(Note: the following is *not* health or fitness advice. It is simply my personal account of how I achieved a greater level of fitness. You should consult your physician before starting any fitness program.)
I accidentally discovered that I can run a mile in less than seven minutes and maintain that pace for the duration of the run. I’m not a competitive runner; I run for health, fitness, and “speed hiking.” I also have a talocalcaneal coalition in my left foot that was set off by an ankle sprain in junior high and that prevents any serious aspirations about running.
I don’t keep track of distance, only of time and relative speed, so I don’t keep track of how quickly I run a mile. However, inclement weather forced me to run indoors recently, on a treadmill, and I realized I can easily run a mile, on level ground, in well under seven minutes (something like 6:30 to 6:45). More importantly, I maintained this pace for more than twenty minutes (the gym closed at that time) without fatigue. At thirty-five years of age, that’s not bad.
For most of my life, I wasn’t nearly this fit at all. Residency’s long hours made it difficult to work out, so I constantly had a middling level of fitness during that era.
After residency, I started running more seriously, but still didn’t attain a high level of fitness. Finally, I decided to take my father’s advice (he’s been a very successful competitive runner for decades) and adopted the following, simple approach: run once a week for distance, run another day for speed, and run a third day at an average pace for only a half hour.
This approach revolutionized my cardiovascular fitness. Within a couple weeks, I felt fitter, running became easier, and then I accidentally discovered, many months down the line, that my mile pace is less than seven minutes.
In summary, I run three days a week, each separated by at least a day of rest (I do upper-body strength training on “rest” days, taking one day completely off):
1. I run once a week for distance, at an average pace, increasing the prior week’s maximum running time by no more than 10%.
2. I run once a week for speed. This run usually lasts about thirty minutes. I warm up and then run at an average pace. At the 18-20 minute point (this point starts earlier as I gradually become fitter), I start interval training: I run as fast as I can for one minute, then slow down to an average pace the next minute, and repeat this cycle until I reach thirty minutes. (Note: when starting a practice of interval training, one should not run as fast as possible during the speed intervals. One should run just slightly faster than one’s average pace. Over subsequent interval training sessions, one can slowly increase this “faster” speed until one is eventually running as fast as possible. If one advances too quickly, one will get injured, won’t be able to run for a long time, and will lose any achieved fitness.)
3. I run once a week at an average pace for thirty minutes. Because of my weekly interval training sessions, my average pace becomes faster and faster. (Otherwise, it would stay the same and I wouldn’t become fitter.)