graphic interpreting polarized training method as 80/20 mix of intensities, from green to yellow/red

Polarized Training for Runners

Running coach Ryan Bolton shares three key workouts for runners who want to polarize their training.

woman trail running in the mountains

Polarized training can, of course, be applied to all sports and disciplines. Triathletes, runners, and cross-country skiers are some of the biggest advocates of this training approach. Olympian-turned-elite coach Ryan Bolton, who coached Caroline Rotich to her 2015 Boston Marathon win, has outlined some of his go-to key sessions for runners below. Note, these sessions are mostly targeted at those training for half-marathon and marathon, but can also work well for 5K and 10K runners. Bolton uses a 5-zone training zone system.

Run 1: Long run with tempo drills  

This is a 16-mile long run with race specificity:

  • 4-mile warm-up  
  • Then run 4 repeats of 2 miles “on”, 1 mile “off”
    “On” intervals should be right around threshold pace
    “Off” intervals should be at a pace that is 1–1:30 minutes per mile slower than threshold  

Run 2: The mid-week fartlek 

This is a 75-minute fartlek run comprising a 1 through 5-minute pyramid:

  • 20 min. warm-up

Then, do the following pyramid straight through: 

  • 1 min. “on”, 30 sec. “off” 
  • 2 min. “on”, 1 min. “off” 
  • 3 min. “on”, 1:30 min. “off”
  • 4 min. “on”, 2 min. “off” 
  • 5 min. “on”, 2:30 min. “off”
  • 4 min. “on”, 2 min. “off” 
  • 3 min. “on”, 1:30 min. “off”
  • 2 min. “on”, 1 min. “off” 
  • 1 min. “on”, 30 sec. “off”

“On” intervals should be at or near 5K race pace
“Off” intervals should be at 1 minute slower per mile than 5K race pace 

  • 15 min. easy cooldown

Run 3: The recovery run 

This is an aerobic run featuring 30-second strides:

  • Run for about 30 min. in Zones 1–2, aerobic and in control
  • Then do 8 x 30-sec. strides at near maximum mile pace
    Walk recovery between each stride for approximately 60 seconds. Be sure to let your heart rate come down between each stride: this is important. Focus on holding perfect form!  
  • 5 min. cooldown in Zone 1