Tag Archives: training plans

Experimenting with Tom Osler’s Base and Sharpening Training

I previously mentioned reading Sky Waterpeace’s Lazy Man’s Guide to (Ultra)Marathon Running. While obviously not that lazy myself, Kindle Unlimited granted me free access to the Kindle version. The somewhat insightful book got me experimenting with keto, which was fine for the month I actively practiced it.

But Sky also harps on the writing and work of an accomplished marathoner and ultra runner named Tom Osler. Sky’s principles are based considerably on Osler’s principles. As an appendix, Sky included a 28 page booklet written in the late 60’s by Osler about his fundamental training approach called The Conditioning of Distance Runners. You can now find the booklet on Amazon and other sources.

Along with being a precursor to today’s gumroad e-books if you think about it… Osler’s booklet, however esoteric and outdated on the surface, outlines a sound approach that in some form has been both practiced and ignored in the decades since, to this present day.

There are two camps in endurance runner training. One emphasizes a healthy dose of recurring harder workouts alongside your easy and long runs from day one. The idea is that the harder, faster workouts are what makes you faster and fitter, that without regular fast running you cannot possibly get faster, and possibly even get gradually slower. This approach is far and away the most popular of the two, because people generally aren’t patient, and coaches traditionally have learned to always train this way (plus it’s harder to be hands on when all the pupil’s running is easy running).

The other camp argues to initially emphasize a large volume of (often exclusively) easy training, only introducing harder workouts after having built a sizable easy running base over months. The understanding that developing your slow-twitch aerobic mitochondria is what improves your natural fitness and performance over time, and that speed/tempo work should build upon that base fitness after it has been developed.


Let me throw some arbitrary labels on these two camps for ease of discussion. I’ll call the first camp “Speed and Base”, as the two are utilized in tandem each week. I’ll call the second camp “Base then Focus”, as the theme is you spend months running easy at first to build a base, then only utilize harder training when closer to the goal event(s).

Below are some examples of writers or coaches whose approaches fall into each of the camps. Again, it’s worth noting the lion’s share of coaches and writers traditionally fall into the Speed and Base camp. For them I could name dozens of coaches, but I’ll stick to four.

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The Mechanics and Mindset of the 3 Day Cycle

Within the 21 Day Cycle is a series of 3 day cycles. More than anything the best approach to each 3 day cycle is an approach, a mindset, towards each of the individual days.

At its core, the 3 day cycle is this:

Day 1 involves strength training and easy aerobic training.
Day 2 involves easy, slightly more demanding aerobic training.
Day 3 involves a longer and/or tougher aerobic training session.

Day 1

Of the three days, this day’s aerobic training should be easiest. If it needs to be a day off from aerobic training, then it should be a rest day from aerobic training, with only strength training.

Your primary focus on Day 1 is two things:

1) Get your strength training session done. Strength training can constitute whatever you individually need it to, though during base and race training I wouldn’t make it too tough. I do the Full Fourteen, which with efficient sets and 60 second rest breaks (longer as needed for transitions) takes me about 25 minutes.

You could can do a 20 minute strength routine, and rotate between different blocks of workouts. Since you’d strength train every three days, you could hit every muscle group in every single workout if desired.

2) This should be the easiest, shortest aerobic training of the next three days. I often take a rest day from running on these days. If marathon training, I probably do short easy recovery runs to build training volume. Generally, I often cross train on these days, though on weekends I’ll just strength train and rest completely from aerobic training on these days, since I typically train heavily during the workweek.

If you’re a workaholic, I’d recommend setting a Day 1 cap of 45 minutes on any aerobic training. This workout is setting the bar for Days 2 and 3, and if you set it too high you’re either not going to hit it or burn yourself out doing it. The idea of the 3 day cycle is to moderate your workload so you ebb and flow between challenging training and allowing for recovery.

