Break Free Of The Comfort Zone To Improve Your Running Distance and Speed

Plugging Along But Not Getting Anywhere

Training for a distance run such as a 15K or half or full marathon can get discouraging if each time you go out to run it feels like it never gets any easier.  With a few simple tweaks in your running routine you can get better results.  Just a heads up though, you will have to break the glass ceiling of your comfort zone.

V02max and How It Applies to Cardiovascular Endurance

Simply put, VO2max is the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise.  Individuals with a higher VO2max typically have a higher level of cardiovascular endurance.

The average VO2max for a couch potato is around 35 ml/kg/min. Elite endurance athletes, like Lance Armstrong are reported to be at 85 ml/kg/min.  That comparison may give you an idea of the impact that increasing your VO2max can have on your endurance and ultimately your race outcome.

Age, gender, and genetics all influence VO2max which means each of us have a limit to the absolute amount of oxygen we can consume.  Unless we are elite athletes, however, we probably have a ways to go before we have reached our full potential.

Hill training is one of the best ways to increase VO2max.

Workouts That Will Increase VO2max . . . .

. . . . and ultimately improve your running speed.

During a normal run we are typically training in a steady-state cardio zone.  During steady state cardio our heart rate may increase or decrease slightly if we encounter hills, wind or unusual terrain, but for the most part will remain in the range where we feel most comfortable and in control.

Pushing ourselves out of this zone by doing speed bursts that bring us to the point that we feel we are breathing as hard as we’re able will take our endurance to the next level, but not without some mental and physical discomfort.  The key is to start with just a couple of VO2max drills and increase them gradually as you begin to mentally adapt to experiencing overload that takes you to that out-of-breath experience.

VO2max Interval Training Workouts

There are a variety of interval workouts that you can do to get started.  30/30, 60/60, 30/60/90, and hills.  The best place to start is with a 30/30 interval with a goal to work your way up to 60/60 and then the 30/60/90 and hills.

The 30/30 workout consists of:

  • Jog for 10 minutes at your normal warm-up pace.
  • Jog hard for 30 second.  This pace should be the fastest you can sustain for about five minutes in a race
  • Slow to an easy jog for 30 second
  • Repeat for the 30 second hard, 30 second easy intervals at least 12 times.
  • Once you’re tolerating 12 intervals you can increase the number of repetitions then move up to the 60/60 workout.

The 60/60 workout is identical to the 30/30 but replace the 30 seconds hard then easy with 60 seconds.

The 30/60/90 workout is more intense and pushes you up the ladder of 30, 60 and 90 second intervals, then brings you back down.  There is an excellent grid that outlines this workout at  Click Here if you’d like to see details of this specific workout.


For this workout you’ll need to find a hill outdoors.

  • Jog for 10 minutes at your normal warm-up pace.
  • Run uphill hard for two to three minutes.
  • Run back down
  • Repeat at least four times.
  • You can increase the number of intervals to increase the intensity of this workout.  Finding a bigger hill may or may not be an option depending on where you live.

No Pain. No Gain?

This is an area where the old no pain, no gain, adage might apply.  Interval training can be intimidating, particularly to people that have not tried it before.  The I-can’t-catch-my-breath feeling that is a direct response to this type of overload training can by scary for some people and may prevent them from ever wanting to do it again.  But, as with anything, the more you do it the more your body will adjust to the workload and the easier and less frightening it will become.

To get started, find a buddy that’s willing to do the 30/30 interval workout with you.  Set a goal to do four or five sets.  Each time you train add one set.  Before you know it you’ll have graduated to the 60/60 or 30/60/90.  Your steady-state cardio runs will be easier and you’ll reaching your distance sooner.

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  1. An effective training plan focuses on both skill and energy. Skill comes from proper form and efficiency training. Energy development comes from balancing out speed, strength, stamina, and threshold workouts.

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    Courtesy of Running Coach
    Ken at 5 Speed Running

    • You’re absolutely right. There are many elements to an effective training plan. I love the Personalized Workout Calculator. Thanks for sharing!