One of the big reasons why I chose Brad Hudson’s Book “Run Faster (From the 5K to the Marathon – How to Be Your Own Best Coach)” for my training plan for both the San Diego RnR Half Marathon (PR city!) and the upcoming California International Marathon was because of his emphasis on race pace training. After two unsuccessful attempts at qualifying for Boston, one thing I felt that was missing from my training was feeling comfortable running the 8:12 min/mile that I needed to run for 26.2 miles in order to achieve my goal. I was comfortable running intervals, hills and tempo miles, but I lacked the confidence that I could truly sustain race pace on race day.
As I’ve explained before, Brad’s training principles are summarized in 4 key “Adaptive Running Principles.” The first of these is:
The goal of training is to stimulate the precise set of physiological adaptations that are needed to achieve maximum performance in a peak race.
Ok it’s a little vague. And a little bit of a “duh” statement. We train to achieve our goals…. but what exactly does it mean? It means that depending on your goal, you will need to achieve a certain level of aerobic fitness (ability to consume oxygen efficiently – think speed work), neuromusucal fitness (the strength of your muscles – think hill repeats) and specific fitness (endurance – the ability to hold a fast pace for a long period of time – think race pace work). In order to be successful, you need all three types of fitness – but depending on how long your race is, and how fast you want to run it, the weight of each type will vary.
For the marathon, all three types of fitness are important and are used throughout training. As you progress through training, the emphasis will shift. First, you will want to focus more on strength (hill repeats) and speed work (shorter intervals, track workouts), but as the training cycle progresses, these type of workouts will be fewer and farther between (although still included), and the focus will shift to specific endurance.
One of Brad’s adaptive training methods, as outlined in his book, is the Progression from General Training to Specific Training. The principle of specificity refers to the fact that the body adapts very specifically to the demands placed up on it in training. One side effect of this is that the running fitness of every runner is always limited by their training. For example, a runner who is VERY fit while training through the winter in Chicago who comes to San Diego for a race will suffer as their training wasn’t specific to the heat. A runner who is trained for place 1st in a 5k likely won’t win a marathon a few weeks later, although they are very fit. You can’t be good at everything (boo!). The most important lesson we can learn from the principle of specificity is that to run a race at the pace you want to run it, you will have to practice running at that pace.
Brad cautions that although race-pace runs are pivotal to training, they cannot be incorporated too soon. If you were to incorporate race-pace training from the beginning of a 16 week cycle, you would either burn out quickly and/or plateau. You must build up non-race specific running fitness first, and then build into specific endurance workouts just 4-6 weeks before your event. Attempting a demanding race-pace workout during Week 1 of a marathon training cycle will not only be ineffective, but it’ll likely hurt your ego, rather than building confidence. When properly executed, specific endurance workouts can be incredibly beneficial not just physiologically, but psychologically.
In terms of my own training, I began the training cycle with a combination of short, fast intervals as well as medium distance runs with a portion at a “moderate” pace. Slowly, I started incorporating more tempo workouts, building up my aerobic machine. The last few weeks and for the next two, I’m focusing on specific endurance in the form of long portions of my long run at just slower than race pace (e.g., 18 mile with 14 @ marathon goal pace + 10-20 seconds), or shorter workouts with several miles at race pace or faster (on tap for Friday – 10 miles with 8 miles @ MGP).
For me, an added bonus of marathon goal pace miles is the confidence boost I get from it. Going into the RnR half marathon, I KNEW that I could run race pace (7:38 min/miles), which often felt very hard in training runs, for at least 8 miles. Once I got a few miles into the race, I thought to myself – I feel good and I know I can sustain a harder effort than this for 8 miles, so I better try. Instead of getting worried that I was running too fast or working too hard during the race, I was confident that I could handle the pace. Now that I’ve run 20 miles with 15 miles at 8:05 pace, I have that memory to use when it gets hard during the middle miles at CIM. If I could do it in training, I can do it in a race.
Specific Endurance Workout Examples (to be completed during peak training):
- 5K: 5 x 1K @ goal pace with 90 second recoveries
- 10K: 4 x 2K @ 10K pace + 1K maximal effort w/ 1 min jog recoveries
- Half-Marathon: 4 x 3K @ half marathon pace with 90 sec jog between
- Marathon: 10 miles easy, 10 miles @ marathon pace
Do you incorporate race-pace running into your training? Do you vary the type of key workouts as your training plan progresses or do you tend to do the same workouts week to week?