Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to Run Faster: The Most Overlooked Component

This past year has been one of my best race years. I've PR'd at pretty much every distance (5K, 10K and 1/2 marathon). I'm running the Chicago Marathon with a pacing target of about 3:02-3:05, which would be a 5-8 min PR - and I'm feeling better about going into that race than I have in my past 6 marathons.

In all of my races I've felt strong, solid and fluid - almost perfectly timing my pace to the distance (meaning I felt like I left it all out on the course but didn't gas out prior to the finish line).

So what was my big training secret for this year? (and this is where you 'quick fix' folks will navigate away from the page ;-) - it's just been back to one core 'old-school' concept.

You have to train like you want to race. Specificity leading into a race is key. 

In other words - you need to run at race pace for a significant amount of time that is proportional to the distance of your race. Of course you need to build up to this and balance it with making sure you can recover from your workouts in time for the next workout, but I think too many people run slow and then wonder why it is that they run that same speed in a race.

It's more complicated than that of course. And I'm a BIG fan of LSD (Long Slow Distance) in the base building phase. In fact, one of my fastest years ever racing bikes was after a winter of riding the rollers for hours on end and commuting on my bike to/from work 35mi round-trip 4x per week when the weather cooperated (or cooperated just enough - i.e. it was crappy outside; but ride-able).

My point is that I think too many people get hung up in the base phase for too long. They avoid the suffer sessions - not the super-high intensity ones, but the grueling, medium burn ones that just gnaw away at your resolve over miles and miles. Kind of like..... well... in a race.

Look, specificity training hurts. It physically challenges you, but most importantly; it mentally challenges you. But during a race - it's exactly that mental fortitude that will help you to endure a pace to hit your PR goals.

Anyway - rather than belabor the point; I think this concept is captured REALLY well in an recent article in Running Times with legendary distance coach, Renato Canova.

It's written from a marathon training perspective, but you can apply it to any other distance and even any other discipline. In this age where people are looking for an easy path, such as being able to run a marathon on only 25mi a week (reality-check: yes, you can 'survive' a marathon, maybe even without injury on 25mi per week, but you are not going to 'run' it and certainly not going to 'race' it) - or the "train for Ironman on 8 hours per week using mostly Cross-Fit" (reality-check: maybe there are a few people that have done it, but probably not you, not me, not most people).

Look, I'm not saying periodization, LSD, strength training, cross-training, interval training, etc.. doesn't help. Rather, they are part of the puzzle. And the one part you absolutely DON'T want to omit (but many do) is specificity.

There's an old training joke where a guy wants to run a marathon at a certain pace. His training plan is simply.

Day 1: Run 1mi at goal pace.
Day 2: Run 2mi at goal pace
Day 26: Run 26mi at goal pace.
Day 27: Rest
Day 28: Run the marathon at goal pace
Maybe with a little more structure - it's not such a silly joke :-)

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