Running is most certainly about getting fast times and it’s also about mastery of a process. In terms of fast times, none of us will win every race that we enter. We won’t run personal bests at all of our races either. Not even most of them. Wins and personal bests are extremely rare occurrances for the vast majority of runners. So having time based, performance goals for your running is a recipe for disappointment.
Back in 2012 my wife and I were watching the men’s 10,00 meters final from the London Olympics. We were amazed at the come from behind victory by Mo Farah . We were so excited, yelling screaming and jumping up an down, that it terrified our then 1 year old son. You may be asking yourself, “So what? Just because I run does not make me a track fan.” I’m here to tell you that it should. Everyone needs a coach (even coaches). Everyone also needs heroes. People that we can emulate and admire in our fields. Having heroes motivates me to perform well and to get out and train on those days when it’s not so easy. Seeing video footage of Jenny Simpson running through the Colorado snow makes it easier for me to get out the door during my northern California drizzle. Seeing the non-running work that Meb routinely does after his runs makes it easier for me to do my 15 minutes of strength and mobility work after my run. Hearing how Mo Farah spends half the year away from his family to train puts my Sunday long run away from my family in perspective.
Plus it’s a hell of a sport. One you’ve done some running you are more able to appreciate things like Mo Farah closing in 55 seconds. You understand what that means and how fast that is after running nearly 6 miles on the track. Having heroes lets you see the resilience that’s humanly possible. After watching Molly Huddle come in fourth at a world championships because she eased up at the line and then see her simply blow the doors off every other road race for an entire year, you can feel her determination, her drive. That type of grit and performance after a set back can fuel your efforts and let you know that you can come back even stronger after a bad race.
Training practices of the elites won’t always translate into your life but a lot of it can. Rest. Recovery. Focus. Investment. Commitment. All those things apply to each of us and not just to running.
So if you are not a fan of track & field but need a shot of motivation, do yourself a favor and check out some the action at the IAAF World Championships in a little over a week. You’ll definitely be impressed. And quite possibly, inspired.
Enjoy the Run.
A few weeks ago I went to several events at the USATF Outdoor Championships. They were pretty close to home and I loved being able to see so many of the world’s top athletes competing for spots on the US team for the World Championships. Here’s a quick take on what I learned that can be applied to the everyday runner:
Enjoy the Run.
Racing well is a goal that many of us have. Whether you want to place in your age group or finally hit that PR in your favorite, local, half marathon, racing well is one of the things that many of us are working towards. Previously I talked about training and race day logistics. Today I will discuss having and executing a race plan on race day.
A couple of weeks ago I went to the USATF Outdoor championships. It was a blast seeing some of the best athletes in the world compete for spots on the US team that will head to London for this year’s IAAF World Whampionships. One of the highlights of the meet was the Men’s 5000 meters, won by Paul Chelimo. Chelimo clearly had a race plan and he executed it perfectly. Chelimo went out in 61 on his first lap. For those of you not familiar with the 5k on the track, that is a pretty fast first lap. I thought Chelimo would come back to the pack but he didn’t. He kept up the pace running as slow as 65 per lap and closing in 59 to win the race going away and setting a new meet record while he did It. Chelimo executed his plan perfectly. No one else in the field was prepared to go out that fast or sustain that pace for the race. He raced really well because he had a great plan and executed it extremely well.
In order to come up with a plan you need to a have a goal in mind. Ask yourself what you intend to accomplish by doing this race. Is is running a certain time? Is it beating your age group rival? Is it simply finishing? What ever you are trying to accomplish on race day it helps to have a plan on how you’re going to do it.
When I sat down to craft my race plan for my recent half marathon, I had a time goal in mind. I wanted to break 1:40. Using a calculator app I know that 1:40 is 7:37 pace for a half marathon. Looking at the race course it’s pretty flat and mostly on a gravel trail. I know from my training that I run a bit faster on gravel for whatever reason. I also looked at past finish times and noted that the race is pretty small (160 people) and that running a sub 1:40 would likely put me in good position to place in the top three in my age group and top ten overall. Having all that in mind I worked out what my cumulative times would be at each mile of the race. I then picked out three milestones to focus on, 4, 8, and 12 miles. I focused on the cumulative time I had to be at for each milestone. These are the times I need to hit at those markers during the race. For example, I needed to be at 30 minutes at 4 miles and about 1 hour at 8 miles. I like this better than pace because constantly checking my pace slows me down. Just being prepared to check my watch at three points I can tell myself, “steady as she goes”, “ease up”, “or pick it up a little” for this next section of the race.
