Is there really ONE session that can make all the difference to your running? Of course, we all know that its consistency of training over time that makes the long-term difference but for every athlete (and coach) there’s always one session that they rely on to give them the extra edge to be at their best when it counts.

For me Bondarenko was always THAT session, and whenever I ran one (and my, oh my, it was hard) I would feel like I had taken my 10k training to the next level. But when I ran a good Bondarenko – I would feel invincible!

So what is Bondarenko and what can it do for you? It’s the ultimate 10k training session (although the full session comes in at a huge 12k not including the warm up and cool down). Bondarenko was devised and named after the Russian athlete Olga Bondarenko. The session aims to improve both endurance and speed over 10k and specifically to develop your ability to change pace in competitive races. It mixes short fast reps with hard recoveries. You have to be pretty fit to even attempt a Bondarenko and more than any other session, it takes an enormous amount of drive and determination to get it right, let alone make it good. But if you can – then its guaranteed to improve your running, not only at 10k but any distance from 5k to half marathon.

It sounds deceptively easy on paper. Sets of 400ms, 300ms, 200ms and 100ms with the same distance recovery run after each rep adding up to 2k sets. But the sting in the tail comes in the recovery runs. Rather than jogs, the recoveries are run at a much faster than usual pace and the sets are run back to back in blocks of 3 sets, 2 sets and 1 set with 4-5 minutes recovery between each block. The secret to a successful Bondarenko session is make sure you run the right pace for your reps and recovery runs. Then make sure you don’t overcook it in the first set or you will struggle to finish the block. Like any good endurance session, it comes down to driving yourself on when you start to get tired especially at the end of each rep as you go straight into the recovery run. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much as it trains you both physically and mentally to keep going and work harder even when all you want to do is stop.

Guaranteed to end the session feeling like this!

So what is the right pace? It takes some maths both to work out in advance and then keep to it on the track. Ideally you should aim to run the reps at your 5k pace, or slightly faster for the shorter reps, and the recovery runs are around steady run pace or sometimes marathon pace (depending on your pace).

What does that look like in practice? Well for me at my best (running just under 16 minutes for 5000ms) my sessions worked out like this for each 2k set:

400m reps 76s, 400ms recovery 1.36
300m reps 56s, 300ms recovery 1.12
200m reps 36s, 200m recovery 48s
100m reps 18s, 100m recovery 24s

That works out as 7.06 per 2k set or an average of 3.33/km. No wonder I ended each session invariably collapsed on the inside of the track groaning loudly!

Like any session you have to start at the level that’s right for you. Throw yourself straight into a full Bondarenko when your sessions have been much shorter or you aren’t used to active jog recoveries and you’ll find it hard going and potentially rather than improve your running it might finish it for good with injury. Build up the session over time and, more importantly, run it sparingly. Its not one for every week due to the volume and intensity. But planned into your training at the right time, you might find Bondarenko is the ONE session for you that makes the difference too.

Go to my contact page and get in touch to find out more about my coaching and how I can help you to improve your 10k time and make the most from the Bondarenko.

Putting the training into practice. Manchester Commonwealth Games 10,000ms Final. Photo by Mark Shearman