There’s training for a race, a goal, a target. And then there’s just plain old training. Guess what your running brain would prefer?
Many runners build an unhealthy relationship with racing that leads them to train for races, instead of racing at peak points in their training. This conundrum is facilitated by running groups or, if you are lucky, by the many local options for running.
But for the race-addicted, real performance gains are hard to come by. Shortened training cycles are sandwiched between random races. Recovery is insufficient and the next race is just a dare, night out, or internet search away.
Racing is fun, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the best way to build your running fitness. In this post I will cover some fundamentals of training and introduce you to our latest FREE resource, the Basic Week Training Plan, which you can download when join our weekly newsletter.
Are You Addicted to Racing?
Most runners know what their weekly limits are. No back to back runs, for example. Or alternating days of work and rest. Or no long run greater than 10% of the week before.
But very few runners know their racing limits.
Signs of classic over-racing include, but aren’t limited to:
- Flat Results Across a Season — your season-end times are pretty close to the times you ran at the start.
- Zero Motivation without a Race — you literally can’t run without that “stick” or “carrot” out there.
- Over-Reaching Injuries — developed from increasing one’s distance, volume or speed too quickly.
Signs You Have an Unhealthy Racing Habit
If you find yourself impulsively searching the web late at night for a race…you are racing addicted.
If you do the next race that your training partner is doing just because they are doing it…you are racing addicted.
If you will fly to another city to race a 5k…you are probably race addicted.
If you have a massive blanket, quilt, or fake jackets sewn from scraps of race shirts you have collected…you are probably race addicted.
If your friends call you “Cool Running Dot Com” and ask you about upcoming races instead of using their smartphone…you are racing addicted.
Your run fitness builds, peaks and drops according to how you train.
Developing A Running — Not Racing — Habit
Racing is fun, and can be a great tool to get you into running, or provide motivation across a year. But it’s not how your body works in terms of building fitness.
Just because your marathon is in 14 weeks doesn’t mean that your body needs 14 weeks to be ready.
Just because you randomly decided on a 10k this Sunday doesn’t mean your legs will have top-end speed.
Instead of focusing on races, building your run fitness requires an intricate three-part process: consistency, recovery, and adaptation.
While many run training plans include variety and changing intervals each week, most runners do much better with a fixed training week. It’s easier to implement and plan for. It’s easier to track progress from week to week.
And ultimately, just because your calendar ends on Sunday and starts on Monday doesn’t mean that you are magically recovered and ready for anther dose of hard work.
A basic training week will help you stay on track with your training and build the fundamental run fitness from which you can then add a race training plan or event.
Rest is more than just one day off a week, or a week off after a big race (most runners would never consider that!). Recovery is also the balance of workouts across a week that challenge different muscle groups — fast-twitch vs slow-twitch, for example — allowing for recovery while keeping you active.
When you are addicted to racing, your workouts become little more than benchmarking exercises to gauge your fitness and justify race performance targets: “If I can run three one-mile repeats at this pace today, then I should be able to PR the 5k this Sunday.”
Training from this perspective raises the performance expectation of every workout and can quickly lead to over-reaching.
Our ultimate goal with any training cycle, I define adaptation as point when your body has successfully process a training stimulus and is ready for a new dose of work. This is evident in how a workout feels.
A hilly six-mile tempo run might feel really hard in week one. The next week, the second half isn’t so bad. By week three you have identified a few critical elements of the run that are killer vs the whole thing. In week four you are actively pushing the pace between the hills. Week five finds you able to negative split the run. Now it’s time to move on!
From a data perspective, you will see other signs of improvement between sessions. In the case of this hilly six-miler, for example, you will notice several changes:
- Improved Ability to Sustain Your Cadence. While the first week was a real reach for your fitness, by week five your cadence is consistent across the ups, downs and flats.
- Flatter Heart Rate. At first, the hills were a shock to your system as your heart rate data will attest. But over time you will find that those hills aren’t as costly — there will be fewer peaks and valleys. In fact, your average heart rate for this segment or entire run will likely drop a few beats.
- Consistent or Improved Speed. As you adapt to this particular workout, within the context of your current basic training week, you will find that your pace won’t drop. In the early weeks, your pace would drop across the whole workout as you fatigued. Then your running speed eventually levels out to a place where you can sustain the effort across the workout. Eventually you will get to a place where you can actually work harder at the end and negative split the workout.
The Longer You Play, The Better You Get
While the term “muscle confusion” as been made popular by the P90X(tm) workout craze, it’s not the best way to build long-term fitness. Need to see results in a few weeks or month…go for it. But remember that very few athletes can sustain that level of focus and energy for much longer than a few weeks.
Instead of chasing races, or results, take the time to build the infrastructure for a great season by creating a solid training baseline. Get consistent. Get healthy. Keep it simple. And when you have that next race on the horizon, you’ll have the fitness and ability to refocus on a race cycle that will help you truly peak.
Want to Learn More? Download our FREE Basic Week Guide!
I have created a seven-page PDF designed to help you create a basic week for your training. It has a template week you can start with as well as a mini training log to track your progress. It’s free and will automatically be sent to anyone who signs up for the Marathon Nation weekly newsletter — just use the form in the sidebar or click here.