Run the Gamut

The All-Round Running Challenge

September 6, 2021

-7 minute read-

The origin of the phrase 'run the gamut' is from the musical world, 'gamut' being a medieval term meaning the full range of musical notes. So the phrase means, basically, to cover the full range. But for me the key world in there is 'RUN'!

There are 10 distances that make up the gamut in the running world. The 100m, 200m, and 400m make up the sprints. The 800m, 1500m and 3000m are considered the middle-distance. Finally, we have the long distances of 5000m, 10000m, the half-marathon (the only non-Olympic distance here) and the full marathon.

Running has always been my first love. Even in team sports I gravitated to the positions that required the most running, like centre field in baseball or pass receiver in football. From a speed and power athlete in my teens and early 20's, I moved to endurance for the better part of 20 years before starting to attempt to combine them both. Combining the preparation for a fast 100m and fast 5k is a challenge to say the least but it's a fun one that's for sure. And it is this fun challenge that I present to you today. Here are is some information and training tips if you decide to Run the Gamut.

General Tips

  • First off, running every distance from 100m to the marathon is extreme unless you're going to take a year to do it. Even then, it's still extreme! If you do tackle the full gamut, you could focus on power and strength for a couple months and work your way through the sprints then, once at 800m, you could start your marathon build. That build usually requires 12+ weeks with a max long run of 32k. Starting with the marathon isn't recommended due to the length of recovery time required post marathon and the heightened chance of tissue damage. That said, with ample caution it could be done.

  • There are two distinctly different injury risks I would put at the top of the list for this challenge: 1) the typical overuse injuries related to high volume distance running and, 2) muscular strain in the sprints as a result of powerful nature of the movement. If you're a masters athlete and you're going to sprint you need to do a lot of preparation for it. You need your strength, mobility and mechanics to be sound before placing such explosive demands on your lower body.

  • The full gamut is pretty extreme so why not opt for a smaller range like 400m to 5k. This eliminates the power sprints and longest distances but still presents ample challenge. And, truth be told, if you're a 5k runner (as so many are) your 5k time will be faster thanks to working the power, VO2max, and threshold fitness required to execute the other distances.

Training for the Half Gamut

  • The following tips will be related to that shorter range, something I'll call the Half Gamut. Training plans can be very complex. This is not a training plan. These are general guidelines that are best used by experienced athletes or those working with a coach. Of course, you should consult your doctor before commencing any exercise program.

    1. Strength and Mobility: Running is a lot easier if you're starting with the right machine under you. By that I mean a functional body that has moderate muscular strength and mobility. This is gained through training like that done in our classes, much of which uses only body weight.

    2. Mechanical Fitness: If your body has not been enjoying some measure of high impact activity then your connective tissue and bone structure also must be carefully prepared. The best way to do that is to progress your run training load very slowly, leaving your body wanting more every day. There are also exercises that can be added to your strength and mobility workouts that can help to build mechanical fitness.

    3. Aerobic Fitness: In order to complete any of the distances you need a base of aerobic fitness. This comes from regular easy paced runs. In preparing for the Half Gamut, an easy long run of 5-10k each week would get you there. Again, you need to slowly build to that distance. During this base building phase I recommend one to two additional runs each week of 3-5k, again at an easy pace. One of those additional runs can be replaced by cross-training, with a 45 minute bike workout being the ideal choice. If you've done the three workouts a week at the recommended distances for 3-4 weeks you are likely ready to add some speed. Listen to your body and make that decision. You will then replace one of your short runs with a track workout.

    4. To the Track: Note that while slower, a gravel track is a whole lot easier on the body than a rubberized or asphalt track. After an easy 800-1200 warm up, the foundation distance I recommend for intervals is 400m. You'll be running at a higher exertion level so it's harder mentally. 400m means that the harder effort is relatively short and more easily attainable. Your training from here should start with just two 400m intervals run at a pace that is 'a little bit harder' than your aerobic pace. Between intervals walk between 200m and 400m to fully recover. Take a watch and time those 400's, remembering the time. With each visit to the track try to go just a little faster, slowly increasing your exertion level over the weeks to 'hard but sustainable'. You should be at an exertion level that allows you to complete each interval with good form. When you feel ready, increase from two to four intervals and also trim your recovery time to a maximum of 200m walking, perhaps as little as 100m. Once you've done 4 x 400m for a couple weeks, the next step is to do 2 x 800m at the same exertion level; not the same pace necessarily but the same 'hard but sustainable' level. All workouts should finish with a walking or jogging cool down and stretch.

    5. Running the Time Trials: If you decide to do each of the five distances as a time trial the first decision is how hard you're going to go. By nature, a time trial means as fast as you can but with that comes a very high exertion level. You must decide if you're willing to go there and whether you should go there based on health and fitness. Due to the metabolic cost of running a full effort race I recommend only doing one distance per week. You could do the time trials on your track day and continue to do an easy 5k on the weekend or visa versa. Make sure your week's activities are focused on having you rested and ready for the time trial. Any hard workout in the six days before the time trial will only hurt your performance when it counts.

Running the gamut brings a fun challenge and variety to your running life. To add even more enjoyment to it, here are some links that you may find helpful or of interest.

Ottawa Running Club: If you're looking for a fun, social group for Sunday runs.

Track Map: Find a track close to you in Ottawa.

Age Grading: Work out how you compare to the masters athletic community in each distance.

Posted by Geordie McConnell, Head Coach