It is common for athletes to take training times & make assumptions as to how they will fare in upcoming races. With this article I’ll attempt to give some guidelines on how to interpret training data so that runners do not set themselves up for disappointment in their next race.
The main factors to consider are:
Total training volume: Relate training to racing by considering what the total volume of the workout is as well as the total quality running done in that workout, i.e. warm up, recovery running & warm down are volume factors, but the volume of the quality work is a performance factor
Length of individual repetitions: The longer the individual repetitions in a set the more relevant they are to the race being trained for. As an example it is logical to consider that 3X1600m with 45sec recovery between each is a better test of current 5km ability than 5X1000m with 30sec recovery—1stly 1600m is 4X400m laps, while 1000m is only 2.5X400m laps. Even more importantly the total rest between the 1000s is 2:00, while the recovery between the 1600s is only 1:30. This is even easier to understand when considering that a 5km is 5X1000m with zero seconds of recovery between each! Conditioning for racing is most effective when gradually increasing the length of reps & reducing the amount of recovery. This is a callusing process which prepares the athlete for the demands of the race
Rest periods between repetitions & sets: This is partially explained in the former point & should always be considered when designing the progression of workouts—start with longer rest & reduce as the weeks go by. The consideration as regards this aspect of track training should always be: Some training should be done at goal pace with sufficient rest to achieve the desired speed. As time progresses, the speed remains the same & the recovery reduces. While other training should be with a fixed, reduced recovery at best possible pace. As the weeks go by, the pace increases & the recovery remains the same.
How reps & sets are arranged within a workout: This is discussed in more specific detail later, but the idea is, that while the athlete is fresh, the repetitions are longer. As the athlete fatigues, the aim is to maintain speed, but reduce the repetitions so that this is doable
Speed of reps: Simply put, when the recovery is reduced the athlete is attempting to run at goal or target pace, while when the recovery periods are long (in most cases 3:00 or longer), the purpose of the workout is speed endurance, where the athlete is running partial distances (as related to the actual race) at a speed somewhat faster than goal pace. Let’s assume an athlete has an 18:12 PR for 5km & is trying to run under 18:00 in their next race. A short recovery set might be 6X800m in 2:50 to 2:52 per 800m, while a speed endurance set might consist of 4X800m with 3 – 5:00 recovery, in 2:40 to 2:45
Current pace versus goal pace: This concept speaks to the law of specificity. For true improvement it is most logical for a runner to accurately know what their current fitness level is, relative to the event they are training for. To discover this, either a test set should be run that accurately provides this data, or an event of a very similar distance can also serve as an accurate assessment, like an 8km or 5-miler to determine 10km current shape when using comparative data. This pace is the athlete’s current pace. From this a realistic goal or target can be set for an upcoming event. Training therefore should be designed relative to this pace—the target pace. If an athlete is in 19:30 shape for 5km, (93.6 per 400m), as determined by an acceptable 5km test, he or she can feel confident that training at 89 – 91sec per 400m will put them on track to run a faster 5km under similar conditions after a significant period of training (approximately 6 weeks or more)
Altitude versus sea level: If training at altitude for a sea level event, it is important to consider that while the physiology of the athlete may become suitably conditioned to deal with the effort required to run at sea level, the athlete might not be conditioned to run at the actual speed required at sea level. In other words, while the athletes motor might be strong enough to achieve the desired goal, the gearing in the transmission may not be suitable. It is therefore essential that athletes do some training over shorter distances at the correct speed with more recovery. The shorter distances & increased recovery are essential at altitude to achieve the increased pace
Road or Track race: Though often considered harder, track races are faster than road races all things being equal. The track is flat, the distances easy to verify & check against pace & wind is evenly distributed if a factor. So when training on a track for a shorter road race, it would be wise to factor in the nature of the course being trained for & make the necessary adjustments so as not to be misled or disappointed by the result. If the course being trained for is hilly, the athlete would be wise to incorporate some specific hill training to condition for this aspect
Added possible explanations of what the athlete is trying to achieve with these workouts:
· A specific race time: This has been covered in detail above under Current pace versus goal pace. Also consider that when determining a target time that there are many, many variables. Being attached to an outcome without considering these variables would be very foolish & disappointing. Consider the test variables versus the race variables. Take the climatic conditions on race day into consideration. Assess the progression of training realistically & objectively. Also consider the mental, emotional & even spiritual factors that come into play—the relative importance of the race plays a big role, (Olympics versus National Championships, as an extreme example)
· Conditioning to have the necessary speed—speed endurance: This has been covered in more detail elsewhere. It is ,however, helpful for coach & athlete to bear in mind that having “speed” somewhat greater over slightly shorter distances than the race being prepared for, significantly improves the athlete’s ability to “cruise” more ably at the desired race pace
· Conditioning to have the necessary strength—muscle endurance: This concept has also been specifically covered & it bears repeating that not only the fitness achieved through short-recovery repetitions & hill repeat training will improve race results remarkably, but the athlete who has mastered this type of training should enter races significantly more confident in their ability to achieve desired results. The “experience” gained in this type of training most accurately mimics that of actual racing
· Conditioning to time trial: Even pace brings the fastest time. When racing an event as a time trial, in order to achieve a specific target time an athlete will succeed most easily if the pace varies no more than 3% from the average time required to achieve this result. To run a desired time that reflects an athlete’s fitness requires accurate pace judgment. It also requires an acceptance of the fact that in order to run at even pace, ever-increasing concentration & ascending perceived effort will be required
· Conditioning to race athletes of similar ability: Very often athletes train under ideal conditions, alone or even with training partners who are there to support. While the athlete may arrive at a race ready to achieve a certain time under ideal laboratory-like conditions, the reality of racing against others of similar ability is a very different animal all together. It is advisable again to apply the rules of specificity & practically prepare for the many possible permutations a race might assume. Once the desired fitness/ability has been achieved, coaches & athletes should design training to simulate the competitive scenarios that might arise. This will include varied pace within a given workout; training to surge, to run at uneven pace, to go out at a pace that is too fast for the entire race. Training should empower the athlete to run to their strengths & mask their weaknesses through sound tactical approaches that have been mastered in training
I like to use the following considerations when I design & interpret training results:
Only train for 5000m and faster races on the track, unless specifically training for a track 10 000m race
Do at least a total volume for one session that equals the race distance being trained for, e.g. 5000m total volume for a 5km race
In most cases do not exceed a total of double the race distance for a single workout, e.g. 10 000m for a 5km race. Elite athletes with multiple years of experience, very strong base training periods & mechanics suited to the track can do more
I suggest not exceeding the race distance being trained for with short recovery, before taking a longer recovery. For example a 5km runner might do 5X1000m with 45sec recovery at goal 5km pace, before taking a longer break. If the athlete is able to do more, I suggest that the pace is too conservative (i.e. the goal pace too easy) or the recovery too long
It is a good idea to start with longer reps & then have the ensuing sets be at the same pace, with shorter repetitions. A typical 10 000m volume 5km-pace workout at altitude may look as follows: 5X1000m with 45sec recovery between each 1000m. Then a 7 – 10:00 active recovery, followed by 12 – 13X400m at the same pace with a 30sec recovery
I hope that this has provided some further insight into your training & that the race times & experience of your running or that of your charges improves greatly as a result.
© BMES 2006