Polarized Training for Runners

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

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

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