Day 2

While this is also an ‘easy day’, Day 2’s aerobic training should be longer, more demanding than Day 1’s training. Three important points:

1) Keep this aerobic session to no more than 60-65 minutes. I saw that so if you’re cross training or running on a gym machine, it’s okay to get to 60 minutes and do the full 5 minute cooldown. Also, I don’t want anyone to freak out if e.g. they’re running outside and see their run has gone 1:00:23.

2) If you rested totally from aerobic training on Day 1, then any easy training on Day 2 will suffice. As a minimum, I recommend you train on Day 2 at least one minute longer than it took for you to strength train on Day 1. If I only strength trained 25 minutes on Day 1, I want to run or cross train for at least 26 minutes.

3) You however want to not train too much on Day 2, because Day 3’s training should be longer or tougher than Day 2’s. So you don’t want to set the bar so high that exceeding it on Day 3 is too difficult.

If you did aerobically train on Day 1, then you want Day 2’s training to last at least one minute longer than your aerobic training. So if I decided on Day 1 to do a super easy 20 minute run with my strength training, I’ll want to run or cross train no less than 21 minutes on Day 2.

If you want to do speedwork (tempo runs, track stuff, fartleks, a regular run with any sort of fast segments, etc.), or even a run on unfamiliar harder terrain like mountain trails, I’d pick either Day 2 or Day 3 for that.

But no matter what you do for Day 2 training, again keep it below 60-65 minutes. As I mentioned with Day 1, your mindset is to keep Day 1 short. Again, I’d recommend setting a Day 1 cap of 45 minutes on any aerobic training, so that this Day 2 workout builds on and proves tougher than Day 1.

Day 3

This is of course the longest of the three aerobic training days. On Day 3 you go longer, or you go harder, than Day 2.

When I originally wrote up the 21 Day Cycle, I recommended this aerobic workout be 60-90 minutes. That is generally true, and if you’re training for a race that will last longer than 90 minutes, you want your weekend Day 3 workouts to be sufficiently longer. Half marathoners should aim for closer to 2-3 hours. Marathons should build towards at least 2-3 hours, probably towards 4 hours if your goal time is that long or longer.

Otherwise, midweek, cap these workouts at 90 minutes. While you should aim for at least 60 minutes, if Days 1 and 2 were shorter, and anyting below 60 minutes would be longer than those two days, then you can go less than 60 minutes… e.g. Day 1 you rested from aerobic anything, Day 2 you went 30 minutes, Day 3 you could go as little as 30-35 minutes if desired or needed.

The general intention on Day 3 is to work on your aerobic endurance. But if you went 60 easy aerobic minutes on Day 2, you could on Day 3 work on speedwork. In this case, it’s okay to also do 60 minutes on Day 3, e.g. you ran easy for 60 minutes on Day 2, so on Day 3 you spent 60 minutes running repeats, or do a 60 minute tempo run, or an easy 60 minute run with a 15 minute fast finish, etc.

Otherwise, during midweek you can go up to 90 minutes on Day 3. This is where various research (that I won’t cite for now) shows your workout hits the peak of the bell curve on aerobic development. The only reason to go longer is to work on developing endurance for a longer race, and given the body’s recovery needs you generally want to avoid doing that more than once every 6-8 days. The sweet spot for aerobic fitness development in an easy workout is 60-90 minutes.

THE WEEKEND PIVOT

My original 21 Day Cycle recommends two long workouts within 6 days of each other, followed by two weeks off from any workouts longer than 90 minutes.

While this allows ample recovery from the long workouts, some may find this doesn’t allow them to sufficiently build up their long run in marathon training.

It also reduces one’s margin for error in marathon training, that if they have to miss one of their scheduled long runs, they’re now facing at least 3 weeks between long runs, which could lead to a loss or setback in fitness.

So maybe you want to schedule a long run every week, and want to schedule one during that odd 2nd weekend where Day 1 falls on a Saturday and Day 2 falls on a Sunday, leaving the longer Day 3 on a Monday. (And yes, the occasional Monday holiday makes a long run work there, but 95% of the time it doesn’t.)

