Tuesday, February 14, 2017

If You Want to Race Fast, Then Train Fast

I often get enamored with the "build endurance, run easy" style of training. Proponents of this approach seem to have persuasive arguments (Maffetone, Mittleman, Lydiard, and even Coach Jeff). And it sure seems that if you run more, you get better at running! Simple correlation, right? Lots of easy, aerobic runs will build leg strength, running economy, and skeletal resilience. Easy running offers less potential injuries, right? More miles with less injuries means a fitter and more consistent runner. Maybe. Certainly all elite runners put in a lot of miles. Many of those are at easy paces. But they also put in a ton of hard running. They run fast in training so they can race fast. Too much easy running leads to slow racing. Plus, easy running does not necessarily prevent injuries--particularly overuse ones.

Now that I've been reading more Owen Anderson and Joe Friel, it seems the research supports fairly frequent and consistent hard running (even faster than lactate threshold) to better prepare a runner for racing and fitness. The value of slow and easy aerobic runs is tempered if the full training mix does not include serious hard efforts too. Sure, we all need recovery, but lots of easy running makes you good at easy running. Training is fairly specific. We need a variety of paces to stimulate metabolic and physiological adaptations. And some of those efforts need to be really hard. VO2 max type efforts. 90-100% heart rate efforts. Lactate threshold ("tempo runs") are fine to include in the overall program, but they do less to stimulate positive change than the harder, intense intervals.

If I want to run a "good" ultramarathon, then I probably need to prioritize lots of slow, easy running. Heck, that's race pace for ultras! But if I want to run a "good" (fast) half-marathon, then I better get with the program...and run fast in training. Time for more intervals, tempo runs, and HIIT sessions. When it starts to hurt, go harder. Then do it again. Train fast to race fast. I already know how to run slow. I need to learn how to run fast.

Sidebar for older folks (50+), Joe Friel's book "Fast After 50" is excellent. It provides real research and guidance on how to remain fast after reaching that 50 year old milestone...or 60, or 70+. Spoiler--you need regular hard efforts. Strides, sprints, intervals, and tempo runs. I'll be incorporating more speed work into my weekly routine. And it won't be simply tempo runs. Lactate threshold efforts are useful, but less so than truly hard runs (10K race pace and faster). We'll see how this works for my next half-marathon race in April. If I get injured, or run a poor race, then it's back to lots of easy, aerobic runs. THE KEY TO BETTER RUNNING is to be injury-free, consistent, and happy.

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