Wednesday, March 31, 2010

5 Ways to Race Faster brings us yet another great article, perfect for the onset of racing season. Whether you're doing a 5k or a 30 mile adventure race, I'm positive you'll find some helpful advice below.

To better train for faster racing, it helps to always have in mind the five racing abilities. When these basic aspects of running fitness are examined separately, your workouts can be better tailored to ensure you're getting the most from them and meeting your racing goals.

Although in running there are many ways of talking about the same concepts, the five racing skills broken down in the following way, outlined in Brian Clarke's book 5K and 10K Training, offer a path to learning to exert yourself in exactly the way you want to at any given point in a race.
1. Stamina

Can you cover the race distance without stopping? Clarke uses stamina to refer to the ability to run long and slow, and always with light exertion--as marked by inaudible breathing at no more than 69 percent MHR. You should feel "held back" when you are properly training for stamina; steady state running is too quick for stamina training. Pace is immaterial, as run-duration is the key factor.
2. Endurance

This differs from stamina because it means sustaining uncomfortable race exertion. We all know that short races can cause as much discomfort as marathons, just for a much shorter period of time. The ability to continue at race pace despite discomfort is essential. Endurance workouts, then, demand race-specific levels of discomfort. That said, an endurance workout should not generate the same level of fatigue as the actual race. Aim in your workouts for a level of discomfort that mirrors the middle-to-late stages of your goal race. By contrast, stamina workouts should not regularly yield noticeable discomfort; if they do, you are probably running too long for your adaptive purpose.
3. Tempo

This is the ability to run comfortably at race pace. Whereas endurance can be thought of managing discomfort in the later stages of a race to maintain pace, tempo can be thought of as the feel-good pacekeeping of the earlier stages of the race. Tempo training is among the most important types of training for competitive racing, as it determines how fast you will be able to run the race.
To race fast, you must train fast. To simulate the first, comfortable half of the race, you won't be able to sustain tempo training levels of intensity for very long (since in a race, discomfort is just around the corner). This is why tempo training occurs in brief intervals followed by short rests. Theoretical comfort levels aside, fatigue in the first half of a race is not so uncommon; it usually means you have not built up an adequate base of tempo ability in your training.
Another way of thinking about tempo training is this: if your tempo intervals are too short, you are probably going to wind up running them faster than race pace, making them speedwork, not tempo training. If they are too long, you are likely to become uncomfortable trying to complete them at race pace, making them endurance repetitions, not tempo training.
4. Speed

Unlike tempo, this refers to the ability to surge or kick at the end of a race (or in instances throughout when a surge is called for). It is not a prolonged effort, but rather a skill available in short bursts when you need it. It entails running faster than race pace. You don't have speed unless you can accelerate above your race pace despite fatigue and when anaerobic acidosis is a major determent in your ability to outpace a close competitor. Speed is the ability to surge at a critical juncture: While some people make a show of flying at the finish of a race, their speed only indicates that they could have run faster for the entire race. Many runners tack on speedwork at the end of tempo training days, to better simulate the fatigued aspects of the end of a race.
5. Power
Is there sufficient power in your muscles to run relaxed at your racing pace? Clarke distinguishes comfortable running (tempo) from relaxed running (power). Many athletes and trainers define power as explosiveness--the product of strength and speed--but here we more associate that ability to surge with speed, not power. Power may be involved in explosiveness, however. The best way to differentiate these two related concepts is to think of tempo as the ability to sustain a specific, objective rate of motion--and power the running economy that allows for this biomechanically with each stride in a relaxed way. For example, the same two athletes may run a six-minute mile, but the stronger runner will run at a quick, relaxed, steady-state level of exertion, and the weaker runner will keep up only by forcing his pace at the ragged edge of his maximal exertion.
The traditional way to build power is hillwork. This is because the added stress on calves, feet, and Achilles tendons that runners feel when running uphill is the same stress they feel when propelling themselves quickly over flat ground.

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