If you want to run long every weekend, I propose an alternate 3 day cycle for those odd weekends:

Day 1: You strength train, and either take off from aerobic training or do an easy aerobic workout, as usual.

Day 2: Do your long run here.

Day 3: Either take this day completely off, or do the same sort of easy aerobic workout you would do on day 1 (but no more than 45 minutes).

Then the following day you go back to Day 1 as before and resume the normal cycle.

If your long run isn’t any longer than 2 hours, I would say this is not at all necessary, that you could follow the original 21 Day Cycle as usual. This Pivot is largely for marathoners and similar long distance athletes who find the scheduled weekend off from long training more concerning than rewarding, or otherwise feel they must be able to train long every weekend.

And of course, if you do need an easy weekend, you can always go back to the original 2nd weekend schedule as needed.

YOU CAN DO OTHER STUFF

I often cross train each morning throughout the week regardless of what other running or strength training I have scheduled each given day or week. I’ll do super easy, zone 1, 50-60% of max heart rate “wake me up” cross training a lot of mornings or afternoons on the spin bike or similar. I also take a lot of walks during breaks at work.

You will want to be careful not to overdo any of this, especially as you build serious training volume, but if comfortable for you it’s totally fine.

I often take it easy on the weekends. If I don’t have a strength session or long run on a given day, I’ll often take a total rest day.

IF LIFE INTERVENES, IT’S OKAY TO BAIL

You wake up on your Day 3 and you feel sick as a dog, or something hurts more than it should, etc? Just take the day off. Take a whole 3 day cycle off if you want.

None of this is legally binding! The cycle does make it easy to get back in the swing of things should you need to take a day off or an extended break. Obviously, if you need a long break during a trianing block, you still need to reconsider your race goal as usual. But live your life and make adjustments as needed.

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An Example of Workout Order Logistics

The order in which I do my Full Fourteen strength exercises isn’t necessarily dictated by appropriate muscle group. Often I order them based on the equipment available at the time, and I’ll bunch exercises together based on the equipment used. This makes my workout more efficient, and isn’t really any trouble.

I like to get to the gym on weekday mornings, or during a time on the weekend when I know the gym usually isn’t busy. Still, it often does get a bit busy, and so to minimize any disruption either way I order my exercises according to what best makes sense.

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Improving the 21 Day Cycle, and using Workload Ratio to plan training

Since adopting the 21 Day Training Cycle in late July, I’ve made some adjustments.

First of all, it makes more sense to not run or aerobically train on the strength training day. The swolework is already fairly challenging, and my body has lately responded better to an easy day of strength training with no running/cardio every three days than it has from running or cardio every day.

Secondly, continuing my research on training monotony, I’ve noticed that monotony scores are helped by not having any other training on the strength days. Monotony has gone up as I’ve gotten back to regular training, and it indicates that aerobically training everyday would probably be unsustainable. With every three days being only strength training, the monotony stays closer to normal.

This also indicates it may be sensible to make an otherwise do-able 2nd day run shorter, in order to vary that week’s training stress and reduce overall training monotony.

Conversely, it’s often a good idea to make the 3rd day workout longer, or add a 2nd cardio session elsewhere in that 3rd day, to increase the variance between days and reduce overall monotony.

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On planning (and adjusting) training schedules using Training Monotony and TRIMP

The 21 day cycle has worked okay for me so far. However, the runs have been short due to a rash on my right arm that required I go to Urgent Care for a prescription. The rash is doing better, though the RX as it does has messed with my body a bit. I also had a dinner for my dad’s birthday. I also had a car issue to sort out ahead of registration renewal.

Basically, life intervened, and I had to patch a reduced schedule this week with work break runs. I’ve back-loaded my strength workouts to Friday and Saturday. After that, my 3 day cycle goes back to normal by Monday (which incidentally is the next scheduled quality-run day).


I ended that 21 day cycle post mentioning Training Monotony. That’s the subject I’ve been personally focused on the last week or so.

Training Monotony is a metric devised long ago by Carl Foster. Training Monotony measures how variable your workouts are within a training week or similar period. The concept is that the more day to day consistent your workout volume is, the higher your monotony.

