The Principle of Progression: How to Consistently Get Faster

by Jason Fitzgerald

A lot of runners are realizing that mainstream advice is leaving them injured, frustrated, and slow:

“I booked a sports physio session. They said to give it a weeks rest and see how it feels. Well….here I am 3 months later.”

“I went to a few PTs and massage but none of it was helping so I gave up. Everyone just said rest, so I did for 2 MONTHS!”

“My biggest struggle is direction. I don’t know where or what to do next. I have big thoughts and dreams but am prone to injury, so I tend to stop at any little sign of discomfort.”

Notice that these people are following the same tired advice and are getting the same results: injuries, insecure training, and hopelessness. They feel betrayed by the conventional wisdom that’s popular, but ineffective.

Consistently injured runners never progress in their training because of so many setbacks. Many of them think that faster runners are fast only because of genetics and never get hurt. In reality, talented runners have better access to injury prevention and training strategies than most runners. They got this “insider” knowledge from years of running at the high school, college, and post-collegiate levels with competitive clubs.

With more experienced runners and coaches to learn from, they were able to see – and experience – structured training and racing. Runners who pick up on the sport later in life typically rely on mainstream advice; and we’ve seen how that plays out.

While I was lucky to have gone through the high school and collegiate levels of cross country and track, the science and art of coaching has evolved significantly in the last ten years. Good training is different than what I did in college and very different from my high school running.

After reading almost every training book out there, talking to other coaches, experimenting with my own running, and learning from past mistakes I’ve come to realize what effective training – running that actually gets big results – looks like.

Using Progression to Get Faster

Becoming a better runner means transforming your body slowly over time to handle more running at faster speeds. It sounds intimidating – but anyone can do it. Even couch potatoes can run dramatically faster than they ever thought, provided they follow the surprisingly simple principles of progression.

Most runners don’t follow a good progression – they do almost the same training all the time and their performances flat-line for years. They ask, “I’ve run the same marathon time for the last three years – can I really improve?” The answer is almost always yes, because the principle of progression is usually not being followed.

If you’re progressing properly – week to week, month to month, and year to year – you’ll avoid burnout and keep your training fresh. You’ll always be energized to run.

There needs to be a shift in how runners approach their training in order to realize their potential. One aspect of that shift is perspective - the perspective of long-term training and being patient. After all, success doesn’t happen overnight.

To help illustrate how progression works – especially in the long-term – I thought drawing some (incredibly artistic) graphs would be helpful.

Do you have questions about how to manage your long-term training and progress through mileage and workout increases to get ready for the marathon? Leave them in the comments and I’ll respond to every question.

Questions about Run Your BQ

One of the most common questions we receive about Run Your BQ is, “Can I actually qualify for Boston?” I’m generalizing, because some of the specific questions are more like:

“I’m an hour and 25 minutes slower than my BQ time…can I still qualify?”

“I’m really far off my BQ, can I qualify in one training cycle?”

“Can you absolutely guarantee that I’ll run a BQ?”

Of course Matt and I can’t guarantee that you’ll qualify for Boston. If we said that, you’d know we’re full of shit. There’s a hundred variables in every scenario – but we can provide the training, support, and guidance so you’re doing the most effective workouts and staying motivated during the tough middle part of your marathon training.

I took over 5 minutes off an already fast time of 2:44 to run 2:39 at the Philadelphia Marathon. I also haven’t had a significant running injury since 2009! And Matt took over 100 minutes off his first marathon time to eventually qualify for Boston

You can see how Matt did it in this free special report called The BQ Blueprint]

Matt’s example is especially inspiring. I know that I have a bit of luck on my side in having some of the genetic tools necessary to run a pretty fast marathon (not to say I don’t work my ass off). But Matt went from running nearly 5 hours to 3:09! If you’re wondering how much incremental improvement you need – or if it’s even realistic for you to qualify – that example is sufficient alone to show you that it’s possible.

Have you ever asked yourself:

“How much is too much strength training during marathon training?”

“What’s the best way to build your base but still get faster?”

“How do I balance the intensity of workouts with high mileage so I don’t get too fatigued?”

“What’s the best way to train to qualify for Boston without getting injured?”

All of these questions (and more) are answered in RYBQ in our 20+ videos, thriving members-only forum, and 45+ training lessons. You can rest easy knowing your training will make you a better marathoner.

If you’re interested in knowing when Run Your BQ will be accepting new members, get on the list and we’ll let you know ASAP. I hope to see you on the inside!

Join 10,000+ Runners and Get Faster!

