- Article by Coach Karen Smith
The challenge is getting athletes to understand the purpose of different workouts within their training, why they do specific types of workouts and when they will get the most out of those workouts as they build towards target races. Then after these concepts are understood, the idea of what is fast, what is slow, what is hard and what is easy will become more applicable.
As we move towards the beginning of another start of incorporating track workouts into our training – speed work into fall, winter, and even spring race training it seemed like a good time to post some concepts and topics that will be discussed as part of the intermediate/advanced upcoming track workouts for Run Tampa.
First, every workout in your training should have a purpose. Now that doesn’t mean they can’t be relaxing or fun, but there should be a purpose. General purposes or objectives behind different types of training runs include:
- Aerobic capacity and fitness
- Running Economy
- Extensibility/sustainable speed
- Fatigue resistance
- Aerobic power
- Mental toughness
Some workouts have more than one purpose, but generally, in your training, they should be purposeful and timed to help you build into the strongest, most prepared runner you can be for whatever you are training for. So it is important that you know the purpose and how the instructions on how to run them help you achieve the intended purpose. If you have what I call an “extensibility” workout that is intended to help you practice sustaining a mid-distance run pace, but you run the assigned intervals as fast as you can and do not practice the pace as the workout was designed, you are not getting the benefit of the assigned workout objective.
Frequently runners, particularly group runners, spend too much time running designated easy runs in the grey zone … not really hard but definitely not easy.
Because it is counter-intuitive, it is hard for people who want to get faster to run slower, it is hard to get people to comply with this golden rule of “hard runs hard; easy runs easy.” It is often a battle between science/human physiology and ego. One of the hardest things for runners who want to compete against other runners or just themselves to learn is that you do not get faster by running all your workouts fast. Additionally, if you spend too much time in the grey zone, (faster than easy, but not quite hard), you are breaking down muscle which still requires recovery and increases chances for injury. One example of the grey zone is the exhausted-after-an-easy-run scenario. We have all had those runs. They are frequently long runs, where we convinced ourselves we were running easy, and may have been able to talk through most of the run but after we’re totally gassed. That is the grey zone. For my runners who love to do this, I can be frequently heard saying, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” and “Make good choices.”
The reality of training for longer races particularly half marathons and full marathons is that 75-80% of your time running should be “easy”, longer running, building aerobic capacity and fitness, endurance, efficiency, mental toughness and recovery.
Let me share a useful analogy of running and finance. Most long runs and other easy runs can be interpreted as depositing money in the bank towards your goal or race. When you run your long runs easy, you are making a deposit, creating capacity, fitness, and durability, endurance which are key to distance racing. 20-25% of your training time should be hard runs, and those hard runs should have varying degrees of effort depending on the purpose of the workout. Hard runs improve your ability to adjust to a higher burn rate, both mentally, physically, and metabolically. Yes, running faster will help you get faster but it has a cost … it requires a withdrawal (i.e., recovery) from the bank to stay strong, healthy and to get gains (adaptations) from your efforts.
Grey zone running doesn’t usually cost as much as real “hard” running but it does have a cost and it is not making a deposit, so while doing some of it with purpose fits a balanced plan, doing too much of it will cause you to be over-drawn leading to injury, burnout or over-training complications. Furthermore, too much grey zone running when you should be running easy means you will frequently not be able to get the most out of your “hard” workout therefore further sub-optimizing your return on investments of running efforts.
As we move toward incorporating track/speed workouts into our plans, I encourage you to take a look at some of the online calculators or talk to Debbie or myself about paces and effort. For those of you looking to get faster, be conscious about your running, understand your effort and do not run every run competitively. Learn to let the person who wants to push the pace on a long easy run, go ahead. You are each making your own decision about your training.
Save your speed for when it will pay off, in speed workouts and races. And if you want to learn or just have the opportunity to push “hard” runs hard, there will be ample opportunity in the track workouts that will start on Tuesday’s at Al Lopez park with Coach Deb or with me (Coach Karen) Thursday’s after Labor Day at Coleman Middle school track. Here’s a link for more information about the track workout program for Run Tampa: https://www.runtampa.com/track-program/