While aerobic fitness is essential for good health, treadmills and other stationary fitness machines can be downright boring. Getting outdoors on a run, on the other hand, is a great way to increase your stamina and get some fresh air at the same time. If you are are currently in the Marine Corps, or going to boot camp soon, then running is absolutely essential. For those who are not in the Marines, the benefits of increased energy, reduced stress, and weight management that running provides are reason enough to start a program. Unlike a lot of the expensive fitness equipment out there, all you need is a good pair of running shoes, a cheap watch, and a lot of road.A good program will build speed, endurance, and provide enough rest for recovery. In order to get your running to improve you are going to need to schedule at least three days a week for your running program and no more than five. If you schedule your running from Monday to Friday, your weekly running plan may look like this.

Monday - Long run
Tuesday - Optional short run (no more than two miles)
Wednesday - Medium run
Thursday - Optional short run (no more than two miles)
Friday - Speed workout

The Long Run

The actual time and distance for this run is relative to your current fitness level. It could be a thirty minute run or an hour and thirty minute run. The point is to run what is a long distance for you. It's important to do this run at a pace that is easy for you. The emphasis of this run is distance not speed. A rule of thumb is to run at a pace at which you can hold a conversation with another person. When you're finished with this run you should still feel like you have a little bit of juice left in reserve.

The Medium Run

The medium run lets you get in those extra miles that are essential to a running program. The distance should be half to three quarters of your long run. For instance, if your long run is a one hour run, your medium run should be between 30 and 45 minutes. This should be run at a comfortable pace. Like with your long run, you should still have energy left in reserve when you are finished.

The Speed Workout

The speed workout uses interval training to increase your lactic acid threshold. The following is a good speed workout to start with.

  1. One mile warm up at a comfortable pace
  2. Run at a pace that is fast for you for 20 seconds
  3. Run at a comfortable pace for 40 seconds
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 four more times
  5. One mile cool down

There are many different speed workouts out there. We'll discuss some of them later in this series, but you can get very creative with this workout. If speed isn't a goal of yours, you can replace this run with another medium run. You may be running for general fitness, for instance, and may find interval training too grueling. Unlike the other runs, the speed workout can be extremely draining.

The Optional Short Run

This run is a filler run that can help you loosen up after a day of running. Also, by scheduling five days of running vs. only the three minimum, running is more likely to become a habit -- which is what you want. If you don't feel like running on the optional days, then go for a short walk.

Combining Running with a Lifting Program

I've found that this running program fits in nicely with our five day workout program in our archives. You probably don't want to do your running workout and lifting workout back to back. It's a good idea to break them up in the day. Personally, I like to lift in the morning and the run at lunch or in the evening. On the surface, it seems like it would be hard to find the time to do this workout plan, but in my experience, I've found that the extra energy I gain when I'm working out helps compensate. Not only am I able to get more done during the day, but my body actually requires less sleep at night to feel refreshed. So by working out for an hour and a half a day, I gain two hours that I didn't need to sleep, and my time is used more efficiently to boot.

Getting Started on the Program

If you've been running for a while you can just jump right into this program and tailor it to your specific needs. On the other hand, if you haven't been running and have no natural running ability you are going to need to build an endurance base before you get started. We'll discuss endurance base building in the next column in detail. Until then. . .

Semper Fidelis!