Sunday, January 17, 2010

Practice is the Best of All Instructors

I love Thai food and on a recent visit to one of my favorite restaurants, ("Thara Thai" for those that live in Champaign-Urbana, IL area) I received a fortune cookie with the following text: "Practice is the best of all instructors." All fortunes are rather ambiguous and meaningless, but they can be fun. This one struck me as possibly applying to running. It could be rephrased as "Specificity of Training."  In training, you need to mimic race conditions. Whatever your goal race is, it's best to practice specifically for that goal--the distance, pace, terrain, course, weather, etc.  You've likely heard of this running rule before--seems Runner's World has an article on it six times a year, Running Times three a year, and even Marathon & Beyond or UltraRunning about once a year.  Runner's World web site has this article on "25 Golden Rules of Running" (#1 is rule of specificity).

If you are shooting for a fast 5K, you need to do quite a bit of fast pace running.  Some at 5K pace, some at faster than 5K pace (but shorter distance), and some runs at longer than 5K (but slower than 5K pace).  If it is a road 5K, then get a majority of your training on the roads.  Toss in a bit of trail and treadmill work to spice things up, but you need to abide by the rule of specificity--road race = road training. If it is a summer race, then train in warmer conditions (or wear more clothing to simulate warmer running).  If it's a hilly race course, incorporate hills into your training--either naturally occurring ones or create them via the treadmill, stairmaster, stadium steps, etc. 

This rule of specificity applies to all race distances--if I'm targeting a 100-mile trail race, I need to prioritize long, slow trail runs.  Speed sessions and road runs are not vital--although they can assist in keeping things fresh and making the long run pace feel even easier.  While I have several goals this year, my min one is qualifying for the Boston Marathon...the other goals will have to "come along for the ride."  Boston pace will be 8:00 minutes per mile for 26.2 miles.  I need endurance, stamina, and a bit of speed.  I need long runs at slower than 8:00 pace (probably around 8:30-9:30 pace) to build endurance, tempo runs at around 7:20-7:30 pace to build stamina, and some repetitions/intervals varying from 400m to 1600m to develop some leg speed.  And...I need a lot of basic runs at marathon pace (8:00) to get myself adapted to feeling that pace and conditioning my mind & body to feel it as a comfortable pace.  As the fortune cookie said, "Practice is the best of all instructors."  I need to practice marathon pace runs at a variety of distances.

While I have my weekly "test run" at 8:00 pace, I really haven't incorporated other weekly runs at marathon pace.  Now I will.  Monday, while officially a "free for all" day, is going to be used on a fairly regular basis to get in 5-8 mile runs at marathon pace.  The weekend will still be prioritized for a slow, long run...but I'll try to use the other weekend day to fit in another marathon pace run.  Hopefully I'll have 2 or 3 marathon pace runs per week.  Add in one speed session (alternating between intervals and tempo runs) and two easy recovery jogs and I have a full week of training specifically targeting my Boston marathon qualifier!  Sweet.

Don't forget that Thai food (lots of noodle and rice dishes) can be an excellent carb-loading meal.  Throw in some healthy tofu and you have a great combination of carbs & protein.  A little sticky rice & mango for dessert and you have a complete and tasty meal!  The fortune cookie may guide you to a new running plan too. 

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