When it comes to exercise, we often get extremely complicated. For strength training, we get lost in the exercise type, the sets and reps, and the speed of the bar. In running, we look at different speed or intensity zones, heart rates, interval lengths, and recoveries. It’s easy to get lost in the details.

In the spirit of last week’s newsletter, where I discussed the danger of complexification, this week I’m going to provide the keys to training for any endurance event in the simplest form possible. Instead of prescribing what to do based on miles or speed, we’re going to use something that every one of us has access to every second of the day: our breath. Here’s what just about every endurance athlete should have in their training week:

1. Your Chatty Friend: Talk with Ease

The vast majority of your workouts should be easy enough to have a full conversation. Yes, a full conversation. If you find yourself struggling, slow down, or even walk. I’ve had more conversations on runs then in any other aspect of my life. It’s the secret to getting through running so many miles. Eighty to ninety percent of your training week should be full on conversations. The hard stuff is the icing on the cake.

2. Talk like a Shy Introvert at a Party: A few sentences here or there

One day a week, spend between 10-30 minutes total (can be split up anyway you’d like) where your effort level equates to the ability to say about two short sentences (e.g., “I’m feeling really good today. I got this”). This is living on the edge territory, where you are just a tad on the right side of the fatigue line, where if you pushed further, things would go downhill quick. I call this riding the wave, everything is great when you caught the wave, don’t try to get fancy, do too much, and have to bail before the wave is finished. If you find your breathing is getting out of control, ease off a touch.

3. Talk like a Teenager: Only use a word or two.

One day a week, spend some time where your breathing is on the wrong side of in control. Where you can say a word or two, maybe eke out a short sentence, but any more than that, and you’d be in trouble. These are the workouts where after each rep you have to spend some time catching your breathe. (Side note: catch your breath however you want, hands on your knees is perfectly fine. Despite what your junior high PE teacher told you, you do not have to stand up tall with your hands over your head!) How much time? Depends on what you’re goal is. You can either run pretty fast to get out of breath, or relatively fast with short rest. It’s up to you! Just do something that makes you feel the burn a bit. No need to go overboard.

4. Be the Smooth Dude: Fast and Able to Talk

The final category is what I like to call rhythm work, where the goal isn’t to get tired or experience fatigue, it’s just to get your body used to running fast. For this work, it can be its own day with a warm-up and cool down, or for regular runners, it can be tacked on to one of those easy/full conversation days. Keep it short and sweet, between 10 to 30 seconds in length for each rep. Depending on how fast you are going, take as much recovery as you need afterward. How many reps should you do? How fast should you go? Find a rhythm, be fast but relaxed, and don’t build up fatigue. It’s that simple.

With the athletes I coach, we get more complicated than this. But the majority of us aren’t trying to run a 2:25 marathon. These are the basics for running fast: Run long and easy, run on the edge of discomfort, get out of breath every once in a while, and learn how to run fast but relaxed.

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