Coach Mario: Doing Everything, All The Time

Variety isn’t just the spice of life, it’s also key to a balanced training program

Besides being the name of Band of Horses’ debut album, “Everything All The Time” describes a well-rounded approach to training that can be utilized by runners training for anything from the mile to ultra-marathon distances.

This isn’t a new idea. In fact, this approach to training—often called non-linear periodization or multi-pace training—is decades old and has been utilized by many top coaches to consistently improve performance and avoid injuries.

In their book, Better Training For Distance Runners, first published in 1997, exercise physiologist David Martin and coach Peter Coe wrote, “One sensible method for injury-free performance progress over the course of a macrocycle involves harmonious inter-development of strength, speed, stamina and endurance all during the year, never eliminating any of these from the overall training plan.”

So how does it work? Instead of breaking your training down into strict phases where only one training element at a time is emphasized—for example, a base phase consisting of regular long runs and easy aerobic mileage, or a strength phase mostly dominated by hill repeats and tempo runs, or a speed phase where you’re going to the track for anaerobic interval work twice a week or more, or, finally, a specific phase full of race-pace running—working on “everything all the time” means that throughout a given training cycle, you’re working on all of these different elements to varying degrees in order to make yourself a more well-rounded, resilient athlete.

As a coach, I use the “Everything All The Time” approach with all of my athletes, whether they’re a miler getting ready for track season or an ultrarunner preparing for a long day in the mountains. The key to making it work is knowing which training elements to emphasize and when. Start by taking a long-term view of your training cycle for your next goal race or races (ideally 12–20 weeks, depending on your experience level and current state of fitness), then identify the demands of the event.

For example, if you’re a 5K runner, you need to be able to sustain a fairly high level of intensity for 3.1 miles; for a marathoner, you need to develop both the aerobic and muscular endurance to hold goal race pace for two to three hours or more. Work backward from your goal event (or events) and determine when you should emphasize certain training elements over the others.

In general, the closer you are to the race, i.e. the last four to six weeks, the more your key workouts should mimic the demands of the race. For our 5K runner, that might be regular doses of 800m, 1000m or 1-mile intervals at race pace with a short recovery; for our marathoner, longer intervals and/or tempo runs around goal race pace are going to be more appropriate. That doesn’t mean the 5K runner never does a steady tempo run in the last month before a race, or that the marathoner doesn’t go to the track for speed work, but those sessions are less frequent during this period. The further away you are from your race, i.e. 12–20 weeks, the less specific the workouts should be, so the 5K runner might be doing more frequent long runs, regular tempo runs and less speed work, while the marathoner’s long runs shouldn’t be quite as long as during peak phases—they’re running shorter, faster intervals more often and not doing much marathon-pace specific work just yet. Nothing gets neglected, but the emphasis is constantly shifting every four to six weeks.

Variety isn’t just the spice of life, it’s also key to a balanced training program. When you’re doing the same types of workouts for weeks and months on end, it’s easy to get bored, burned out and even injured. Working on everything all the time ensures you’re addressing all the different training elements, engaging more energy systems and staying mentally stimulated, helping you to become a better, more well-rounded and injury-resistant athlete.

Mario Fraioli
Mario Fraioli is a Bay Area-based running coach who works with a number of Olympic Trials-level marathoners and internationally ranked ultrarunners. He also writes and publishes The Morning Shakeout, a weekly email newsletter that covers running and other topics that interest him. Follow his work at @mariofraioli and themorningshakeout.com