How to work out your 'running DNA'

Tom Craggs
·4-min read
Photo credit: Jordan Siemens - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jordan Siemens - Getty Images

From Runner's World


We all respond to and enjoy different types of training. Some of us love the feeling and thrill of going fast, while some of us shy away from the quick stuff and trust in our ability to endure. But how should these instincts and preferences influence the way you train? When presented with a training plan, more often than not you will try to bend your mind and body to every session in that plan. However, unless that plan has been specifically designed for you, it only considers one piece of the training puzzle – the demands of the event you are training for. The other essential ingredient is you, your physiology and preferences, your strengths and potential weaknesses.

Rarely will a runner bend the plan towards her or his needs. It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming there is one ‘correct’ plan. You might swap days around a bit here and there, but otherwise you try to stick to it, or you find yourself falling off the plan as the weeks go by. There might be a few essential ingredients you want to include, but how these are incorporated can look very different from one runner to the next. Determining your ‘running DNA’ and individualising your training is key to sustaining your enjoyment and progression over the long term.

Are you an endurance monster or speed demon?

Having a sense of your ‘running DNA’ is a good starting point if you want to individualise your training. In his book The Science of Running, running coach Steve Magness makes a distinction between ‘fast-twitch’ and ‘slow-twitch’ runners. I’ll use the terms ‘speed demon’ and ‘endurance monster’ because, for me, your ‘running DNA’ is more than just muscles – it’s what you enjoy, what motivates you, what you can recover from and what you believe works for you. It’s not defined by an event, meaning you can have endurance-monster 5K runners and speed-demon ultrarunners. Being aware of and responding to where you fall on the scale between the two extremes can help you shape your training plan. Or you might just need to know why you struggle in some sessions more than others.

The endurance monster

As an endurance monster, you can regularly cope with higher volumes of training and will often feel that you recover quite quickly between your runs and sessions. You are the sort of runner who can tackle quite a few races close together, including longer events. Often, you might find that you can run a bit quicker on your easy runs and long runs than your training partners and you will respond quite well to running ‘steady’ as well as ‘easy’. Because your body tends to be quite good at burning stored fats, you find you are often quite strong towards the end of longer runs. Sometimes you feel that you will struggle for gears in shorter intervals – you might find that your paces don’t change hugely between a 60-second effort and a four-minute effort, for example. If you’re an endurance monster, try jogging your recoveries in an interval session rather than stopping to recover. It’s good for you to keep doing strides after your easy runs to keep some feeling of speed in your legs. If you use an online race-pace calculator, you often beat their predicted times over long races but over short distances of 3-5km, you might be a bit slower than others.

The speed demon

The speed demon needs to be more aware of good recovery between sessions. If this is you, you might need to run fewer miles in your week and consider extra rest or some more cross-training to supplement your running. In an interval session, you might find you respond better to static recoveries if you break that session into sets with longer recoveries between each than you are used to. Because your body burns glycogen at faster rates, you should try backing off to easier-paced recovery runs and slowing the pace of your long runs, and you might not respond as well as other runners to adding harder efforts into your long run.

Making it work in practice

Taking time to individualise your training in this way is not a magic bullet. The basics – sensible balance of volume and intensity, good recovery and good nutrition, and making sure your training is specific to your goal event – still need to be in place. Of course, we also sometimes need to work on our weaknesses as well as being aware of our strengths, so none of these are hard and fast rules. It’s not a binary choice between one training approach or another. You might have times when you feel you are better suited to more of a speed-demon approach; at other times, more of an endurance-monster approach. It’s going to be a bit of a blend for most runners. However, taking the time to reflect and respond to the type of training you know will work best for you, as well as thinking about the event you are training for, will see you respond better to your training and enjoy the process that bit more.

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