower, but this was due to tapering and recovering from target races and injuries sustained from a bike crash in July 2016. Generally the volume was very consistent and significantly higher than I had run previously (the plot below can be compared to my previous running volume plots above, the scale used is the same).
In order to squeeze in the increased volume of running around other commitments (including my job, swimming and cycling), many of my runs were done either to or from work. I do my longer runs midweek before work (on either a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday morning) to space these a few days away from the hard or long bike rides that I typically do at the weekend. Knocking out longer runs before starting work at 9am becomes easier over time, but work colleagues do think that you’re mental when the distance of these longer runs increase.
The BarryP plan provided me with a skeleton structure but I also did a small amount of faster running as I wanted to do races and a few track / threshold runs for enjoyment. The vast majority of my runs were still at an easy pace. The number of runs that I did at various paces between September 2015 and August 2016 is shown below.
Taking this a step further to look at the volume of these different paced runs, it can be seen that 95% of my running during this period was at an easy pace.
It should also be noted that a significant chunk of my running was off-road when possible, particularly at the weekends when I was able to run on trails in Richmond Park.
I was really enjoying being being able to run so consistently, but before races I frequently felt daunted about the pace that I would be trying to hold (this was usually around a minute per kilometre faster than I was running during almost all of my training). However, this was purely a mental issue and one that would disappear once racing.
By January 2016 (around 4 months into the Barry P program), I started noticing that it was becoming easier to hold my training pace. I did a couple of running races during January 2016 and was pleasantly surprised to be only 12 seconds off my 5k PB with an 18:27 at Parkrun in one race and a much better than expected placing (9th) in the other race.
The improvement in my running speed continued and in April 2016, I scored a 5k PB at Parkrun (17:40) which was 32 seconds faster than my previous best 5k. In October 2016, I knocked 4 minutes off my half marathon PB in Sofia, Bulgaria. A summary of some comparison run times from before and during 2016 are included below:
It should be noted that the 2016 half-ironman and ironman runs were in triathlons where I had ridden much harder than during my previous best runs at these distance. Also, the 2016 ironman was Ironman Wales which has a much more hilly course than the flat Outlaw Triathlon ironman-distance race that I did in 2015.
Looking back at running data in my Garmin Connect account, there was also unsurprisingly a general increase in my average running speed over time. I was a bit hesitant to post this data as other factors influence this monthly data; for instance in late October and early November 2015 I was on holiday in Japan and many of my runs during this fortnight were on hilly terrain which resulted in significantly slower running paces. In April 2016, I did three short, fast races which pulled the average speed for this month upwards. However, a trend is definitely clear; I’ve generally been running slightly faster over time since August 2015.
Going back to my triathlon results, my increased running fitness meant that during 2016 I was gaining positions on the run rather than trying to limit damage. The table below summarises my target triathlon race results during 2016 and where my split time in each discipline ranked.
Over a year of predominantly higher volume and easy pace running training (building the cake), I’ve been able to take my running ability to a significantly higher level. I’ve been surprised by how much my shorter distance (around 5k) race speed has also improved with this approach.