My favorite running workout: the Billat workout

Over a decade ago, when I got very serious about running in races, and decided to get as competitive as I possibly could (knowing that my genetic potential was very limited), I settled on the Jack Daniels “running formula” training program as something that worked quite well for me. It was scientifically based and involves training in different phases of an entire months-long process at different intensities, incorporating easy running, tempo runs, intervals, repeats, hill workouts, etc.

The beauty of Jack Daniels’ Running Formula (I had used the first edition, not the second) was that it gave pace tables to use. I would do my runs with a watch, and spent a good amount of time at the Carnegie Mellon University track on certain workouts (although I always preferred running on the trails to running on the roads or the track).

After reaching my peak racing years, I devoted less and less time to training. As I began running four days a week, or three, I had to look for more efficient ways to maintain my fitness.


What I found, for my circumstance and for my body, was that higher-intensity training with rest days actually worked pretty way, compared to running more days and more mileage. There is, of course, perpetual controversy in the elite circles over whether high mileage or high intensity is the way to go for optimal results (including, of course, avoidance of injury). But I was never an elite runner, so in a sense, the controversy is not very important to me.

Nevertheless, eventually I came to believe that more is not better. In addition, I came to believe that changing things up is more important than following a fixed, supposedly “scientific” plan. This is not only because of the practical fact that often plans need to be changed anyway (because of illness, injury, work and travel commitments, etc.), but also because the body adapts to routine. I have to shake things up periodically in order to progress, whether it’s changing how I eat or how I write a computer program.

It turns out that the past decade has seen the focus on intermittent intensity become mainstream, for everyone, not just would-be competitive athletes. I think this has been a very good development. Along with this change has been, of course, the focus on proper warmups, dynamic stretching, pre-hab. It is folly to do intense work without having the stability to withstand forces that could cause injury.

Billat workouts

One intense running workout I like to do is based on research by VĂ©ronique Billat

If you read that article, and aren’t familiar with VO2max and similar measures of fitness, don’t worry. Here’s a more accessible exposition and recommendations.

Personally, as I begin running again early in the season, I enjoy doing the 30-30 workout. I don’t know my exact vVO2max (and don’t care what it is), but years of experience have led me to know from my body what is approximately mile pace, and use that as an approximation of vVO2max.

So I’ll go and warm up jogging slowly for a mile, then beginning the cycle of running hard for 30 seconds and a recovery jog for 30 seconds, and repeat the cycle for about two miles (or however long before I can no longer keep up the pace reasonably) and cool down and be done for the day.

I don’t actually wear a watch to tick down 30 seconds. Instead, I count steps. Assuming a stride rate of approximately 180 per minute (I realize this varies for me depending on my pace), that’s 3 steps per second, and therefore 30 seconds is 90 steps, or 45 steps for each leg.

I like to do this about once a week.

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