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How Elle Purrier Trained to Run the American 2-Mile Record

Elle Purrier's coach, Mark Coogan, explains the gradual buildup of a big aerobic base for the American record holder.

On Feb. 13 at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, Elle Purrier set the American two-mile record. Purrier clocked 9:10.28, running 4:42 and 4:28 splits with a 63-second last 400 meters. A year ago, she ran a 4:16.85 indoor mile at the Millrose Games, setting the meet and American record, previously held by Mary Decker for 37 years.

Purrier’s coach, Mark Coogan, credits much of her success to the training that has made her into an “aerobic animal.” We spoke with Coogan to get the details on what that training entails and how you can benefit by building your aerobic power.

The Coach, The Athlete

Coogan is a 1996 Olympic marathoner with incredible range, from the first sub-four-minute mile in Massachusetts to a 2:13 marathon personal record. The former coach at Dartmouth University where he guided the career of Abbey (D’Agostino) Cooper, an NCAA champion and 2016 Olympian, he is now coaching pro group New Balance Boston.

Purrier was alos an NCAA champion at the University of New Hampshire, before joining Coogan and the crew at NBB. Growing up on a dairy farm in Vermont, Purrier developed the work ethic that has made her one of the premiere distance runners in America. After graduating from high school where she was the three time Vermont Gatorade Runner of the Year, she won the NCAA indoor title in the mile posting the second-fastest time in meet history. During that race she set the school record while becoming the first individual champion in UNH history.

Purrier running through one of Montgomery, VT's many covered bridges.
Purrier running through one of Montgomery, Vermont’s many covered bridges. Photo: Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Moderate Miles

When runners think about improving aerobic power they tend to rely on the old standby of pumping up their weekly mileage. But there is definitely more to running fast than mega miles if you want to activate your inner beast mode as an endurance athlete.

Coogan keeps Purrier’s weekly mileage at a level of “high 60s to low 70s depending on the time of year.” Research shows little significant increase in VO2 max when running more than 75 to 80 miles per week. As a freshman in college, Purrier’s mileage was around 30 miles per week, which has given Purrier room to grow as an athlete. She has gradually increased her mileage 10 miles per week each year.

When adding volume, Coogan recommends using some creativity, such as adding more time to your warm up and cool down, and doubling runs on some week days.

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The Workouts

Purrier’s lower training volume allows her to perform high intensity workouts every week, which research shows are key to improving VO2 max and lactate threshold, indicators of aerobic power that are critical for sustained fast running. Coogan bases her training on three main workouts each week: “A tempo workout at threshold pace on Tuesday, a hard interval session Friday, and a long run Sunday.” Here are some details on each of these workouts as Purrier does them, and some advice on running them yourself.

Tempo Runs

Purrier’s favorite go-to session for pumping up her aerobic power is a long tempo run. “Tempo runs for Elle are usually between 20 and 30 minutes depending on goal of workout,” Coogan says. “Tempo work is usually done at half marathon-type pace or a little faster, and we often do one minute efforts after tempo work. ”

Lactate Threshold Tempo

Start off by running a two-mile warm up, with the initial pace on the conservative side of your goal range. Followed by a continuous run of between 20 to 30 minutes at a strong, smooth rhythm. Although, if you are finding it hard to get moving, you might want to add in a quick 45-second surge toward the end of your warm-up to get the aerobic juices flowing. Finish with a comfortable two-mile cool-down.

Progressive Surge Tempo

Using a similar format to the lactate threshold tempo, start with a comfortably quick rhythm and gradually increase the intensity until you are running at a harder, more aggressive pace near the end of your workout. This type of tempo is great for practicing how to stay as relaxed as possible as the pace quickens. Focus on the phrase, “fast is relaxed.”

Pro Tip: Coogan likes to teach his athletes how to use perceived effort to help gauge the intensity of their tempo runs to produce the best results. Heart rate and mile-per-minute paces fluctuate based on the time of year and fitness of the athlete, sometimes holding back a runner’s workout from going past a pre-set limit.

Intervals

Coogan uses interval training with work periods of three to five minutes, while giving Purrier the confidence needed to produce optimal race efforts. “I base everything on how Ellie is feeling and what type of shape she is in. You can’t be in 4:16 shape year-round. So we do a lot of work at 5K pace when on the track.”

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Cruise Intervals

One of Coogan’s favorite workouts for boosting aerobic power is 5 x 1 mile (run in five minutes flat or approximately 5K pace for Purrier ) with three minutes rest.We do these intervals instead of tempo/threshold work, especially when the weather is intervening,” Coogan syas. “Elle will warm up about three miles and do form drills and strides before starting her workout. She then follows it up with a cool down of between two to three miles on most occasions.”

Pre-Meet Confidence Builder

Displaying her massive aerobic capacity, Purrier completed a workout on the track while training in Arizona ahead of her newly minted two-mile American Record. “The workout was to show Elle she could run the American record,” Coogan says. “It was to help her believe in herself. But we did not peak or taper at all, we just did our normal preparation for the meet.”

Purrier’s Confidence Builder:

  • One mile in 4:30
  • 4 x 400 meters in 65 seconds with three minutes rest
  • One mile in 4:30

Pro Tip: Coogan says he encourages athletes to keep training in perspective by “limiting the number of A+ performances in practice. I want my athletes to run B+ efforts in workouts, so we’re ready to go for the major events we compete in like Olympic Trials.” Whether it’s a 5K or marathon, don’t leave your best efforts in training outside of competition.

Long Runs

Coogan’s runners put in weekly 12- to 16-mile easy long runs to improve the body’s glycogen storage capacity, as well as produce the endurance-boosting cardiovascular adaptations that come from extended efforts. The long runs also help train the mind to focus over long periods, while tuning the efficiency of running form.

“We usually just do our long runs at conversational pace,” Coogan says. “Maybe the last couple of miles they pick it up. I look at it as time on their feet, not getting too caught up in the mileage. For the most part I try to keep long runs fun and enjoyable—you need that type of environment to be successful.”

Pro Tip: While training for the 1996 Olympic marathon, Coogan says he would do a two-and-a-half hour run in the morning, and follow it up with a medium run in the afternoon for close to 30 miles in a 24-hour period. He did intervals on Friday and then a long run the next day, in a technique popularized by two-time Olympic marathoner Pete Pfitzinger. Using this “stacking” format will not only help you tap into muscle fibers that you might not normally use, put also push your body to the depths of glycogen depletion in an effort to build up stamina and endurance.

The Bigger Picture

Ultimately Coogan stresses that the aerobic power workouts he creates for Purrier are just one part of a comprehensive system that includes other important factors such as sound fueling, effective recovery techniques, and critical cross-training sessions like strength work designed. “Consistency is one of the major keys to her outstanding performances,” Coogan says.

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