Developing Racing Strategies
By Pete Rea/ZAP Fitness
Greetings from the snow covered Reebok /ZAP Fitness Center in Blowing Rock! All of us here at ZAP hope your winter training cycles are being executed healthfully and with purpose. Many of you are likely sitting down with your calendars mapping out your spring and summer racing. As you do so I would like to speak to all of you about a topic often far from the minds of distance runners -- racing strategies and how to improve race strategies. In speaking to runners of all ages and ability levels at races across the country, I am continually surprised at how many runners enter a race with no strategy or plan whatsoever. In 2013 map out how you intend to execute your races -- and to do so begin with working on those skills necessary to race well.
Strategy / Skill #1 -- Gear Changing
As most Running Journal readers are aware, I have been a proponent of pace changing work within all aspects of training since my early days as a coach (thank you Bill Squires for showing me the light). Many races, particularly over hilly courses as well as cross-country and track races, often have pace changes within them -- pace changes that can wreak havoc on an athlete ill prepared for them. Teaching yourself the skills of pace changing is easier than you think -- try these “easy to implement” additions to your weekly schedule. All will give you tools for races where there are shifts in tempo.
a. Gear Changing Within Long Run -- simply throw in a 1:00 surge every 6:00 – 7:00 over the course of the last half of your longest weekly run. This surge should not be hard but a controlled pick-up of perhaps 15-20 seconds per mile for that minute before returning to the pre-surge rhythm.
b. Straight and Turns -- during one of your easy runs every eight-10 days finish the last two miles of a run on your local track with accelerating the straight-aways and floating (jogging) the turns (eight laps).
c. Hill Surging -- during one of your relaxed to moderate runs during the week simply surge up and over the tops of each hill.
Strategy /Skill #2 -- Negative Splitting Races
Two years ago I wrote a column specifically dedicated to the idea of negative splits (aka finishing the second half of your race faster than the first. Achieving this (which incidentally is physiologically the most efficient way to run most races mile – marathon) takes practice on a weekly basis. How can you teach yourself to close well over the second half of races?
a. Once every 10-14 days run an “out and back” run where you consciously begin the run at a very controlled clip. After the turn around slowly pick up the tempo every five-seven minutes finishing the final one-two miles steadily (perhaps 10-20 seconds per mile slower than your goal 10k race pace).
b. Split Tempos. Normally runners, when executing a tempo run, run a set distance at a set speed (i.e. four-xix miles at 7:00 pace etc.) based on goal times. I encourage runners to try splitting their tempo efforts up with an opening piece a touch slower, a middle piece slightly faster and a closing shorter piece even quicker. Try this one – (20:00 at 20-25 seconds per mile slower than goal 10K pace followed by 5:00 easy recovery jog. Then run a 15:00 piece a bit faster 10-15 seconds per mile slower than goal 10k pace followed by 5:00 easy jog. And finally finish with a 5:00-8:00 piece at your goal 10K tempo) -- this is a toughie but remarkable in its effectiveness.
Strategy / Skill #3 – Becoming a Kicker
We have all been the recipients of getting “outkicked” in the final few hundred meters of a race. Nothing is more frustrating. Gaining the skills necessary to be able to finish well, be it a mile or a half marathon, is simpler than you think.
a. Finish one run every 10 days (even during your early Base Phase Training) with 10-12 x 100 meter accelerations -- full recovery between the accelerations. Even this small amount of economy-based work early on will begin “teaching” the skill of finishing well.
b. Tempo/Speed Combinations -- As many Running Journal readers may remember, I wrote an in-depth piece on the benefits of working varying energy systems within training. For those runners who are fans of the mid-week tempo run -- try implementing these….take three-five minutes recovery after your tempo run has been completed and run 4-6 x 45 second accelerations at a touch quicker than 5K rhythm with 1:15 between each.
Strategy #4 -- Becoming a “Breaker”
Breakers are people who have the ability to change gears dramatically in the middle of a race, even if for only a short period. Those who follow global distance running are aware that the East and North African athletes are commonly “breakers” and I assure you it is a learned skill.
a. Alternating Mile Mile runs. As you begin to get fit toward the end of your Base Phase training instead of an evenly paced natural tempo run, try one where you alternate between a harder mile and a medium paced mile (ex. – if you normally run your six-seven mile tempo efforts at 7:20 pace, try one where you alternate a 7:15 with a 7:35/7:40 -- your average tempo is actually slower but the gear changing work will teach you to “respond” in races.
b. Hilly fartlek. This one is as simple as they come and will naturally teach you to change gears – find a hilly run and “surge the heck” out of all of the hills over the last half of the run. This one is a tried and true session and my former coach Andy Palmer was a big fan of this session and it has extended through me into the athletes with whom I work.
Strategy/Skill #5 -- Chunking
Every race must be broken up into manageable portions, particularly half marathons and marathons. We call this technique mentally “chunking” a race, and while chunking is not a physical skill, mental skills are equally important. How can you actually practice chunking?
a. Break your longest training sessions into different portions and make notes to yourself advising what your focus should be within each chunk. For example if you have a 20-mile marathon prep run -- use the first eight miles as your warm up with mental self-talk such as “easy, relaxed to begin, totally dialed back.” Within the meat of the run miles 8-16 transition to thoughts such as “forward, keep cadence high maintain tempo.” Lastly as you enter the final three-four miles (and are likely hurting) tell yourself “stay focused and light, relaxed and strong, all the way home.” While these mantras may seem silly they will go a long way toward breaking up your training (and races) into manageable pieces
b. Break training into different venues within the same workout. Chunking can be as simple as starting a session on the track, running the middle portion of a workout on the roads and finishing in a park. Rather than the typical same venue all the time routine, split your longest and toughest sessions into different geographical locales (perhaps based on different paces within the workouts).
A Few Final Thoughts from the Coaching Desk as winter reminders…….
As any Reebok/ZAP Fitness athlete will tell you, I am militaristic when it comes to staying warm and always overdressing. My reasons for this vary, however, for the sake of your connective tissue and the chances for connective tissue problems always think “one extra layer!”
As temperatures cool we often have a corresponding reduction in thirst. Fluid intake is as important during the winter months as the summer, as you execute your winter training remember to keep fluid intake a priority (we use the old formula of an ounce of fluid per day for every pound of body weight assuming normal sweat rate -- for heavy sweat folks add .25 ounce per pound of body weight)
Give yourself a Tempo Break
Winter, as we have discussed, is a time to hit the transition button and build aerobically toward your spring (unless you are specifically prepping for an important winter or early spring event). With this being in mind try taking off the watch and leaving your “how fast for every mile” mindset at home.
Good luck to all as you enter 2013!
ZAP Fitness is a Reebok Sponsored non-profit facility which supports post collegiate distance runners in Blowing Rock, NC. ZAP puts on adult running camps during the summer and is available for retreats all year. The facility has a state of the art weight room, exercise science lab for testing and a 24 bed lodge. Coaches at the facility include two-time Olympic Trials Qualifier Zika Rea, 2007 USATF National XC Champion Ryan Warrenburg as well as head coach Pete Rea. For more information go to www.zapfitness.com or call 828-295-6198