Training From “The Top” and From “The Bottom”

The topic is problematic. While preparing for a race, are you planning to go under a certain time or you just go to check what you can do based on your current abilities?

The above question can be asked only regarding a long distance race, a marathon or at least a half marathon. In regards to races shorter than 10K, the problems are different.


  • Training “from the top” is a training where at least once a week we run with a certain speed that we want to achieve during a race.
  • Training “from the bottom” is a training where we test ourselves using different speeds and our final race speed is a conclusion of those trainings.

Personally, I like “from the bottom” training, even though training “from the top” seems to be more popular among elite and amateur runners. An elite runner feels the pressure of not achieving their goal. A failure may cost them a lot. They may lose money and sponsors or a scholarship for instance. An amateur runner understands the issue in a different way. They might have heard from a friend that they have to set a goal, ideally a difficult goal, and accordingly, decide to run 10K in 40min after a few weeks of time. This way, they don’t realize that their goal may be unreachable with the current stage of their fitness. That it is too abstract.

Training “from the top” brings a risk along. It may cause an overtraining or a breakdown. If, for instance, a runner completed 10K in 45min, they may decide to start training to finish another 10K in 40min. This 5min seems to be a short time for them, but actually, it is much longer time than they think. Trainings found online are usually designed for people who are very close to the set time and those who are a minute or two away from their dream time. 5min in 10K is like 20min in a marathon, hard to beat.

Training “from the top” requires us to run with some abstract speed in hope that one day this speed will become our normal speed. We are supposed to be faster and stronger, but often it does not happen.

A runner may say “I am running with my marathon speed”, but actually, it is their speed for a 5K or 10K race.

In “from the bottom” training, that is advised by Jack Daniels, we shouldn’t set any particular time before we start a 16-week training. Instead, we test ourselves from time to time and analyze the outcome we get. Based on this, we upgrade our training with a new speed. This approach is much safer, but of course, there is a risk too. We may overinterpret something, but if we use Jack Daniels’ tables we have a big chance for a right interpretation.

It is very tempting to use “from the top” approach, but we must remember that for most of us it ends with a disappointment on the finish line.

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