Elite running tips to get your client their next PR

  From Fitness Trainer March/April

It is one experience to be a runner, it is quite another to race professionally. Now while you, as fitness trainer, may not be coaching your clients toward the USATF Running Circuit; you’ll likely be coaching them towards a PR in local races. And there are a few cues you can take from the pros to get your client not only quicker, but also stronger … physically and mentally.

Similar to other competitive sports, running is just as much a part to a whole learning process and must be treated so from a trainer’s (coach’s) perspective and execution. 

Programming with Purpose

Elite running is composed of training cycles over a year-long period.

These cycles change depending on event, the individual athlete, when and where race schedules take place and also what races are the focus of that competition year.

Most track and distance athletes have a base training phase, as should your client. These are usually a building up of miles run, with the end goal geared towards expanding endurance ability and mental fortitude—two key components for the pains of racing. Training cycles can be compared to the micro cycles within a macro cycle, yet complemented by strength training plans. The length of each cycle depends on race schedule and race distance (indoor racing, outdoor, etc). The base cycle can last up to 4 months with each micro cycle, pre- competition and competition lasting 1-2 months. With this timeline in mind, you can begin to program with purpose.




  • Building up high mileage.
  • Building miles depending on the distance of the event.
  • Long distance and mid distance tend to run similar, short distances will not build as many miles.






  • Can include strength training, pre hab, running workouts / drills depending on race distance (Ex: 3×1 mile; 20×400; Ladders 200,400,600,400,200)




  • Oct-Jan Long distance season / Cross Country
  • Jan-March Indoor Track
  • March-May/June OutdoorTrack




*Marathoning/Road Racing can be year round, resulting in the adjustment of these cycles.

Expanding Endurance

Base training is the strongest building block of endurance. More miles = greater endurance. Some athletes struggle with the impact of higher mileage, but avenues like water running, anti-gravity treadmills, swim segments can all contribute to expanding endurance without regular miles run traditionally.

If athletes are dealing with regular injuries then high mileage can be to blame. So it may be beneficial to introduce these training modalities early in the programming to prevent injury while progressing your client towards competition day goals.

Reinforcing Mental Fortitude

Can mental fortitude be from inherited qualities? Does prior life experiences and difficulty prepare the brain for competition in some athletes better than others? Every coach will have a preferred answer or hypothesis as to what builds mental fortitude in athletes.

Some will cite sport psychology methods of self-talk, music or the everyday grind of workouts. Some coaches believe that the mental benefit to base miles is the brain’s training to push for long periods of time. Every athlete will be different, and every coach will have a different way of working with the athlete to build that mental fortitude towards training and racing.

The correct answer is that there is no one way. You have to get to know your athlete. Learn when to push and when to back off, when to let them take charge and learn to explain to them the need for harshness. Athletes carry a “why” with them for training

– inspire yours to remember theirs.

Knowing your Athlete’s VO2 Max

VO2 Max is measured by how much oxygen (in milliliters) your body can use per kilogram of body weight per minute. It is a biometric of fitness level. Establishing a baseline VO2 max is critical for any endurance training program. It allows you to determine your athletes’ level of fitness, similar to a onerep max for a resistance exercise. VO2 is achieved and tested through a VO2 Cart and testing is administered by an exercise physiologist.

Evaluating your Athlete’s Gait Analysis

When an athlete is analyzed statically, dynamically, and then running on the treadmill during a gait analysis, it serves to provide a unique, personal bio-mechanical profile.

Not only can it help determine what training shoes work best for the athlete, but you can pinpoint bio mechanical weakness that need to be strengthened through regular pre-habilitation, strength training, and running drills.

Narrowing down an athletes trouble areas early on can assist with more efficient training programming and assist in avoiding injuries down the road once training has commenced.

Cross Training 

Swimming & Cycling

The body is constantly taking on the compressions of impact through miles pounded. At many points – allowing the body a break from gravity is a saving grace towards stayinginjury free and continued progression cardiovascularly. Getting an AM pool session or mid-day bike session, even on active rest days can help with training.

AlterG Training

AlterG Training is a high-end method of low to zero impact. The anti-gravity treadmill alters the gravity of the body so that runners or injured persons can rehab or train with little to no impact.

Strength Training:

We have reached a point in time where strength training IS BENEFICIAL to runners! Previous beliefs led many coaches to avoid the practice and keep runners strictly to miles and running specifics. Now you will see many elites working on balance drills, kettlebell work, single leg training and plyometrics. A well designed strength program can assist significantly with runners and their biomechanical proficiency.

Competitions Stride by Stride

  • USATF National Competitions
  • USATF Master’s
  • USATF Club Nationals
  • IAAF Worlds
  • New York City Marathon
  • Boston Marathon
  • Chicago Marathon
  • Houston Marathon
  • Olympics

Ciara Delgado

is a nationally certified A.C.E. Personal Trainer and Exercise Physiologist residing in Charlotte, NC. She is degreed in Exercise Science from UNC Charlotte and has a dual master’s (Sports Science & Sport’s Studies) from U.S.S.A, Southeast U.S.A Olympic Training Center. With 13 years of training experience, leadership, and international speaking. Ciara is the 2016 & 2017 winner of Elevate Magazine’s #1 Female Trainer of Charlotte, Men’s Fitness Top 21 Trainers, and the Co-Owner of STAG Human Performance.

Photo Credit: J. Lindsay Photography, Charlotte NC.