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Kris

Great video, makes the concept very concrete, thanks. The hard part is knowing when to build in the breaks. I’m only running 4x week so it takes a few months before I feel like I really need time off, and it’s hard mentally to take a break when you are feeling good. So I need to force myself to stop. So, how often is a good time to schedule down time? And how long should the down time be? And should it be a complete break from any training, or just a reduction?

Jason

Hey Kris – I answered a similar question below, but the general rule is that the more you’re running, the more structured your rest period should be. So if I was running 90 miles per week, I might take a down week of 25% less mileage. But if you’re only running 4 days a week for 20-25 miles, you may just cut out one day of running during a recovery week and try to get an extra 30 minutes of sleep that night. It doesn’t sound like much, but that should be enough to have you feeling great going into the next week.

Meghan

Can’t wait for the report tomorrow, I hope it’ll answer some of my questions. I’ve been running for a few years (with a handful of poor half-marathons). I know I can be a faster, better runner (young, healthy weight, experienced exerciser, lift weights 4x per week) but don’t know how to do it in a consistent manner without getting injured. Do I increase speed first, increase mileage first, do I have to cut back on weights, etc.

Jason

Looks like you’re ready to run fast with the right plan! Stay tuned…

Robert

Love the site, and looking forward to pushing my training further through slow progression toward my goals and some smart training. I’ve got a question that’s been nagging at me for a bit about training for marathons. I seem to recall reading somewhere, though sadly I can no longer recall where, recently something about the supposed benefits of limiting run durations to under ~2:30. As I recall from this article it was claimed that when you pass that amount of timing the amount of time it takes to recover from the run increases out of proportion to the changes in the length of the run. I know longer recall why that was supposed to be however. While I can see some theoretical benefits to keeping runs to under a time limit like that, push you to improve your running so you can fit more distance into that same time limit, I’m not sure on the validity of this half-recalled advice. Any thoughts on the matter, or better knowledge of what it is I might have read?

Louis

Robert, I am replying to your e-mail to let Jason know I am interested as well. However, to go with the BQ concept of late and bad advice, I have read that in many places. My long run is 3 hours. I have devised my own training plan trying to BQ and 2:30 does not seem to be long enough. My long run is 18 miles. I have read you do not need to run more than 18 miles although some articles seem to suggest 20 and mayybe 22 miles. I think this is too long.

Jason, I have not read the info you discussed, but plan to soon. I agree with everything you have said so far such as proper training will help people BQ, progression, strength, etc. Additionally, I agree with you that you have to do a significant amount of research to find info. I look forward to reading the info. I believe the biggest issue with marathon is fuel. Greg S. had an excellent clip regarding calories. The books, articles, etc. seem to barely touch on this topic.

Jason

I’m a big believer in long runs in the 20-22 mile range. You need them to properly prepare to race 26.2. And yes, fueling is a huge issues. Most runners don’t take in enough carbohydrates 1-2 days before the race.

Louis

Do you recommend a 20 miler three weeks prior to marathon?

Jason

That works, as long as your taper is good and you rest enough in those 2 weeks

Brittainy

Thanks for this, I’m really looking forward to the next report! I’ve been running for 13 years and I really think I’m capable of being a faster (BQ) runner, but every time I turn around I get a new injury. I’m supposed to run marathon 2 in 5 weeks but I’ve been off for a week and a half with retrocalcaneal bursitis! I’m really excited about learning how to be stronger and faster with “Run Your BQ”.

Jason

Injuries are too common these days. A big part of getting faster over 26.2 miles is consistent training, which is a big part of RYBQ. Stay tuned!

nate pennington

Jason,

This was an outstanding post. I can surely say to your readers that faster runners DO get hurt and we do not run fast due to genetics. I have had three knee surgeries (twice on my left knee and once on my right). I had cartilage breaking down in my knee when I was in college and have had numerous injuries over the years.

Long term training IS they key just as you said. In addition, your patience has to be strong because results simply don’t come quickly in this sport. It took me years to get from 2.43.36 to 2.19.35. It wasn’t genetics, it was an insanely amount of hard work and focus.

What Jason is saying is true. If you take it on a week to week, month to month basis, do not look out so far but focus on what you can control on a daily basis in your training the results will eventually come.

Thanks
Nate

World_Runner

I am curious about the answers to Kris’ questions as well. What exactly constitutes downtime or rest? And I am curious what sort of base building type stuff your recommend. Should it all be aerobic building (aka Lydiard) or should it include a few striders, tempos once a week?

