What Are the Best Running Progression Options Once Your Goal Is Met?

running Kuwait
U.S. Soldiers with 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), 11th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), run down a street at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, August 6, 2022.(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Zachary Danaher)

Many running programs progressively increase the running distance each week until a goal is met. Often these progressions end with a culminating event like a marathon, boot camp or special ops selection program. 

Once the progression is complete, how do you best maintain the progress you've earned over the long term without going beyond necessary volume? The answer is to create cycles of training where there are peaks and valleys in your total volume. This will reduce the risk of injury or overtraining. This approach is not just for running and can be used for higher-repetition calisthenics, heavy weight training and other load-bearing activities. 

There is a reason why people who run get injured, and it comes down to doing too much running, too soon or running for too long. Typical running progressions have a 10%-15% volume increase per week if pacing goals are met and injuries are avoided. 

Once you have reached your goal volume, the amount of time you stay at the peak of the progression is limited by your ability and injury durability. A logical method to avoid overtraining injuries after you have reached your goal is to drop the volume by a percentage between 25%-50% and maintain a reduced volume for a few months. This will reduce the risk of injuries but allow for you to maintain your running ability. This approach will very likely help you run faster if running a few longer or slower distances each week. 

For instance, a typical special ops candidate may build up to 40 miles per week during a high-mileage running cycle. Instead of stopping running altogether or continuing the progression, drop your 40 miles per week with a regression of 10%-15% each week for a few months. Another option is to drop without a weekly regression to 20-30 miles per week (25%-50% decrease). 

This flatlining of the total volume can change the previous goal of volume and building aerobic base to diversifying your running abilities to focus on speed or agility by working on timed run pace or obstacle courses for a cycle of training. 

This new cycle can be a logical deload period from running that enables the tactical athlete to add more elements of fitness into their training besides endurance, while helping to reduce typical overuse injuries (tendinitis, shin splints, stress fracture). 

Here are some running workout ideas to change the volume and workout goals during the training week: 

Monday: Goal Pace Workouts

Learn the pace you want to master by practicing that pace for shorter distance intervals. Eventually, you will be able to run at a goal pace for longer distances until you reach your goal time at your goal distance. For instance, if you want a nine-minute, 1.5-mile run or a 28-minute, four-mile timed run, learn how to run six- to seven-minute miles (1:30-1:45 400-meter run or 3-3:30 800-meter run) for multiple training sets. 

Tuesday: Lungs and Leg

Moderate distance mixed with speed intervals (hills, sand, stairs) make running harder on both the lungs and the legs. A mix of hills, sprints, fast-paced intervals (faster than goal pace) and other speed drills can be added a few times a week. 

However, if you need a non-impact option to reduce overall volume, consider a higher intensity, resistance bike or weighted stair stepper training day.

Wednesday: Day Off Running

Mix in a bike, swim or  mobility day. A day devoted to non-impact, stretching, massage or swimming technique training can help you recover during high-mileage running cycles. Running can make you stiff, so you will need more stretching and mobility work in the feet, ankles, knees and hips. 

Thursday: Goal Pace Running

Running at goal pace for longer distances with half-mile and full mile repeats is a tough workout, especially if you are working on a new goal pace that is 30 seconds to a minute faster than your current timed run pace. You must learn how to run faster and pace yourself if you are going to master runs that last between 10-40 minutes, depending on the distances.

Friday: Lungs and Legs

Mix in running conditioning training with muscle stamina exercises like squats, lunges or jumping to make both the lungs and legs ready for the challenge of running longer at faster paces. 

Saturday: Longer Distance

Many like to mix in a longer, slower distance run on the weekend. It is up to you and your ability to handle the extra miles, but that approach is a good way to build or maintain your aerobic running base. If you need a break from the total volume of running miles, consider similar efforts on the bike, rowing, elliptical machines, and during swimming workouts for a non-impact aerobic base option. 

If you still have goals of ultra-endurance but need a break from the impact of high-volume running, you can still reduce your volume and replace it with other non-impact cardio activities for a period as needed. 

The goal pace is defined as 30-60 seconds faster than your current mile time during the distance of your timed run or event you are preparing for. This can include longer runs in selection programs or racing events. Model your training runs with this new pace in mind for your 400-meter, 800-meter and mile run intervals.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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