Lean in 15 for runners

Last updated: 23-Aug-18

By Andy Mouncey

With apologies to Mr Wicks who has apparently done rather well positioning himself fairly and squarely over this nifty attention-grabber. Well, if it works for him… 

Yes, this indeed one of those ‘blank sheet – new you – get your s*** together for real this time’ pieces. Except I wanted something – what’s the word? Ah yes…leaner – than the traditional This Is How You Plan Your Training For The Year (yawn) articles. Regressive evolution – that’ll be degeneration, Andy – has conspired to help me in this regard as it now appears that, thanks to those wonderful technological personal devices, your attention spans are much shorter anyway.

Talking to some of my training-coaching friends does actually back this up: ‘2-3 hours at a time only – any longer and their brains are mush and behaviour starts to go down the tubes,’ was the verdict. ‘I have to deliver in shorter bite size chunks…


You get the idea: All of which means I can probably get away with shorter articles for you this year. (No you can’t: ED)

Cut The Crap

What I’m going to tell you is how to trim the fat from your training – and you’ll only need 15 minutes to do it. I came across this method a few years ago now from US physical therapist and ultra running specialist Joe Uhan and have combined it with how I do the ‘How Are We On Track & Staying Healthy’ piece with my coaching clients.

You Will Need

Your training diary
Er, you do have one, right? If you don’t you can contact me for FREE and I’ll coach you through the version I’ve evolved for my clients – and all in 15 measly minutes. ‘Bit of a theme here…’

Three highlighter pens: Red, yellow, green – or the digital equivalent if you don’t do paper

15 minutes to yourself.

What You Do

  • Step 1: Go back 6-8 or 12 weeks in your diary.
  • Step 2: With the RED pen highlight all the sessions – or the days if you want a wider frame of reference – where you had to abort, modify, failed to finish or it plain just felt like pushing water uphill.
  • Step 3: With the YELLOW pen highlight the sessions or days that were average, nothing special – you were just going through the motions.
  • Step 4: GREEN is for goals achieved or exceeded – everything went well and to plan.
  • Step 5: Count the total number of sessions or days in your chosen period then the totals for your red-yellow-green tags. Calculate percentages.

What You Want

That most of your sessions are green – you have some yellow and very few red. ‘Hands up, anyone?

What You’ve (Probably) Got

Mostly red and yellow with some green here and there.

That was me when I first did this exercise a few years ago. To my horror, I realised that this meant that two thirds of what I was doing was either pants or average at best. And no-one was paying me for it – I was doing it to me! It was the training equivalent of regularly smashing my head against a brick wall, thinking that because it was hard it was effective, while all I was achieving was denting my head until it hurt enough to stop and take notice.

That was me trying to rush back after prolonged injury.


Except it’s tough to see the cause of the fire when you’re down there fighting the flames. Perspective usually comes when we put time and distance between us and it so we see the whole thing – not just the attention-grabbing stuff in front of our nose.

The discipline then, is to put these pause points in first so we have a good chance of spotting the risk of fire before the damn thing ignites.

What You Need To Do

I’m assuming that you’re reading this wanting to improve, get better – go longer, easier, faster and all that. Because if you’re happy with pushing water uphill, average, cruising etc – just keep doing what you’re doing and file under No Further Action.

But if you want to cut the fat, reduce the number of yellow and reds…

Your Lean In 15 Top 3

1. Make Your ‘Easy’ Stuff VERY Easy
That either means you run to heart rate if you need help to SLOW RIGHT DOWN or start thinking about ‘easy‘ as your ‘go all day’ pace. It should feel way slower than previous and hiking the uphills is perfectly acceptable.

2. Make Your ‘Fast’ Stuff VERY Fast
Er, you do have fast stuff in your ultra training, don’t you? Remember that the aim is still to go from start to finish as fast as you can regardless of distance. Remember also that running fast forces you to be mechanically efficient – and efficiency is absolutely what you want in ultras. And if you’re into your fourth and fifth decade and beyond, then aerobic capacity is one of the things that starts to slip: That’s a big limiter on performance, and that means you need sessions where you go like the clappers and embrace the serious heavy breathing thing.

So your fast stuff needs to be real fast – that will mean it’s all very short to start with, but if ‘easy’ is now real easy you will be fresh enough to do the fast stuff justice. And if you do the fast stuff justice, you wont have the energy to do anything other than ‘stupidly easy’ pace for the day or days afterwards.

3. Make Your ‘Hard’ VERY Hard – & Complex
I think this is about sessions that are deliberately complex-sustained-repeated where you have to use your brain as you work through the layers in order to manage your effort, stay on task and work through the rising levels of fatigue.

So, as a rule, my clients now get ‘Stacker Workouts’ from me – which means a single longer outing is a treat or a race – or there’s a very good reason for it. A ‘Stacker’ is a multi-head monster of a workout that is incredibly time-effective and challenges in three dimensions – emotional, mental & physical. It can be less than 15 minutes long or take hours and hours but the principle remains the same: Layers of activity and training arranged on top of the other where the level of challenge increases over time so that you are really ready for the unique test of ultra running:

To remain as upright as possible while moving at best pace and form through a varied, changing, challenging environment while still thinking clearly under pressure and distractions for an extended length of time.

And that’s all there is to it.

Make the changes and repeat the colour-coding exercise in a few weeks time to compare-contrast.

Cut the crap: Trade your reds and yellows for greens by going Easy-Fast-Hard/Complex this year.

Of course there can be much more to it than this – but just imagine if there wasn’t…

About the writer: Andy does the training stuff for us. He is author of three books including ‘So You Want To Run An Ultra’ He runs long for the challenge and fun of it and has been a professional coach since 2000 working across business-education-sport-lifestyle. He lives with his family in North Yorkshire, UK.

We use affiliate links in some of our reviews and articles. This means that if you purchase an item through one of these links we will earn a commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through our links but the income will help us to keep bringing you our free training guides, reviews and other content to enjoy. Thank you in advance for your support.



Distance - slider
Entry Fee
Entry Fee - slider


Date Range

Global - Virtual


A virtual race which can be run at any time shown on the dates shown, on any type of terrain in any country.

Suitable for

For runners from beginners to experienced as you choose your own course and challenge based on the guidelines and options set by the virtual race organiser.

Endurance - Multi-activity


An ultra distance race including at least two of the following activities such as running, swimming, cycling, kayaking, skiing and climbing. It may also include different climatic conditions (eg ice, snow, humidity, cold water, mud or heat).

Suitable for

Experienced multi-skilled athletes who have trained for the different activities included in this event. Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements and any specialist equipment required such as a wetsuit, skis or a mountain bike.



Increase of up to 2000 metres with very challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity, heat or at high altitude)

Suitable for

Very experienced long distance ultra runners (min 3 years’ experience) or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races is often subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Purchase of specialist kit is often recommended for these races.



Increase of up to 2000 metres with some challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity or heat)

Suitable for

Experienced runners who have completed at least 4 ultras in last 12 months, or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements.



Increase of up to 1500 metres

Suitable for

Runners who have completed several ultra distances or similar events, or are doing long distance running regularly, with elevation shown.



Increase of up to 1000 metres

Suitable for

Runners who have completed at least one ultra in last 6 months or are doing long distance running (>26 miles) regularly, with elevation shown.



Very little change < 500 metres

Suitable for

First ultra event. Runners completing a marathon or doing regular long distance running (>26 miles) in the last 6 months.