Train 360 is our latest training column, designed to give you a deeper look at the many different aspects that go into a professional athlete executing a key workout. A key workout is considered a session that will yield significant fitness gains and is often (but not always) positioned in a training program so that the athlete can hit it feeling relatively fresh and able to give it their all. As well as the key workout (which is listed in full below), there are many other factors to consider, including: “primer” sessions in the days leading in, activation and mobility exercises beforehand, fueling and nutrition (both before, during, and after the workout), mental preparation, and all of the gear and equipment involved. We’ve got it all outlined below from former ITU world champion and British Olympian Non Stanford as she gives us all of the details that help her bring her best to this tempo build run.
If you’d also like to check out the previous features in the Train 360 series, we’ve looked at Sarah Crowley’s Ironman Simulation Session, the long run of Kona runner-up Ben Hoffman, the FTP bike session of three-time Ironman world champion Mirinda Carfrae as well as Mel McQuaid’s “Aerobic Sandwich” bike session, Collin Chartier’s aerobic strength swim set, and Haley Chura’s epic 100 x 100 pool swim.
30 min. easy running to warm up, typically around 7:30-7:45 min/mile pace
(Quick toilet stop, change shoes, take some layers off, etc.)
60 min. build run as: 20 min. @ 6:10 min/mile pace; 20 min. @ 5:50 min/mile pace; 20 min. @ 5:30 min/mile pace
15-20 min. easy @ 8 min/mile pace
* Of course, not all of us can run 5:30-6 minute miles, so an easy way to translate this session is building from a moderate effort to a moderate/strong effort, ultimately finishing with a strong effort that should feel uncomfortable, but “tempo,” i.e. you have another gear left to go to if needed. Stanford gives her advice on how best to tackle this workout in the Coaching Points & Tips below.
“The objective of this workout is to improve my anaerobic threshold and endurance, both physically and mentally,” Stanford said. “It’s a very good session to help get you comfortable with being uncomfortable, in fact, it’s actually my favorite session. I love running and my physiology lends itself to working well in this zone; threshold is my sweet spot!”
The Day Before
“I usually do this session on a Saturday morning, so generally will have had an easy Friday the day before with a long aerobic swim and gym session, although that’s my routine regardless of the session I do. I don’t do anything specific the day before to prepare. It’s a key session mentally for me more than anything; it gives me confidence that my fitness is in a good place if I get it right. But ultimately it’s just another brick in the wall and has its place amongst the rest of the training I’m doing in the week.
“I’ll follow this workout with a steady 2-2.5-hour ride on a Saturday afternoon. It’s always tough getting the legs going, but once you’re away I think it helps the recovery.”
Pre-Workout Mobility & Activation
“I know I probably should do pre-workout mobility, but this is my downfall,” Stanford said. “I hate foam rolling and faffing around before a session, so I generally sit on the sofa with my breakfast and watch the morning news. It’s maybe not the best physical prep, especially injury prevention-wise, but mentally I think it’s better to not overthink sessions and only tune into it when you arrive to meet the group.”
“I warm up in my New Balance 880s; they’re my go to mileage shoe, but I will switch into the New Balance Fuel Cell Prism for the main work out; they’re a lighter weight shoe and perfect for tempo runs. Depending on the weather, Stanford will be wearing a selection of New Balance’s run apparel from shorts and vest to long sleeve jackets and tights.
Stanford said that due to the volume of the session (she usually hits around 15 miles) she tries to eat a good quality, high carbohydrate meal the night before, and then something easy on the stomach like a bagel or toast in the morning before she heads out.
She said: “I always take a calcium supplement before a high volume session like this, along with UPerform collagen to help support my tendons and ligaments. I have a pretty extensive injury history so I try to be proactive rather than reactive now that I’m a little older. I’ll generally sip on water before the session, but don’t drink during the main set (unless it’s super hot and I’m lucky enough to have a support bike with me), and immediately after finishing I’ll have a UPerform recovery shake to top up the collagen stores and begin the recovery process as quickly as possible.”
Once home and showered, she said she has a big brunch, “scrambled eggs on toast with avocado and bacon is my go-to.”
Mental Focus Points
There’s no doubt that this is a demanding session, regardless of whether you’re a world champion or a newcomer, so mental focus is key to staying as relaxed as possible. Stanford said: “I think more about holding my form as the pace increases, along with the fatigue. I sometimes find the first couple of minutes of a pace increase are the hardest; I’m a rhythm athlete so once I’m in a groove I’m sweet, but getting there can sometimes be the hardest part. I have to remind myself at these points that it will feel comfortable again soon and to work through this period. I focus on my breathing and keeping it calm because once I lose control of my breathing I often find everything spirals and it’s hard to get back on top of it.”
And her advice to someone trying this workout for the first time?
“I would suggest focusing on form and really listening to what your body is telling you,” she said. “If you’re forcing the pace, or if the first 20 minutes feels pretty hard then you’re probably running too fast and need to adjust your paces. A good gauge of effort is that when you finish you’re ready to stop, but if someone told you you had to keep going for a few more minutes you could.”
How to Expedite Recovery
“That’s simple,” Stanford said. “Good food, good naps!” She also said she gets sports massage and physio once a week, but they’re not specific to this session.
Coaching Points & Tips
“For me, it’s about getting through this session as ‘easily’ as possible,” Stanford said. “I know I’m getting fitter when I finish this run feeling like I could do more, or go faster. If I was into heart-rate data then I guess I would be looking for a reduction in heart rate for the same speed as the weeks progress. The aim is not to finish the session running as hard as possible; it should be tough but not out of control. The first 20-minute block should feel relatively easy, but you have to be disciplined because if you push on too soon you’ll only suffer later on.”
For those looking to tackle this session, Stanford recommends building up to it. She said: “We usually start the block with 15 minutes as 5/5/5, and each week build a little, e.g. 21 minutes as 7/7/7, 30 minutes as 10/10/10, 45 minutes as 15/15/15. This will help you gauge better what your paces are so when you finally get to the big one you should feel confident in what you need to do. Remember it’s a tempo run, not a time trial, so you should feel tired at the end, but also like you have a little bit left in the tank.”