The Hard-Easy System

Long & Short Course Options Available

The Hard-Easy System

A Course for Intermediate and Advanced Racers Who Want to Train Better and Get Faster.

The Hard-Easy System is the best system yet devised for training endurance athletes. Its founder, Brian Clarke, has been developing the course since 1979, when he first started training recreational runners for the Honolulu Marathon.

The course is based on his experience as a runner on the University of Oregon’s track team under legendary coach, Bill Bowerman. Under Bowerman’s tutelage, Clarke ran the half-mile in 1:51 and the mile in 4:06.

Clarke’s experience at U.O. taught him the power of the “Oregon System.” He has written three books on the subject. The short and long courses are based on his coaching and teaching experience since his last book was published in 2006.

The Short Course

Consists of one 2-hour, in-person (or zoom) meeting, during which we view the 20-minute short-course video in 10 parts/lessons, discussing the ideas in each lesson and applying them to your current training and racing.

The goal is to identify a number of cases to study during an ensuing training period, where you and others might learn from your experience of better understanding your training and racing using the concepts in the lessons (see syllabus and content overview).

Dates:  The short course is scheduled at odd times when a concept review might be beneficial to a group of athletes.

Tuition:  $50 for athletes not in a current BC Endurance program; $25 for those in a current BC Endurance program.

Instructor.  Brian Clarke has taught this course more than 50 times since 1979.

The above video is a 20-minute video introduction to the hard-easy system. Written and narrated by Brian Clarke, it covers the main ideas of the longer 11-lesson course.

HES Short Course Registration and Pay

The Long Course

Consists of eleven 90-minute lessons on Zoom video. Clarke teaches and assists students to inquire into their personal training problems using a case-study approach to learning. Class size is limited to ten students.

Dates: To be Announced

Qualification: Athletes must be intermediate or advanced racers with at least three years’ experience in the training and racing game.

Tuition: $150, payable in full before the second class session. $75 for athletes enrolled and paid in full for the 2022 Honolulu Marathon Training.

Instructor: Brian Clarke.

HES Long Course Registration and Pay

Content Overview

Introduction. What is a Marathon?

Part 1. Pace Exertion and Race Ability

Lesson 1. Building Marathon Ability
Lesson 2. The Rules of Right Exertion
Lesson 3. Tempo, Speed, and Endurance

Part 2. Workout Effort and Running Energy

Lesson 4. What is a Workout?
Lesson 5. Workout Effort and Capacity for Exertion
Lesson 6. Optimizing Workout Effort

Part 3. Training Periods and Training Cycles

Lesson 7. Scheduling Workouts
Lesson 8. Optimizing Shock
Lesson 9. Measuring Adaptation

Conclusion. The Marathon Revisited
The Hard-Easy System - Full Introduction

(Note, This course on the Hard-Easy System is intended for intermediate, advanced, and master level athletes.  We assume that novices and beginners probably aren’t interested in the fine points of preparing for foot races.)

The Hard-Easy System is based on the premise that the fundamental ability-building units of a training program are workouts. You must do workouts to improve your racing ability. Otherwise, why train? You might as well just go out and race.

  • In the Hard-Easy System, every workout is made up of two ingredients: effort and energy. You can’t do a workout without exerting an effort, and you can’t exert an effort without encountering your sensations of running energy.
  • Your body is a separate entity from your thinking, ego-mind. Your body sends messages to your mind in the form of physical sensations, such as pain, abundant energy, or audible breathing, including many other effort and energy sensations.
  • You are capable of directly experiencing your sensations of effort and energy during a workout. Effective training decisions are based on an understanding of these physical sensations. You don’t need complex instrumentation to train effectively.

Understanding physical sensations requires conceptual interpretation. That’s where the hard-easy system comes into play. The system is fundamentally conceptual, i.e., it’s based on words with precise meanings that bring understanding to your running experience.

  • Learning to use the words in this system is like learning a new language made up of common words, with uncommon meanings. Thus, key words in the system designate concepts you should master to train and race effectively at the racer level.
  • The concept “pace exertion,” for example, has four essential ideas: a) the effort necessary, b) to sustain a pace, c) from moment to moment, d) during a running workout. When one of those ideas is missing, the concept “exertion” is missing, too.
  • Workout effort (in contrast to exertion) is the effort of a whole workout. Where exertion can change from moment to moment (e.g., slow-to-fast-to-slow), workout effort is the sum of all the exertion moments of a run, regardless of pacing variations.

Scales for Measuring Conceptual Ranges. The course on the Hard-Easy System makes extensive use of scales that measure pertinent aspects of your running experience. A scale is a complete range of five or six levels that describe a running phenomenon.

