Training plan - runner with CFS

Hi All,

I'm 28 and 10 year sufferer of chronic fatigue syndrome. I'm fortunate that my condition isn't as life-destroying as others have endured. I would say I am 90% with my main issue being recovery after hard effort.

My aim is really to run a 5k as fast as possible. It's my favourite distance and also helps there are weekly races (park-run) to test myself.

I've started running regularly for a month now and following this plan (no reason, just picking one and trying it)

I have got to admit I have found it quite tough, I remember doing the 12x400m day and being so tired that my 400m times were no better than my 5k split times! I also had a similar issue on a 75m LSR day where I couldn't go much faster 6m35 p/km. That's CFS for you - brutal sometimes!

Anyway after four weeks, my 5k time has gone from 22m30 to 21m.45, so there has been improvement, albeit small. I'm still expecting bigger improvements though considering my age.

I just wonder if anyone has advice on how to better tailor my training? More miles and less hard runs, or hard runs and more rest? Or simply stick with it?

Thanks for your advice in advance image


  • literatinliteratin ✭✭✭

    Less hard runs definitely. That's quite a hard programme, with 2.5 pretty hard sessions per week, and is aimed at a more advanced runner who's been running for a long time (probably why it is labelled a sub 18 min schedule). If you have only been running regularly for a month, the programme is way too hard, and you'd probably make bigger gains by just doing more easy running. Plus it would be much easier on your body.

    I don't have CFS but I do sometimes struggle to recover from hard sessions due to low iron. When that happens, the answer is NOT to crack on with my regular training schedule as that just leads to a build-up of fatigue and wipes me out so I can't race well.

  • CaptainCaptain ✭✭✭

    My wife has CFS to the extent that it is nothing less than crippling some days. 

    That you can do any form of regular exercise at all is staggering. 

    I will wish you all the best.

  • Richard  2Richard 2 ✭✭✭

    5k in under 18 minutes is amazing don't be too harsh on yourself if you cannot reach that goal

    also park runs vary in the speed of the course, my local one has some off road sections and tight turns which make it slow.

    I'd try and build in one long run a week (start off with a slow trot for an hour and see how that goes) - and then try and up it 10% each week

    21.45 for 5k is very respectable, don't be too harsh on yourself, you could just keep doing what you're doing and then maybe try something different if you start to plateau, 45 seconds improvement in 4 weeks is excellent

  • I have just seen this post - I can see it's a month old so I am not sure if you will view it.

    I am a 55 year old who has been suffering from CFS for the last 10 years.  It came on about 6 months after Ironman 2006; not sure if it was the overtraining or a virus and there is still very little known about the condition. 

    I have been following the same programme, which most non athletes will say is utter madness but I haven't seen a serious decline in my condition.  I had stopped all exercise from 2013 to October 2015 and hadn't made any improvement so for my mental health I planned a very gradual training programme.  I am now running around 21 minutes and plan to go under 20 in the next 6 month...Try to make sure that every 4th week is very light and that the fast sessions aren't too mad.  I also try to race parkrun every other week.  

    Good luck with your training. 

  • geofforgeoffor ✭✭
    CFS can work in different ways with different people.

    Three observations.

    1. My generalised observation is that the principle of progressive loading that applies to serious runners also applies to CFS sufferers, only moreso.

    Build up carefully and progressively, in terms of quantity and quality.

    If you're dedicated to your plan you will definitely get good results.

    2. Avoid super-high stresses, like races at your longest running distance. And I also question your 12 x 400s.

    That's a super-high stress session because 400s are intensive and put a load on on your endocrine system. Declaration: I am not a doctor.

    As a coach I would have you doing maybe 6 x 800s which are slightly lower speed, far less stress and more specific for a 5k runner. I would have you run them, at this stage, around 3:30.

    Maybe from what you've written, this is the wrong program for you.

    3. Interval sessions where you are not fresh and sharp and able to run at planned speed have little training benefit for runners in general. They also hasten them towards an overtrained state.

    If you can't run at projected speed, you may get more benefit by terminating the session and using it as a recovery day.
  • philw44philw44 ✭✭✭

    Hello all!

    Just an update 3 months after my original post. You learn a lot in 3 months running!

    Firstly, definitely nowhere near a sub 18 5k! But my last recorded time was 20:38 and I would guesstimate I am about a 20:20 now so things are progressing forward!

    I've taken a bit of a scattergun approach to training. I have done a lot of experimentation, following the advice given on here some weeks and doing completely the opposite on others. I would say the advice given on this thread to CFS sufferers is very sound.

    @JamesHole2 - I felt that your 'go easy every 4th week' advice was sort of plucked from thin air. But it does seem that my body has a little crash every 4 weeks (maybe one day we'll find a medical explanation?) I'll be adding a low mileage easy run week every four from now on just to keep ticking over.

    @Literatin - yes the hard runs are really the hardest thing to do properly with CFS. I find it incredibly difficult to do proper hard sessions even intertwined with easy running. For example, a tempo run after even a couple of days easy running is sometimes impossible. I was trying to do 6km @ 4:30p/km pace the other day and my body said no. Yet, if I prepare for a race with lets say 2-3 days off, then I can way above that no problems. The difficulty is trying to fit the hard sessions in a normal training plan.

    @Geffor - Yes I have dropped the 12x400m completely. It's a bit too brutal right now...

    Some more findings:

    As I am progressing, I have started to add small weights programs and core exercises to my training. The core stuff in particular really seems to mess me up. I've made sure from now on that the day after core is either easy or day-off, because my body becomes jelly.

