You Need to Slow Down in Order to Speed Up

image A Twitter person has been posting their run training data regularly. I noticed a particular pattern that I used to follow and felt like I need to contribute some feedback.

He seems to have settled into a pattern of running 4 or 5 miles @ 6:45 min/mile pace. This too, is how I started. The thrill of running faster and faster each week is exhilarating, and it worked for a while, but I hit a plateau. I was gutting it out, working harder and harder, but not racing faster.

Let me pause to say you can easily find run training experts that know more than me, but I have run everything from the mile (00:05:14) to an 50k trail ultramarathon (05:35:14) and almost every distance in between. Plus, I have an obsession with efficiency and have spent considerable time and energy studying training programs and techniques. While there are clearly variations among the hundred+ I’ve looked at from beginner focused to the top elite levels, there is actually remarkably little difference between how these schedules are structured.

The main thing, and you will hear this over and over, is that you must slow down in training in order to race faster. Take this for example:

Cool Running’s 10k Advanced program “All other workouts (including the long runs) should be run at an easy training pace — emphasis on “easy.” Hold yourself back to a pace about 90 seconds or 2 minutes per mile slower than your current 10K pace.”

Also, consider that volume (miles per week) is a better predictor of race performance than training pace is.Elite runners run 140 mile weeks and the vast majority of that is at “easy” paces.

When you step out of the house to run, you should know what you are trying to achieve. Runs should be tailored to either build strength, economy, efficiency, glucose (carb) synthesis, lactate threshold or VO2 max. These are mutually exclusive; you can’t do everything at once.

Here’s a sample week that I’ve used at the peak of training that is an amalgamation of a variety of programs I’ve studied and would work for anything from a 5k to the marathon with some minor adjustments.

  • Monday recovery run (since the weekend is when most runners do a long run) : 4 Mi on dirt @ 8:30 pace. Target HR < 140
  • Tuesday is a hard interval AM, this can be intervals on a track – anything from 800m to 1600m, or hill repeats or fartlek runs on the road. These are meant to improve strength & economy, and should be run fast. Ex. mile repeats @ 6:00 pace.
  • Tuesday PM: recovery run: 4 miles @ 8:30 pace. HR 140
  • Wednesday is an easy run day: 7 miles @ 8:00 pace. HR 150
  • Thursday is typically tempo (lactate threshold) run day. The goal here is to run in the neighborhood of 45-60 minutes at a comfortably hard pace. 8M @ 6:30 pace. HR 168
  • Friday recovery: 4 Mi on dirt @ 8:45 pace. HR < 140
  • Saturday easy run: 6 Mi @ 7:50 pace. HR 150
  • Sunday long run: 17 Mi long progression run. Start at 8:30 pace and increase very slightly each mile to finish at around 7:15 pace. HR avg 155

This is a template. Some runners replace recovery runs with swims or bike rides. Some runners run their long runs with a faster ending progression pace. Some runners prefer 400m intervals and some like 2400m instead. There is some disagreement about “two a days” benefits. But what you don’t see is any variation in the major building blocks: intervals/hills + tempo + easy days + long run.

Also one quick word on treadmills. Efficient running is heavily dependent on hamstrings and glutes pulling you forward. Treadmill running, especially on 0% grade does not work these muscles properly and you run a risk of a quadriceps/hamstring imbalance.

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  1. good thoughts, corey, i knew we were on the same wave length here. And wow, you did a 50K in 5 hours? impressive. So i’d be curious for your thoughts and advice mysef. In 2007 I did two marathons (anchorage, philly) with hardly a month off in between. I was addicted, plain and simple, but when i finished my second one i basically took some time off and ever since then i’ve hardly run at all. The full training regimen of a marathon is so consuming, but without that intense goal I just cant get back into it although I want to. It’s the weirdest conflict, the body rejects the idea. I have enjoyed my time off, but I basically need to find a way back in. I’m just afraid the only way is to sign up for another marathon a few months away. That paradigm is extreme and just not very sustainable. What would you do?

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