Monday, April 16, 2012

To Race Fast, You Must Train Slow

I have a tendency to jackrabbit from the start of my runs, leading to some fast(er) first miles, but pain and misery later on. On occasion I can keep up the pace for the entire distance, which is very satisfying, but inconsistent. The other main problem is that ALL my runs tend to fall within a narrow range of paces, meaning my hard and easy efforts don’t vary much from each other. This did not bode well for my ultramarathon training. Over the years I’ve read about the concept of running slowly in order to get faster, which sounds so contrary yet intriguing.

From Rich Roll’s upcoming book, Finding Ultra: “…a dreaded no-man’s-land where the effort exerted exceeds that which is required to properly develop the aerobic engine, yet falls short of the intensity necessary to significantly improve speed or increase anaerobic threshold…In actuality, such training undermines true progress. It leaves you tired, with little to no gains in either endurance or speed… And it is by far the most common mistake made by amateur endurance athletes—myself included. (emphasis in original)

That's me in a nutshell.

So, in order to race fast, you have to train slow – not all the time, but easy days should be easy.

What I’ve been working on in this last month before I start my 50K training plan (details of the plan coming next week) is to relax, to ease the pounding on my joints, to feel control of my running. In meditation, this could be likened to mindfulness. In running, it appears as attention to breath, to my posture, and to feeling in control of my gait—not worrying on whether it’s the “proper” gait, but one that works for me.

Another thing I’ve focused on is to pick up my feet rather than push off as I stride. This is something that Ken Bob Saxton suggests and I utilized during my barefoot running foray.  It definitely makes me feel like I’m damaging myself less as I run, and in latter stages of a long run, it gives me energy and allows me to pick up the pace, even when tired.

The other thing I’ve done is to pull out my mountain bike. It’s a single-speed, which I’ve read helps with pedaling form and also makes me more aware of my effort. Heading out on the trails helps with balance and bike handling, as well as being aware of what’s coming up in terms of obstacles. Plus, it’s just a ton of fun.

Two weeks until my training for The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K starts. A month ago I would have told you I was nowhere near ready for it. However, this last month has greatly increased my confidence. Barring injury and/or burnout, I think that the plan will get me to the finish line without problem this coming September.

Do you take it easy on your easy days?
What else are you doing to make progress?

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  1. I'd agree with the author 100% in assertion that we do not train slow enough.

    Being in charge of a Tri club and active in the running community I get the opportunity to run with a lot of newer runners. Pretty much everyone of them run to fast in training. Especially if they are only running 3-4 times per week. They all think since they can only run 15-20mpw that they need to be hard miles in order to become faster. This is just not true. Not only do they not really do much for the aerobic machine but they also are at a greater risk of becoming injured.

    Slow it down, build your base, add intensity during the build and peak phase of a training plan.

    Stick with this approach Kovas and you'll be more than ready for the 50K!

  2. Even though rationally I know it to be true, it's just so hard to wrap my mind around. I'm running much faster more comfortably after only a month of trying this, so I'm definitelyh a believer!

  3. Totally agree. Though I do think your hard days should be really hard and properly executed.

    Though I did plenty of "easy" miles during the Oceanside Block, I misjudged the "hard miles". It's not that I didn't do them, I did the wrong kind. I got so obsessed with the climbing on the backside of the course that I did more interval work to increase "explosive" power and not enough doing "sustained" tempo. The hills ended up not being a huge deal (perhaps because of the training) but I could have used a little bit more conditioning for the flats.

    I guess my point is a) do not underestimate the slow miles. Without that base, you won't be crossing the finish line in an endurance race; and b) do not slack on your hard miles, and make sure your approach matches the requirement of your performance objective.

  4. Here's another trick...cross train some of your interval work on the bike trainer. Try some descending pyramids - 2:00/2:00 hard easy, 1:45, 1:30, 1:15 etc down to :15 secs. That's gonna help your run and you can perform it in a low impact environment.

  5. I struggle with this as well. When I run slow, I feel like walking and that opens a can of worms. I've made progress though.

  6. I would add to be careful adding volume and intensity too fast. It's a fine line between intensity and injury.


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