What ended up happening was completely different. I kept checking my watch every quarter mile or so. This did not help me. I was on track for the first four miles and after that I quickly realized that my fitness was lacking. I don’t think my plan was bad it was just not appropriate for my actual fitness level. For a plan to be successful it has to be aligned with your fitness level. I simply did not have the stamina to maintain my goal pace for the entire race. So during the race I adjusted my goal to finish under 1:50. I did this on the fly although you might want to have a B or C goal in the back of your mind in case something strange happens on race day. I made my adjusted goal by running 1:48:32, finishing fourth in my age group and 16th overall. Not a bad showing but not a particularly good race. What I do know now though is where my fitness is as I go into marathon training. This is invaluable.
Every race will not go as planned and you can learn something from every race experience. In fact for most of us we may have only a handful of great races throughout our running lives. The important thing is to learn something about yourself as an athlete from each and every race. For me, I know that if I want to be at my best for a half marathon I need to complete some race specific long runs and more tempo runs to improve my lactate threshold. Quite simply my training was insufficient for the outcome I wanted (this is where having an objective eye on my training, via a coach, would be super helpful) . Always ask yourself what do I need to change about my training, my race day logistics, or my race plan to better accomplish my goal? What will I change in the next raining cycle or in my preparation to improve my result? This will ensure that when you go into the next race you can make the proper adjustments and get closer to your goal.
Enjoy the run
Racing well is a goal that many of us have. Whether you want to place in your age group or finally hit that PR in your favorite, local, half marathon, racing well is one of the things that many of us are working towards. Previously I talked about training and today I will discuss race day logistics.
The morning routine.
There are a few things about racing that have nothing to do with fitness and can have a large impact on you racing result. Race day logistics is one of those things. Racing provides enough pressure on its own without added stress from things that can be worked out with a little bit of prior planning.
Most of us have a morning routine that we adhere to. There are several actions that we take (without even thinking) that get us out the door on time and ready for our day. The more variation we have in our routine the more mental energy we need to expend to get it done. Making decisions is the primary source of this mental fatigue. The same principles are at work on race days. Simple things like getting your racing outfit ready to go the night before can pay huge dividends. There is no reason you need to be scrambling around the house looking for safety pins for your bib the morning of the race. That additional mental energy is better spent focusing on the race.
I like to use a technique called reverse planning when I plan out my race day. I start with myself on the starting line and subtract the time I need for each task. I’ll give you an example. I’m running a half marathon on July 1st. The race starts at 9:00am. I want to be on the start line at 8:55am. I want to warm up for 45 minutes, so I need to be parked and out the car at 8:10am. I will need to pick up my bib the day of because the race is out of town. Bib pick up starts at 8:00am and is on the course, so I want to be there by 7:45. The course is about 2 hours from my house so I need to leave at 5:45am. Better make it 5:30am to account for traffic. I see that parking costs $5 which means I should get some cash to keep it easy. If I get up at 5am, that should give me plenty of time to get some breakfast and get my gear on. I’m going to have some cereal with some almonds and cranberries. I’ll bring an energy bar to eat on the way and I’ll grab a double espresso at a drive through to drink about 7:30am. The caffeine takes an hour to kick in but it always gets the mail moving before then. My porta potty time is built into my warm up. I’ll need to have a $5 bill and my race dots in my jacket pocket. Temperature on the course should be in the 70s . Which for me means a tank top and shorts for a half marathon. I need to test out my car keys in the shorts pocket before hand. I’ll want a full tank of gas so I’ll put a reminder in my phone to top off the gas tank after work on Friday night. I’ll get to bed by 8pm to give myself ample time for sleep.
Planning all that out does not guarantee that everything will go exactly according to plan. What it does force me to do is expend the mental energy ahead of time thinking about all the tasks. Making a plan is simply making some decisions in advance. If the dynamics of those events change I’ve already thought about them and it is easier to deviate. This makes it a lot easier if something does go wrong. So if I forget to get gas the night before I know that the race is only about 100 miles from my house and I can get there on less than half a tank (just need to get gas after the race prior to heading home). Planning out your race day logistics is a great way to actually conserve your mental energy for racing.
This may not seem significant but all these little things add up when you want to bring your best on race day. Obviously if you are doing some overnight travel to a race or traveling with family or a group, this becomes more detailed and there are more decisions to make. The same principles apply. Reduce the number of decisions you need to make the morning of the race to keep your mind sharp and focused. You are now better able to focus on maintaining your pace and executing your race plan.