    Protein shakes - really helped me with muscle recovery.

    Resting heart-rate has been a good guide to whether i should run or give it a miss.   I measure when I wake up and there has been some big fluctuations. There does seem to be good correlation between my morning RHR and performance however. When I am in absolute top-nick my RHR is 46, however when my body starts crashing it goes up to 66. Quite a big difference indeed!


    I found this study quite interesting 


    Talks about how CFS sufferers struggle to pay back the oxygen debt and neutralise lactic acid. Sometimes my whole body feels like lactic acid!







  • Hi Philw

    Thanks for the update. I learned a few things from you and the linked article.

    Looks like you've kept really valuable training and recovery records.

    I'm reading that all the high intensity workloads except the Parkrun are high stress.

    That's not unlike what I've seen with CFS, runners seem to be able to lift themselves on a special occasion. Maybe it's the pre-race adrenaline boost countering the resticted oxygen flow.

    Have also seen a very high respiratory rate at very low intensity without a corresponding increase in heart rate. It's weird, as if their's no oxygen there to pump.

    A couple more suggestions.

    1. Use a heart rate monitor and train within the zones. You problem is that your system stresses are higher than normal so you could aim for intensities well below those normally recommended. Easy runs might have to be very slow, right down there in the light zone, around 50%. But there's still a training effect

    2. Try your parkrun as your one serious hard run a week. If you're not fresh and sparkling when you do hard runs on other days you get little value out of them. One good run plus light easy running for rest of week is enough to build fitness on.

    3. If you want to try a second good workout during the week, try running in the threshold zone around 80-85%. Short sessions at first, then slowly build up every couple of weeks. If you can get this to work that's all the hard running you need.

    4. Monitor your breathing rate against heart rate as a another guide to your effort responses. For easy running it's usually a 6 step cycle (3 steps for breating in, 3 steps for out). For parkrun you would expect 4 steps, maybe briefly 3 or even 2. If this is what you get, then 4 steps should be comfortable for the 80-65% session. If it's not, that might mean higher training stress than expected.

    Don't expect to progress as fast as a non-CFS runner, but you can make steady gains over a longer term. Your improvement during your experiments shows that you've still got plenty of improvement potential.

    Good training!
  • philw44philw44 ✭✭✭
    Hi Geofforr

    I see where you are coming from re: CFS runners lifting themselves for the occassion. I'm sure that's why some medical professionals felt it was 'all in the mind' for a while. I think there is some capacity for a one-off extreme effort, but also I would add that I am having 2 days off before a Parkrun and making sure I sleep well, eat well and don't over exert, so there is more preperation for this.

    I have experienced this phenomena of high respitory rate yet low heart rate. Every now and then I get an easy run with a average HR of say 144, yet I'm panting like a dog on a hot day during the whole thing.

    I will try monitoring my breathing rate vs steps next time. I seem to breathe in and out a bit slower/controlled than the average person (judging from people I've ran with)

    One thing I forgot to add is that i've found Fartlek workouts really useful. It works well because you are basing it totally on listening to your body rather than trying to stick to something regimented. If I'm feeling great then I can do loads of sprints, if I'm feeling dreadful then maybe just the odd 200m sprint between easy runs.

    Also - Caffeine is a total run destroyer. Avoid that at all costs!
  • philw44philw44 ✭✭✭

    Here's the training plan I have settled on if any CFS runners are interested! It's for 5/10k distances. In brackets are substituted workouts if I am feeling run down.

    Week one:

    Monday - 40 mins Easy

    Tuesday - 8x3mins Hard (Or 35 mins Fartlek) + Core exercises & weights

    Wednesday - 40 mins Easy  (Or day off)

    Thursday - 4 miles tempo run (Or 4x1 miles with slow jogging until recovered) + Core exercises

    Friday - Day Off

    Saturday - 35mins Fartlek

    Sunday - Long slow run 7-10 miles + core exercises + weights

    Week two:

    Monday - 40 mins easy

    Tuesday - 2x1000/2x600/4x400 (keep this very flexible, depending on condition) + core exercises + weights

    Wed - 40 mins easy (or day off)

    Thursday - 5 miles tempo run (or 5x1miles with recovery jogs in-between)

    Friday - Day off

    Saturday - 35mins Fartlek (or Parkrun race and Thursday as day off)

    Sunday - Long slow run 7-10 miles + core exercises + weights.

    Week 3 - Same as week one

    Week 4 (Recovery week)

    Monday - Day off

    Tuesday - 40mins easy

    Wednesday - Day off

    Thursday - 40mins easy

    Friday - Day Off

    Saturday - Day off

    Sunday - Long slow run 8-10 miles


  • Hi Philw44,

    That looks like a great program.

    It's got a reasonable balance of the fitness components you need for 5-10km, and in reasonable quantity.

    There's flexibility to adapt workloads up or down while still maintaining a reasonable training.

    Your mention of fartlek in previous post jogged my memory (no pun intended) of the runner I mentioned before. He eventually settled for fartlek, 2 per week by himself, as preferred intensity training. The less structured session worked far better for him. Sorry I did not remember this before.

    Also, he was struggling with steady pace runs over 50 minutes, but felt refreshed after fartlek with total running time nearly as long (including warm up and cool down). He then started adding distance at the end of the fartlek sessions and got them beyond an hour. Once his body was used to the longer duration, he was able to switch to just steady state longer runs.
  • Is there a new thread on running with CFS? 2019?
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