Gradual Progress – Step by Step

I’ve written several blogs on this principle before. I just keep coming back to the belief that this is one of the fundamental cornerstones for runners, and wanted to put this right at the top of my list for client advice in the next phase of my coaching. I meet so many runners who have broken this principle. If that’s you, don’t be hard on yourself, it’s really very easy to misjudge and there are a lot of people out there who seem to believe in the old paradigm or the ‘push push push, mind over body’ approach.

Chi Marathon

So how exactly does the principle of Gradual Progress work practically? There are many examples of where the principle should be applied, right from footwear to interval training. Here are a few examples.

Not Skipping Ahead with Distances

Single Races and Training Plans

Year on year volume

Not Skipping Ahead with distances.

Would you ask your child to run a marathon? There is a good reason why UKA don’t allow under sixteens to enter a 10k event – they are not ready. Not even if then have been running all their life. Their bodies are just going to be damaged. An example of skipping ahead is the Japanese. Running is a national sport, and university teams end of competing in huge distances in Ekiden relay races, pushing themselves so hard that they literally collapse across the finishing line. Huge numbers of runners in Japan would be capable of smashing the winning race times in the majority of local and regional races in the UK. So, where are the medals in the olympics? Quite possibly their athletes have just burnt out too young. Have a read of ‘Way of the Runner’ if you want to read more on this.

If you are new to running, consider carefully your running ability, the maximum distance you can run continuously and your weekly running volume before you plan to enter races or complete longer distances. I’m not saying don’t race, I’m saying do it safely so you can keep running forever. The distance we can run in a week, the distance we can run in a single run, the hills we can handle and the speed we can run at are all examples of elements in our training which should be upgraded gradually. Try only making one upgrade per week, and sometimes none. If your body is giving you feedback to be careful then guess what you need to do?

If you are new to racing, try your local parkrun and then add a warm up mile before you run. Then progress on from there to a 10k distance when you are ready. There are plenty of 5k to 10k training programs around.

A Single Run, A Single Race, a Training Plan

Whether it’s setting off in the first mile or a race at breakneck speed and then being overtaken by a great many runners or just slowing down in the second half of an event instead of building speed gradually, we’ve all done it! You know your own body and you know your capabilities. I would say that unless you are extremely fit, uninjured and right at the peak phase of your training, always aim to set off gradually and then run evenly during a race.
You need to build gradual progress in to your individual workouts too. Many of the workouts on my training plan start with 5 minutes in heart rate zone 1, then 5 minutes in heart rate zone 2 before the rest of the workout. This can seem boring but it’s worth it. Warm up properly, be patient, and you will get there.
In your training plan, the distance of your long run will normally build by 1 mile a week – so guess how many weeks you need to train for in the build up to a marathon?!! This also applies to speed sessions, if you spend 4 x 1 minute in zone 4 one week, you will increase either the number of repetitions OR the time spent in zone 4 the next week. It’s all done gradually.

always use gradual progress

Your Running Volume

Here’s a quote from Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running.

Imagine that? If you run 10 miles per week one year, if will take 6 years to progress to 60 miles a week. But if you run 15 miles a week for 6 years, guess what? It’s still going to take you another 4 years to build to 60 miles per week. That’s not to say 60 miles per week is the right goal for everyone – we all know our bodies.
How many people enter a marathon when they are running just a few miles a week at the start of their program? In my opinion, a run walk approach has great potential for the more impatient person wishing to complete a marathon. There’s huge potential to have the satisfaction of crossing the line safely and uninjured.

To summarise, keep everything gradual and let it grow naturally when it’s ready, stick to a training plan, and stick to building form first, then form over distance, then speed.


If you are interested in a Freedom to Run training plan which incorporates Gradual Progress, Chi Running and other approaches please get in touch. I offer email support or Skype options.




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