Friday, May 2, 2014

Get Fast Now - How to Prioritize Your Training for a Fall Marathon

Are you at the point now where your goal Spring race is behind you and you’re looking at a long distance race for the Fall?  If so, then you’re probably at the point in your training where you aren’t quite sure what to do.  Maybe your Spring race went well, or maybe you’re looking to avenge for a less than desirable race experience, but chances are you’re trying to run faster for your Fall race.  Common instinct is to prescribe yourself lots of early long runs to “establish your base” and “get used to long distances”.  I get it – you likely cramped (for whatever reason – nutritionally or muscularly) toward the end of your race and you feel that running more long runs will better prepare your body.  At first glance, that would seem to make sense.  If your body isn’t used to “going there”, then you need to practice it so you don’t experience the same issues on race day.  But the reality is that you will achieve nothing by this approach other than getting used to running long and slow and more importantly, you may risk burnout/injury by the time you actually get closer to your Fall race.  It makes no sense to pound away that long this far out from a goal race, yet this is the first approach so many people turn to.  In fact, some of the runners I’ve coached through our =PR= DistanceTraining Program come into the program expecting to run 18-20 miles at the start of the training cycle (with 16-18 weeks until their goal race), because they’ve already spent the month(s) before the program “getting ready”.  I find its best in these situations to take a step back from the day to day, week to week looking glass and look at your training from a greater holistic perspective.  This usually helps people see the light and get them moving in the right direction.  So what should you do? 

Get faster now, so you can go long (and be faster) in the Fall. 
Let’s take a look at why this approach makes more sense than just mindlessly logging long run after long run for the next 5+ months.   Ever wonder why elite marathoners don’t typically race multiple marathons throughout the year?  Well for one, they realize that optimal performance can really only be dedicated to 1 marathon per season or year.  But the other reason is because they aren’t in marathon shape year round – they’re focused on training at shorter distances to get faster.  It’s easy to understand why.  Let’s stick with elites as the example for the moment.  If you want to be an elite male marathoner, you need to be capable of running sub-2:10 (sub-2:05 for world class) these days.  Many of these same runners run 59:XX or faster for the half marathon too.  So to run a faster marathon, you have to be able to run a faster half marathon, because the faster times at those shorter distances translate into faster times when those same athletes go back to marathon training.  If you’re slower than that, no amount of training more at marathon pace is going to get you faster.  The training doesn't work like that.   

Simply put in terms regular runners can understand, if your goal marathon pace is an 8:00/mi pace, but your half marathon pace is 7:45/mi pace, the best thing you could do would be to knock that 7:45/mi half marathon pace down to 7:30 or 7:15.  Why?  Because if you can run a half marathon (just a bit slower than lactate threshold) at 7:15-7:30/mi, that 8:00/mi goal pace will equal a much lower percentage of effort to hit.  As a result, it will cost you less (in terms of the energy you’ll use) to run at that goal pace, therefore allowing you to run farther at that pace without hitting the dreaded wall.  And if you are properly trained, taking in nutrition, and executing with proper pacing, there hopefully won’t be a wall at all come race day.
Let me just interupt this message to remind you that you can't just start training at whatever pace you want.  You still have to train at your current fitness levels, no matter the distance.  So to get your half marathon times faster, you can't just train at those faster paces.  You have to train at your current fitness first.

But don’t let the example of the half marathon fool you into thinking that’s the only option.  Every distance all the way down can play a supporting role, which is why you often see many of these same elites racing shorter distances.  In some cases, it’s just a workout as part of a larger training cycle, but in others, it is because they are training to get faster at shorter distances so they can ultimately get faster at the longer stuff.

And aside from the explanation above, there are many other benefits for the everyday runner.  Here are just a few:

·         Running faster encourages better running form:  Spending more time running fast versus just slogging out the miles means you’re less likely to get overuse/repetitive stress injuries that are common with endless long runs

·         Changing the stress stimulates new progress: If your body has been training one way for a while (ie lots of long, easy, moderate runs), jumpstarting it with some faster running can recruit additional muscle fibers to support your running.  These fibers can then be trained to act like slow twitch fibers when you turn back toward the distance stuff, which will help prevent fatigue late in the race.

·         Faster running adds a strength element: While hills tend to be a natural component of most runner’s training, faster running forces your muscles to work harder in different ways, meaning you’ll get stronger.  A stronger runner is able to maintain proper running form longer, which means you’ll likely slow down less late in races.

·         Find a new definition of hurt: There is a huge difference between the type of pain experienced in long distance races versus the type of pain experienced in a 5k.  Long distance races are like someone flicking you a million times, eventually leading you to get annoyed and feel some pain.  5k pain is a lung busting, muscle burning feeling that takes some getting used to.  Teaching your mind to be able to handle a variety of pain will help you when things get tough, no matter the distance.

In summary – you can always train your body to run longer, but it is much more difficult to train it to run faster AND longer at the same time.  So the benefit of spending the time you have now to get faster, is that you don’t have to add another foreign stress to your body when it comes time to stack the miles up in preparation for your goal marathon in the Fall.  Add the fast now, so you can focus on the far (with some moderate fast) later.  So do the smart thing, and find some speed over the next month or so, get faster, and use it to prep for your goal Fall race.


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