High Training Monotony can be a problem in one of two ways. 1) Either you do a lot of hard workouts with insufficient easy days or rest, an overtraining or burnout risk. 2) Or you do a lot of easier workouts without a mix of more challenging workouts. This in turn stagnates or decreases your fitness.

Though poo-poohed by some writers (and I’d imagine given their plan layout that the Hansons have a problem with the monotony concept as well), Training Monotony is worth exploring. Honestly, most coaches and training plans do shove a lot of volume down your throat that for many just runs you into the ground (and possibly injure you) more than prepare you for your training goals. Elite athletes and teams get around this by being 99th percentile strong and resilient, and/or through covert systematic doping. For most of us, the relentlessly high training volumes most top coaches swear by are largely unsustainable long-term.

Conversely, you can get into a pattern of easily do-able workouts. This eventually stagnates your progress. Your body grows accustomed to the regular stress, and ceases to progress.

For basic examples, Jonathan Savage aka Fellrnr has done a great job of providing some himself, as well as providing a separate illustration of what it measures and is designed to deter.

Basically, the Training Monotony number is the volume of your week’s training divided by the standard deviation of all the days collected in the data sample. Standard deviation is a pain to calculate, so I just have Excel do it.

You can measure your volume by mileage or rate of perceived exertion. But because Runalyze provides it to me for every kind of fitness activity I do, I’ve been using TRIMP.

TRIMP is short for Training Impulse. This measures your effort based on heart rate (% max), and number of minutes doing the activity.

For example, a 1 mile easy run for me is worth about 15 TRIMP. A walk during a work break is about 6 TRIMP. A full strength workout is about 10-12 TRIMP, depending on what I’m doing. A 45 minute spin bike session is about 30 TRIMP. In planning a week’s workouts and measuring likely training monotony, I’ve been plugging in TRIMP approximates for the expected activities. If adjusting the schedule in midweek I use the actual TRIMP from completed days.

You want the Training Monotony ratio not to be any higher than 1.50. Your volume, divided by the standard deviation, needs to be 1.50 or lower. If your volume doesn’t deviate much day over day, you get an unacceptably higher number like 3.00 or more.

Why it’s unacceptable depends on how you get there:

If these are all hard workouts, you won’t recover between them. You’re going to burn out, if not stagnate and see diminished progress.

If these are all easy workouts, your fitness is going to stagnate, and certainly won’t improve much.

So you would combine monotony with total volume to get a better idea of which side you’re on. If you’re running 1 mile a day, 7 miles a week, you’re probably on the stagnate/unimproved end. If you’re running 10 miles a day, 70 miles a week, you’re probably on the stagnate/burnout end)

Going a bit over 1.50 isn’t a killer (consensus is it’s above 2.00 that you’ve got a clear problem), but eking over 1.50 is like drinking alcohol when you’ve got health problems: If you can’t outright avoid it, don’t make a habit out of it, and definitely avoid doing it on consecutive weeks.

Conversely, you usually don’t want it to be too low, below 1.00. This can happen if, say, you have multiple long workouts in a week, or too many rest or easy days. Either you’re losing opportunities to improve fitness on the rest days, or the workouts are too long and the training week is not as productive as reducing the daily workout volume and training more often.

Exceptions are understandable and okay for unusual situations, if you just ran a half marathon and took lots of days off to recover afterward, or if you had to take unplanned off days, etc. But as a practice during serious training you want to keep monotony between 1.00 and 1.50.

As the Simplifaster link above discusses, worrying about Monotony can seem much ado about nothing, that it’s an older traditional metric first used with racing horses, and that advances in training have theoretically rendered the concern obsolete.

However, looking back at prior years’ training (and without getting into a granular breakdown and collection of graph images), I see that times my training was productive often had more of a 1.30-1.40 monotony, and that training that didn’t pan out often cruised around 1.60-1.80, often exceeding 2.00. I see some loosely correlative evidence in my own training that worrying about it, at least in my case, can have some merit.

