Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Racing & Pacing

Today I saw a compelling article on the Running Times website regarding approaches to training, racing, and excellence in distance running. Apparently some of the phenomena described by the author are spreading to places where they had long been rejected. Some excerpts that I liked and agree with:
We often fall into the trap of believing that our measure as athletes is based on how far we went today, or our weekly mileage.

I'd like to argue that frequent marathoning may be detrimental to some runners' development, and you may find greater satisfaction and success aiming at a shorter distance during many of your training seasons.

We went too long too soon, developed bad habits, and failed to build the athletic strength necessary to support our growing aerobic strength.

I
gnoring speed work leads to inefficient strides (the "marathon shuffle") and injury as well.

I recall one spring when I was training for a marathon, getting in 50-to 60-mile weeks, going on an easy 10-miler with an Austrian friend who was not much faster than me at shorter distances and was training for a different marathon. I learned that he was running 90-100 miles per week, which he considered barely adequate. Learning my miles, he suggested that I should probably be aiming at the 10K. It surprised and somewhat offended me at the time--but, while I ran a PR, he ran his marathon more than 10 minutes faster than me.

How many miles are necessary? Let's look at one common measure: If, as many coaches advise, the long run shouldn't be more than 25 percent of your week (many say 20 percent), any week when you are running a 20-miler should total 80+ miles. This is in line with what top coaches recommend if you want to do your best in the marathon: An informal poll of five coaches came up with a range of 70-120 miles (see sidebar). Less than that, and not only is the marathon distance a survival stretch, but the long run becomes too much stress in your week and you fall into the problems discussed above of ignoring other elements, all of which are necessary to become fully prepared to race the distance. I know first-hand. Looking back with a critical eye, I've done adequate mileage for the distance only three or four times, and it shows: Those are the breakthrough, negative-split races amid many "glad I made it" finishes.

What if, when looking at a training book, we didn't say, "I'm running 40 miles per week, I can follow the intermediate marathon training program," but instead focused on the advanced program for the 5K or 10K? Let's not fall into the trap that we're going to "waste" the miles on a shorter race: Top runners from Kenenisa Bekele down to any collegian regularly run 70 to 100 or more miles per week with no intention of racing longer than 10K. "Yes, but they're elites," we too often say. Why sell ourselves short? If we can run 50-mile weeks with several speed workouts, why not use it to test the limits of what our bodies can do at a shorter distance, rather than accept that we're intermediate at the marathon?

Running faster is just as hard, often harder, than running longer.

[Bill]
Rodgers says, "I like the racing part of our sport--and it doesn't have to be the marathon. The excellence side of the sport is very important."

"In essence, I think it takes a lot more training to be your best at all distances than people often realize or commit to," says coach and Running Times columnist Greg McMillan. "For competitive runners, I find they can usually run much faster when they safely build up to more and better training even for shorter races like the 5K/10K."

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