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Last weekend at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials, two young runners from the On Athletic Club, Joe Klecker and Alicia Monson, qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. It’s safe to say coach Dathan Ritzenhein knew exactly what he was doing during the long months of the pandemic.
Ritzenhein outlined three basic workouts he prescribed to his athletes to keep them fit and ready when races returned — without risking burnout. These three workouts pull back on intense interval sessions and focus on maintaining strength and development of basic speed and coordination. They work for any point in a season, or off-season, to get you ready to roll for when you have a race on the calendar again and are ready to resume intense intervals.
Here’s Coach Ritzenhein describing these key workouts:
Back to Basics
We always rely on some workouts year round that allow us to touch on multiple energy systems so as to be ready for racing season on a few weeks notice. Here are three of my favorite workouts I have learned from coaches over the years and use with my runners throughout the year.
Go hard for 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute. The recovery is the same as the rep that preceded it. So one minute hard, one minute recovery, two minutes hard, two minutes recovery, three minutes hard, three minutes recovery, etc. You can make this workout more of a steady aerobic session by keeping the recovery at a moderate pace, or, if you really want to focus on speed, you can jog the recovery easier, allowing yourself to run each “on” section a little faster.
This is my “go-to” fartlek. I have been doing this workout myself since my first year as a pro runner and it finds its way into my runners’ training plans usually every 3–4 weeks. It’s 34 minutes long and it is a good aerobic stimulus, but allows you to turn the legs over faster at times than a tradition steady tempo run.
200m Repeats + 200m Hills
• 6–10 x 200m at approximately 5k pace with 200m easy recovery jog.
• Jog easy for 5–10 minutes to a hill.
• 6–10 x 200m hills, jogging easy back down for recovery.
Adjust the number of reps for your ability and fitness level; I suggest starting at 5–6 reps of each first and seeing how you feel before moving up in volume.
If I want to work on speed, this is a simple, but not overly taxing, workout that will get the wheels turning. I used this workout for almost a decade starting in the summer of 2009 when I broke the American Record for 5000m. It is an effective way to build basic speed, but the repetitions are not too long and the recovery is short enough that it shouldn’t be too difficult of a workout.
The hill repeats should be about 5–6 seconds slower at the same effort, and try not to make the incline too steep. We do this workout because doing 20 x 200m is a pretty intense speed session, but by splitting it and running half the reps on a hill you slow the pace and reduce contact forces enough to not tear up the body. It reinforces good stride mechanic and builds power you might struggle to reach on a flat surface. If you are worried about being at the track with too many runners to come into contact with, or you don’t have a hill close to the track, there is no reason the 200’s have to be done on the track. Just go by time and use a nice flat road.
Kilometer’s + Minute Hills
• 4–6 x 1K at between 10K and half marathon effort with approximately 2 minutes recovery between repeats.
• A 5-10 minute jog.
• 4–6 x 1-minute hill repeats at the same effort with an easy jog back down.
If you keep the rest at two minutes or more, and keep at the prescribed effort levels, most athletes should be able to walk away feeling like they put in good work but didn’t “go-to-the-well.” If you’re a beginning runner, three sets might be plenty. My athletes usually find 4–6 is enough to feel like they worked out well but are ready to go three days later to workout or five days later for a race.
This workout I often prescribe as the last full effort before a race, or as a good moderate session that allows the body to adapt to faster paces but with ample rest so the athletes don’t overdo the workout.
These workouts are staples that I like to use year-round, but they made even more sense when we were wait for the racing schedule to reopen. If you are sitting in a holding pattern, don’t have any races on the calendar for a few months and want to be ready when the time comes, try adding these workouts into your training instead of hitting really hard intervals that leave you laying on the track.
Training gives you the structure and focus you need to keep anxiety away and it helps you to maintain motivation for the long haul. Remember to keep the effort and volume from being too difficult so you don’t train yourself into the ground — but there is no reason you have to completely stop training.