Someday I’ll probably write a granular breakdown post with all those old tables, graphs and images. It’s just not going to be now. However, I’ll show a sample of what I do now to plan training and keep Monotony at a proper level. This is using the Electric Blues “Daniels Tables” Excel spreadsheet, which has a section to enter in training volume, and shows percentage breakdowns by workout type.

A sample week of training using TRIMP values, entered in the Electric Blues spreadsheet, with Training Monotony measured in the bottom right.

I’ve been entering in TRIMP values for planned workouts in a given week. I also entered in an equation in the bottom right corner to quickly measure the Monotony for that week. I can immediately see if the Monotony goes under 1.00 or over 1.50 after making a speculative entry.

While a side topic, I do try to maintain 80/20 training principles. You’ll notice the easier Recovery & Aerobic training is around low 80’s%. Harder training for me now is any intense running. This is not just zone 3 and above. Harder zone 2 counts right now as I work back into regular running shape. I also include any strength training (the 10’s in the sample are strength workouts).

‘Aerobic Zone’ I use for easier zone 1-2 runs and cross training like the spin bike, elliptical or ARC Trainer. Warmup/Recovery I mostly use for walking, which does count and registers TRIMP scores that are part of my volume.

I not only plan weeks ahead but put the current week’s completed volume in, to compare with my remaining schedule. I want to make sure the Monotony stays on track, or if I need to make an adjustment.

The sample above is the current week. I had to make several adjustments to the remaining schedule, As mentioned earlier, this has been an unusual week with multiple distractions. I had wanted to do more Friday. The strength workout that day was originally scheduled for Wednesday. As I rearrange the schedule, I make other adjustments to re-balance the monotony.

I quickly noticed the longer the long workout is, the lower the training monotony goes. A more demanding long workout increases the standard deviation. At the same time, the long run’s ability to lower Monotony is obviously limited by how long and intense of a workout you can do.

For example, it doesn’t do good to plan 150 TRIMP worth of training, if doing 80 is currently too hard. Personally, I just did about 200 TRIMP in a 2 hour 45 minute hour workout. This was a 45 minute run and 2 hours on the spin bike. S,o in this case, I know the 105 TRIMP long workout in the sample above is well within reach. For me, 105 TRIMP is either about 7 easy running miles, or 5ish tempo or interval miles.

I also notice that if you add any volume to harder training days, it reduces the increase in Training Monotony. If you put it in an empty or lighter day, the Monotony goes up.

It also creates a monotony problem if you have to shorten that long workout. The deviation between workouts decreases, and the monotony could surge. You could just cancel the workout when this happens, though of course long workouts are important.

If measuring by TRIMP, cutting a long workout short because it’s TOO hard can actually even things out. A shortened workout could produce an average heart rate so high it produces the same TRIMP. If pressed for time, you can turn a long run into a shorter tempo or interval run resulting in the same TRIMP.

All of this is infancy-stage experimentation and research for me right now. The goal is to create sustainable consistent 21 day cycles, not to mention training weeks, that are better repeatable than some of the training approaches and plans I’ve previously struggled with.

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The Working Class 21 Day Training Cycle

After a few weeks of training daily, lots of strength training, lots of 45-60 minute cross training sessions, several short treadmill runs and work break runs… I’m feeling pretty worn out, clearly needing a break from what I’ve been doing, but obviously not wanting to take a full training break after having just come back from a long training break following Vancouver 2022.

Motivated by Kevin Beck’s 21 day cyclic training approach, though obviously not wanting to mirror high volume that I’m obviously not running nor in the condition to run… I decided to borrow from both him and Budd Coates to create my own 21 day cycle.

The Working Class Runner 21 Day Training Cycle

In Running On Air, Coates built training schedules using a 3 day alternating easy-medium-hard workout pattern. Similar to this, I patterned this 21 day schedule around big workouts every 3 days, the surrounding days easy, and a relatively easy strength workout coupled with easy training on days after the toughest, longest workouts.