Next time I will talk about your race plan as the final element in racing well.
Enjoy the run.
Racing well is a goal that many of us have. Whether you want to place in your age group or finally hit that PR in your favorite, local half marathon, racing well is one of the things that many of us are working towards. Today and in the next few posts, I’m going to talk about what it takes to race well.
There are three main elements to racing well: training, race day logistics, and having a race plan. Now a lot of us are training and some training is more structured and tailored than others. To race well your training needs to be consistent, specific, and periodized. Race day logistics is all about reducing unnecessary stress come race day. This involves minimizing race day decisions and removing any possible variability out of the day so you can focus on performing at your best. A race plan is something that many of us neglect but can pay huge dividends come race day. If you are not sure when you are going to surge or how you are going to treat the hills, you will be wasting mental energy figuring these things out come race day.
Let’s take a deep dive into training.
The first element in a great race is a solid training plan that is tailored to you and specific to your race distance. Racing well also means that the training has been executed. This means that the cookie cutter plan you downloaded from a website or copied from a magazine is probably not your best bet. A training schedule from a coach who knows your strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and life circumstances, is more likely to give you success. I’m not saying that just because I write and sell training plans. I’d gladly you get a solid plan from Jay Johnson, Greg Macmillan, Runners Connect, or Jason Fitzgerald, than download a list of distances and dates from a website. Every runner is different and if you go with a generic plan, you may have a good race, but I can guarantee you that you have left some potential untapped. Another factor that we tend to overlook is how to adjust your training when life gets in the way. We all have things that come up that interfere with our running. Whether it is a last minute business trip, a family emergency, or an illness, if you run for any significant length of time, life events will eventually throw a monkey wrench into your training. Having a coach to contact to adjust your training is invaluable in this situation. Admittedly you could learn how do it it yourself but having a professional coach who can be objective (and more importantly not stressed out from the life event that you are also dealing with) is invaluable. If you want to maximize your potential and increase your chances of racing at your best, do yourself a favor and get a customized training plan.
Consistency is the hallmark building fitness. The training needs to be executed And not just a paces and distances on the calendar. A training plan is no good if you never do it. You need to keep at it. Running when you’d don’t feel like it. Getting in your strength work each and every day. Actually resting on a rest day instead of pulling weeds in the yard. You need to be able to avoid significant down time from injuries. This means that if you are not incorporating strength work into your training you are greatly increasing your injury risk and more likely to lose time from injury. For the record I have yet to see a training plan from a magazine that incorporates running specific strength work. Create some habits for yourself to get into the rhythm of training. There is no more powerful force in your life than inertia; once you get things going, keep them going. A good race is going to take a lot of consistent work in training.
Specificity in your training comes in two flavors; (1) tailored to your unique physical abilities and life situation (see above) and (2) targeted to your race distance. It does little good to train for a half marathon with a 5k plan. If you are running a 5k and never do any speed work you are setting yourself up for disappointment. If your race has a ton of hills and your training doesn’t include hills you are asking for a painful race day. If your race is going to be in hot conditions and you don’t do any hot weather runs (or at least simulate it) you are asking for trouble. The distances, paces, and workouts need to be geared toward maximizing your success at a specific distance. The training plan needs to include a good amount of work at your target race pace. If you never run your race pace in training you have very little chance of running it on race day. You need to feel what that pace feels like and engrave it into your body’s muscle memory. When you’re at a point in the race where you’re tired and it’s getting increasingly difficult to focus, your body needs to be able to simply fall into race pace to keep you going. Considerable work at race pace will make this much easier to do. Training needs t be finely tuned to you and your life and laser focused on the race distance and conditions for you to have a great race day.
Periodization is the final key to solid training. You don’t start a marathon training cycle with a 22 mile long run. A good training plan will build foundational fitness, from both an aerobic and neuromuscular perspective. This means gradually increasing the length of long runs and keeping them easy, to build the aerobic metabolism. It also means incorporating running specific strength work and strides to ensure that your running economy and mechanics are improving along with your cardiovascular fitness. Back in the Marines we would call this the crawl, walk, run method for training. Each block of training builds on the last. First you do a foundation, then move on to some race specific work, and finish with a taper or sharpening period. For a my full take on periodization see this earlier post.
Next time we’ll tackle the second element of a good race day: race day logistics.
Enjoy the run.