Blue Collar Legend—Dual Citizen Runner Steve Chu/ Part 2 Training Principles

Article, Pictures/ Steve Chu
Interview, Translate/ Bigfish

中文版 Chinese Versiion

These are guidelines, tips, and training principles that have seemed to work well for me the last few years and may not work for everyone. In general, I try to be more conservative and careful in my approach to increasing training volume and workout intensity, which may delay progression and improvement at times. However, I believe that by reducing injury risk and increasing the chance of staying healthy for long periods of time, one can really build upon fitness from one training cycle to the next and have steady improvement year-to-year.

    1. Consistency and enjoying the process

      No matter how much running talent you have, you will have to put in the work to improve. One of the common traits I have seen in runners who stick with their training is that they have a pretty consistent routine/schedule and they enjoy their training. It doesn’t mean every runner I know look forward to track workouts or dragging themselves out of bed at 5 a.m. when their body is stiff and tired, but they all have parts of their training they look forward to. Some runners don’t even enjoy most of their runs, but these runners usually enjoy the sense of achievement from finishing a particularly tough run or workout. I find that when a runner has a consistent schedule, either daily or weekly, and enjoy enough of the process, they tend to stick with their training and improve from one training cycle to the next

    2. Easy runs easy

      Easy running is the safest way (although slowest) to improve fitness.  Depending on your training background easy running will make up anywhere from 50-90% of your weekly training volume. While the benefits of these runs may take weeks, months, or even years to come to fruition. It’s undeniable that easy runs are important. The more miles/kilometers you can run, the stronger your heart, legs, feet, and rest of body are. Some of the best African runners spend years running to and from school when they are younger. These runs gave them the aerobic base to handle more formal training later 
      on, but are still a significant part of their training even as professionals. Elite Japanese runners are also known to spend a significant amount of time running at very pedestrian paces (slower than 8:00/mi or 5:00/km for 2:10-2:15 marathoners)

    3. Running fast controlled/relaxed

      This applies more 
      in “fast” practice sessions, but should also be observed in the early stages of races too. Very often, in practices you will see runners pushing themselves to hit their goal times or just even running as hard as they can towards the end of workouts. After spending years reading articles/books written by successful coaches and runners, I have noticed one common theme – the key to a workout isn’t to run as fast as you can, but to run your goal times while feeling as relaxed and controlled as you can. If you want to run 16:00 for a 5K, a couple of key workouts may be 8x800 @ 2:34 with 45s rest or 6x1000 @ 3:12 with 1 min rest. On a track team, you may see some runners doing this workout and running 2:25-2:30 for their 800s or 3:00-3:05 for their 1000s and wonder why they lose to their teammates that run slower in practice. It’s because while these runners exceeded their goals in practice, their teammates have practiced feeling controlled running at the goal pace they need to hold in a race.

    4. Increase Training Volume Slowly

      10% rule. For beginning runners, increase your weekly training volume by no more than 10%. This is only if you are
      comfortably handling your current training load. This means: 

      1. No injuries 
      2. You are able to run your goal times in workouts without overextending yourself. 
      3. Not getting sick from training too hard.

    5. Specificity to your goal race

      No one training schedule works the best for all distances. If your goal race is a marathon, your long
      runs and long interval/tempo workouts will be the most important sessions. If your goal for your current training cycle is to run a fast half-marathon, you should probably incorporate some faster intervals into your training as well – while your most important workouts will be the lactate threshold workouts such as 3x2 mile or 3x3k at half-marathon pace, you will want to incorporate some workouts at 10K or even 5K pace such as 5x1 mile at 10K race pace and 10x800 @ 5K pace.

