Running Training Tips

The Rule of Three or (T.I.P.)Try-Improve-Perfect

Greg Wenneborg


Rule of Three

In so many aspects of our life, the rule of three holds true. From childhood, think Three Little Pigs. In school it was “Go, Fight, Win!” As we age, maybe it’s the Three Stooges that enrich our lives. The same is true for the Craftsbury method of training for peak performance. In order to become a better runner, you need provide your body with the good stress of workouts that help your body to adapt to that particular effort. In terms of the rule of three, it would be stress-recover-adapt. Here’s an example:

  • If you were doing a tempo run, a twenty to thirty minute run at about 1 minute per mile faster than easy run pace, your body would be stressed by the effort of the run.
  • The next step is to spend the next 24 to 48 hours recovering from this workout.
  • Then, because of the stress followed by the recovery, the body makes an adjustment that helps it become more adept at doing that workout - adaptation.


Here’s where the rule of three comes into full effect. We suggest doing a certain effort session once a week for three weeks in a row. This method provides physiological and psychological benefits.

Physiologically, the body responds to a certain stress for a limited period of time, maybe three or four weeks. After that, repeating the same workout only provides diminishing returns. If you are doing weekly tempo runs, you are improving your lactate threshold in moderate bouts. After a few weeks of this, the body is stronger and ready for something more advanced. Maybe it’s time to move on to hill work, fartlek running, or possibly track workouts.

Psychologically, doing specific workouts in groups of three provides runners with very short term and positive feedback that keeps confidence high.

I try to think of the effort sessions over three weeks in the following terms: Try, Improve, Perfect.

The first time you try the workout, simply put forth an effort that gives you the feeling that you have achieved something difficult.

On the second week of this cycle, your goal is to improve from the previous performance. The best way I’ve found to accomplish this is in a tempo run is to run for the same amount of time but cover a little more distance on each attempt. This improvement can be measured by starting the workout at the same point each time.

Finally, on the third week, it is time to perfect the workout. With a more aggressive attempt, shoot for passing both of the previous stopping points. Achieving this goal will allow you to see, in a short span of three weeks, tangible improvements in your performances.

The Try-Improve-Perfect method can be used in a variety of effort sessions, including other strength workouts like fartlek or hill running, in speed workouts on a track, and even in long runs. These small cycles can carry you through an entire season of solid training to lead you to a peak performance. And just as Goldilocks and the three bears had a happy ending, so may your season.

Greg Wenneborg has been director and head coach of Craftsbury Running Camps since 1998 and has spent the last 15 years helping students and adults of all ages and abilities get more out of their running.