Long Run: However long your longest workout needs to be, that’s the long run. I’d like to get this to a minimum of 2 hours. But it can be 60 or 90 minutes if that’s longer than my midweeks.

Notice that there’s only long runs every three weeks, and on that week they happen on back to back weekends within six days of each other. Then there’s not another long run for 15 days.

This patterning combines a bunching of long workouts with an extended break from long runs for a couple weeks while focusing on more medium-long workouts and strength training.

60-90min workout: These can be regular 60+ minute runs, or quality workouts like intervals or tempo work, or any mix of the above. But they need to be runs and they need to be 60-90 minutes, the sweet spot for aerobic endurance fitness growth.

Initially, they should just be regular easy runs, and if you can’t go 60 minutes then go however reasonably long you can at first, until 60 becomes do-able.

easy: These are either very short runs, no more than 30 minutes, or can be easy aerobic cross training for 45 minutes or more.

If an easy day falls on the weekend, you can go long on cross training, 2+ hours. On weekdays, keep it to 60 minutes.

But even on weekends, easy runs cannot go longer than 30 minutes. This is meant to be an active break, and the runs are best done as recovery runs, perhaps light work on technique or hills.

strength + easy: Here in addition to easy runs or cross training, you do strength training, no more than 20-30 minutes. I have two designated 20 minute workouts I can rotate between.

On the 2nd week, with three strength workouts, I actually would split into three separate 15 minute workouts, to make sure I do every exercise once per week. But it’s no problem to just rotate through two separate workouts and have them flip flop in order every 3 weeks.

I would keep weekday cross training to 45 minutes rather than 60 minutes, to keep the workout at about an hour. On weekends (or any day with more free time) it’s okay to cross train a full 60 minutes if desired.

Again, keep any running to 30 minutes or less, and that remains true with the strength workout. This will make these training days a bit longer than the other easy days.

When races and life intervene: If on a given day or weekend you have a race and it doesn’t line up perfectly with planned workouts, go ahead and turn the 2 days before and after the race into easy days. Don’t strength train within 3 days before the race, but feel free to strength train the day after the race or beyond if you’re up to it.

If an event in your life comes up and it interferes with a workout, it’s no problem to skip it. If you want to try and do a workout off-schedule the day after (leaving only one easy day before the next workout or long run), keep it to 60 minutes max.

The next easy day, you are allowed to skip the run or cross training if desired. If the next big workout is a long run, you can also skip strength training and just make the next one. If it’s not, it’s optional whether or not to make up the strength training displaced by your postponed workout. However, if possible, you are also allowed to switch your strength training to the day of the event postponing your workout.

If you need to take multiple days off in a row: Just do it, and don’t worry about it for now. If it creates a problem, it would have created a problem on any training schedule. Usually, though, a couple or few missed days shouldn’t derail you badly. Just get back to the schedule when you can.


So this 21 day cycle is the training template I’ve settled on going forward. Barring any random lumps in my schedule, I can follow this cycle without an issue through summer into fall racing season.

The goal with this was to refine everything I’ve been working on into a sustainable routine of training, demanding enough to build my fitness but not so demanding it burns me out.

Along with this cycle, I’ve also been focusing on adjustments for training monotony, but that’s another post for down the road….

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John Hadd, A Long Run, and Simplified Marathon Training

After cutting last week’s long run short at 13, bonked and exhausted, it was clear I had been training too much in some way. The mileage wasn’t necessarily the problem.

My midweek runs are now extended to about 8 easy miles along a hilly route several times during the week, and each of these feel reasonably comfortable, even tired at the end of a workday, even with walking up to 3 miles during work breaks throughout the day in addition to the runs after work.

Lately I’ve repeatedly come back to the work of John Hadd (RIP), an old running coach who in the early 2000’s dropped into the old Let’s Run message boards and dropped a ton of wisdom on keys to successful marathon training. This lengthy collection of posts have since been compiled into its own website, and PDF/Word copies of the posts are also floating around the internet.

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