Great site and information by the way. I discovered it because I am looking for some good core strengthening. I am tired of running sub-par marathons so I have decided to “start over” this year and go back to the basics – get my core in shape, get my posture right, get my form right and base build from the bottom up.

Jason

Hi there, thanks for the comment! I’ll respond to Kris as well (oops) but rest could mean either no running at all or a reduction in mileage/intensity. It depends on both the runner, time of training, and goal of the training cycle. For example, in a marathon training cycle it’s a good idea to build in a down week with a reduction in mileage 1-2 times throughout a cycle. But taking a full week off doesn’t make much sense.

For base building, it shouldn’t be all easy running, though that’s the focus. You need to always be stressing a few different systems. We have detailed articles on this in RYBQ and you’ll see how it’s done in the training plans. More to come!

Healthy Bastard

Just wanted to say that this was a fantastic post. That was such a clear way to explain how to train smart, and I love that it’s applicable outside of running, as well. Excellent stuff.

I love the site, btw. Just found it, but I’m here to stay.

Jason

Thanks so much! And I appreciate the link from your site too, glad you liked the video.

Lydia

Hey Jason. Great article. Thanks. As you know, I like having a plan. I sat down and wrote out a schedule for the fall that I’m hoping works for me. I’m trying to do all the things that you mentioned in the short video. I’m thinking about taking on the big marathon next year sometime. I trained with Stephen for his marathon earlier this month. He and I did a 24 miler 4 weeks prior and I felt amazing! I went through the taper process with him and ran the last 15 miles of the race with him on the 18th. Now I feel like I want to train for myself. I’ve been trying to increase my weekly miles from about 25 a week to around 40. I’ve been slowly working my way up for a while. Now I think I’m ready to start building again. In the past, my long runs have always been around 13 miles. Now that I’m increasing, it just doesn’t seem to be enough. I love love love 13 miles, but how far past that should I go on a regular basis for my long runs? Last weekend, I did 17 and it felt terrific. Somehow…I feel lost without your input!

Jason Fitzgerald

Sort of depends. You probably don’t want to do a “long” long run every weekend, unless you’re in a specific training cycle like for a marathon. Then you can go up every week, every other week, include down weeks – it just depends. For the marathon, you need to – at the bare minimum!! – run one 20 miler before the race. You just comfortably ran 24 miles so you clearly have some success running those longer distances – I don’t think you’ll have a problem. But wow, 24 miles? Usually only elites go that far (and not very often). Careful!

Paul Allen

Jason,

Just recently found your website from an Active.com article link and am finding this info quite inspiring.

I’m a 50 year old relatively fit newly found running adict – that is – if my knee injuries will let me be. I had been competing in sprint triathlons for years just to maintain a certain level of fitness and just because they were plain fun. In years past, I always, always dreaded the run because it was my worst event of the 3 and therefor, didn’t put in the necessary mileage / time running (funny how that happens). A few years ago (as I was approaching 50), I began to pick up my intensity in exercise and hooked up with a running group and discovered to my amazement, I actually loved running longer distances (long for me was 10+ miles). In 2012, I ran the Baltimore Half in 1:55’ish with really no specific training plan and totally, totally loved it.

So, I promptly bought a book “Run Less, Run Faster” and began preparing for my first marathon in March 2013 and my goal was to be under 4 hours. Due to my enthusiasm and probably not heading advice from the book of choosing a training plan to fit your current fitness level and not where you want to be, I injured my right knee in December (torn meniscus and tibial bone bruise) and had surgery in January. About 2 months after the surgery, I probably began the road back too soon and without proper progression and I now have a tibial bone bruise on my left knee for which the doc has prescribed rest with no high impact exercising (biking / swimming OK). Believe me, it has been frustrating and I knew it was partly due to my incorrect approach to training and your articles just seemed to make that crystal clear, but, helped with a proper plan to go forward.

When I am ready to run again, I do plan to use your coaching to help keep me on track with proper progression and my goal is to compete in and finish a marathon which will hopefully be the first of many in a long term plan. In the meantime, I’ve already begun using your Essential Core Exercises for Runners (pistol squats are a bitch by the way).

Thanks for your sharing your knowledge and experience! It’s motivated me even more!

Paul

Claudie

I read your long term running article and watch the video. When you refer to rest periods, does that mean to do nothing? And what is the recommended rest time?
Thank you

Jason Fitzgerald

It all depends but generally, yes and 1-2 weeks in most cases.

charles eichinger

i run 2miles a day actually run/walk two miles a day, how do i know when to increase running and when to take a break from training,and how long of a break

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