Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rule of Specificity Sucks

Running is pretty simple. One foot in front of the other. Repeat. Repeat again. Yet the more you read and run, you discover all sorts of extras. Turns out running isn't that simple. Well, at least improving your running, and racing, are not that simple. There are tons of theories, rules, laws, principles, coaching advice, and the like. One rule that tends to hold up well is the "Rule of Specificity." It may be the grand rule of them all. In fact, I've seen it discussed as the "Law of Specificity." Basically, to perform well, you need to mimic the race situation and all of its conditions and demands--distance, pace, weather, elevation, terrain, etc.

With limited resources and time, we always make compromises. But, with a particular race focus, we can specifically train for the demands of that single race fairly well. And when we repeatedly race, and train for, the same distance (or similar range of distances), we become quite good. The rule of specificity is confirmed.

This specificity rule sounds pretty grand. Great guide to racing well. But what happens when you are racing disparate distances...across different terrain? I have a road half-marathon coming up in October (St Louis RNR on Oct 19) and a trail 50-mile ultra in November (Tunnel Hill 50 on Nov 15). One short road race, the other a long trail race. Training? This rule of specificity sucks! I need speed and stamina for the half-marathon and massive endurance for the 50 miler. Trails vs roads? Don't get me started.

Here is my compromise. Between now and the half-marathon, I'm training primarily for the road distance. The concentration will be on developing my speed and increasing my lactate threshold. No runs over 13 miles. I have a solid aerobic base from past ultra races. I don't have speed. I'm also not comfortable running on roads. And I'll shift to lighter road shoes. An example week follows:

Mon = off (stretching, core strength)
Tues = 7-10 mile road run (1 mile w/u, 5 to 8 x 1-mile repeats at 7:00 pace, 1 mile c/d)
Wed = off (walking, stretching, core exercises)
Thur = 10-13 mile trail run (4-5 mile w/u, 5 mile progressive tempo, 1-3 mile c/d)
Fri = off (stretch, core)
Sat = 10-13 mile easy road/trail hybrid run (70% HRR)
Sun = 5-7 mile easy road run (70% HRR)

After the half-marathon, the weekend long run will move to 15-20 miles. Mile repeats and tempo runs will continue, but the mile repeats will be at a slower "marathon pace" (7:50/mile). Oh yeah, and all the runs will be back on trails. Can't wait until October 20. Trails are my sweet home.

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