  • The pace exertion scale, for example, has six (lowest-to-highest) levels: mild, light, steady-state, threshold, ragged-edge, and maximum. You don’t have to use every level in every workout, but you should be aware of the levels and their uses.
  • Every workout has an exertion component which determines the racing ability it will build, whether stamina, power, tempo, speed, or endurance. Each ability develops by repeating carefully exerted workouts according to rules you’ll learn in the course.
  • Thus, understanding “pace exertion” will enable you to structure workouts that build a full complement of racing ability for your next race. Thus, being fully able to race separates duffer-athletes from athletes of equal talent who always finish first.

Our learning project in this course is to use the hard-easy system to understand the following five features of the training process:

  1. Steps that must be taken to improve your ability. For example, you must purposely structure the exertion of a workout to build an intended racing ability.
  2. Mistakes in thinking and practice that lead to injury, illness, and exhaustion. For example, doing progressively harder workouts during a training period.
  3. Principles that experience indicates are true about training and racing, e.g., a very slow warm-up during the first ten minutes reduces the risk of injury.
  4. Relationships between factors affecting your training decisions, e.g., the faster you run at the beginning of a workout, the greater your risk of injury.
  5. Questions that must be answered for progress to be made, e.g., how can you optimize workout effort, so your racing ability grows rather than languish?

Thus, you can learn to train effectively by paying attention to your sensations of effort and energy, and thereby learn how to read your body. Some say it can’t be done; we believe this course on the hard-easy system can impart the necessary skills and knowledge.

Course Syllabus

The following is a brief outline of the main ideas in the eleven lessons comprising the BC Endurance course on the hard-easy system. The hard-easy system is the most effective system yet for training endurance athletes.

  • The course begins with easy concepts, such as pace exertion—the exertion needed to sustain a running pace from moment to moment during a race or workout. Pace exertion is measured as mild, light, steady-state, threshold, ragged-edge, and maximum.
  • There are five components of pace exertion: heart rate, breathing, power, tempo, and intensity, each of which has its own six-level scale. Once learned, you can use the five components to measure your exertion during training or racing.
  • Breathing, for instance, can be measured as normal, conversational, huffing, heavy, labored, hyper. The first lesson enables you to structure your exertion to pace yourself correctly during a marathon race or any workout in preparation for a marathon.

Lesson 1. What is a Marathon?

(According to the Hard-Easy System.)

  • Pace Exertion.
  • Exertion Structures.
  • The Five Components of Exertion.
  • The Breathing Component.

Lesson 2. Building Marathon Ability

(How do we build ability?)

  • Light Exertion and Ability.
  • Talent and Ability.
  • The Intensity Component.
  • Stamina and Endurance.

Lesson 3. The Rules of Right Exertion

(Rules? What rules?)

  • Stamina and Endurance Workouts.
  • The Interval Workout Structure.
  • Power and Right Exertion.
  • Power as a Racing Ability.

Lesson 4. Tempo, Speed, and Endurance

(Building related abilities, without confusion.)

  • Practicing Marathon Tempo.
  • The Tempo Workout Rule.
  • Speed vs. Endurance.
  • Speed vs. Tempo.

Lesson 5. What is a Workout?

(Effort and energy.)

  • Measuring Running Energy.
  • The Five Workout Energy Patterns.
  • Capacity for Exertion.
  • Understanding Workout Effort.

Lesson 6. Workout Effort and Capacity for Exertion

(Two new concepts)

  • The three aspects of energy.
  • What does capacity contain?
  • Workout effort and pace exertion.
  • Defining hard and Easy efforts.

Lesson 7. Optimizing Workout Effort

(How do you know when your effort is “right”?)

  • Is Optimum Effort Possible?
  • Effort/Energy Combinations.
  • Training and Adaptive Value.
  • The Hard/Ready Combination.

Lesson 8. Scheduling Effort and Recovery

(What is a training schedule?)

  • Training Periods and Training Cycles.
  • Recovery-Period Standards.
  • A Hard-Easy Workout Schedule.
  • Regular and Adequate Recovery.

Lesson 9. Optimizing Shock

(The first objective of the training process.)

  • Establishing Workouts.
  • Shock and Fitness.
  • The Stress Threshold.
  • Measuring Proficiency.

Lesson 10. Measuring Adaptation

(The name of the training game.)

  • The Training Cycle.
  • Repeating Workouts.
  • Adaptation, Capacity, and Performance.
  • Exhaustion and Ability.

Lesson 11. The Marathon Revisited

(Can you “muscle” the marathon?)

  • Workouts and Races.
  • Maximum Sustainable Exertion.
  • Correct and Incorrect Pacing.
  • Cruising and Crashing.

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