    6. Conservative

      In training and in racing, it is almost always better to start out too slow than too fast. This is a good approach for multiple reasons:


      it is harder for most people to have to keep going after they are forced to slow down in the middle of a workout or race. It is a tough feeling to know that you are too tired to keep up the early fast pace and that the rest of the workout is only going to get harder. When this happens in a race or even a workout with other teammates around, it’s even more demoralizing to see other runners running by with seemingly less effort. Conversely, it is a great feeling when you can speed up throughout the workout or race and even more so when you start passing other runners who have overestimated their fitness and started out too quickly.


      when you run too fast early on, you put your body in oxygen debt earlier than you need to. A race isn’t won by the runner that runs the hardest, but the one who runs the smartest and most efficiently. Therefore, you should practice the same.  There are exceptions such as in championship races and/or cross-country races where it is important for you to keep up with certain competitors or the need to start out and get a good position in the field, but most of the time starting conservatively is the right thing to do.

    7. Importance of Recovery + Benefits of Different workouts – A lot of people feel great after a breakthrough workout. They feel confident and excited about the prospect of a personal record in their next race which is usually in a few days. However, the actual benefits of most training sessions are not fully realized for at least a few days, and sometimes weeks. Based on some experiments and studies, these are rough guidelines on how quickly you can realize the benefits of these types of workouts: (credit to this article, although other similar articles will have slightly different results -

      VO2max sessions (3K-5K pace workouts such as 8-12x800 or 20x400 @ 5K pace)
      – 10-14 days
      Lactate Threshold / Tempo Runs (10mi-Half Marathon pace workouts) – 7-10 days
      Long Runs – 4-6 weeks
      Marathon Pace – (not included in the article above, but generally 10-20 days)

    8. Training Tip

      the faster you can recover from a workout session, the quicker your body will “absorb” the benefits of these workouts and elevate itself to a higher fitness level. Important things that will help you during the recovery process include:

      1. Running easy on your non-workout days/runs.
      2. Getting enough sleep and rest.Eating a healthy diet.
      3. Obviously you will be running other workouts or even races before the 7-42 days it takes to see the benefits of a workout are up, that’s why it’s important to not overdo any one particular session. 
      4. Seek a balance benefit achieving a hard training stimulus within each session and recovery is not only
      important, but an art form that may take years of experience to perfect.

    9. Keep a training log

      This is very important, and perhaps one of the biggest reasons on why I have improved as much as I have. When you keep a training log, you have records of your training leading up to good as well as bad races. While the results of the race alone shouldn’t be used to judge whether your training beforehand was “good” or “bad”, you can usually go back and identify things that may have contributed to a good race or bad race. Examples of things I learned from keeping a running log:
    1. I noticed a few years ago that I tend to start feeling more tired and fatigued after running interval workouts at 5K-10K pace several weeks in a row, especially when I am running these workouts in the middle of a traditional schedule (2 hard workouts or races a week + one long run). 

    2. I noticed that I could usually race very well for a half-marathon and marathon if I just used lactate threshold workouts and marathon paced runs in my training. For half-marathons, I usually need to do some interval work at 5K-10K pace, but maybe one session every 2-3 weeks instead of every week or every 2 weeks in more standard schedules. The lack of short interval workouts didn’t seem to have a negative impact on my running performance during marathon training. If you keep a running log and take some time to analyze it sometimes, you may notice similar patterns in your training.  The best workouts to get you in shape may not be the same as what works for me or the next person. I have two good friends who have both run 2:18. One claims that he needs to run 25x400 with 100m jog about 2-4 weeks before his marathons to get ready. Another one claims that he needs to run a fast 20-miler before he is ready to race a fast half-marathon. I wouldn’t consider those two types of workouts to be important for myself right before I am about to race a fast marathon or half-marathon, but it works for them.

    3. Running a long workout or even a race 2 weeks before a marathon has usually led me to underperform in my goal race. Now, I try to do my last long marathon paced run about 3-4 weeks before my goal race. 

    4. My body seems to respond best to a 10-14 days taper for the marathon. A lot of books recommend 3-4 weeks and it seems to work well for a lot of my friends. However, I often find myself feeling sluggish on race day when I follow a 3-4 week taper that’s similar to what is recommended in most training guides.  Again, this is different for each person, and if you have found yourself ready to race your best on race day in the past, I wouldn’t change anything. However, if you find that you often feel tired on race day and never seem to race your best when it matters, why not try something a little bit different to see if a slightly shorter or longer taper may work better for you?