Training specificity in running

During the post-collegiate year that I raced 24 times on the track and roads, I kept a detailed journal of training miles. My personal records that year were 14:47 for the 5K, 31:10 for the 10k, 51:30 for 15K, 53:30 for 10M, 1:10:57 for the half-marathon and 1:25:25 for the 25k. Not world class times by any means. Yet these were sub-elite times that enabled me to win or finish in the top ten in most of the local or regional races in which I competed.

No marathon?

I did not enter a marathon at the end of the season because my racing schedule demanded fitness for a series of shorter events all the way through November. The marathon was simply not the priority for many sub-elite runners at that time. We relished racing often and use the 10K as our chosen distance for a training foundation.

My racing schedule was based on a contract with a running shoe store that called for me to represent their team in 15 races per year. In exchange they provided sets of free or highly discounted shoes and running gear, and also paid my entry fees. All told the package added up to perhaps $700-$1000.

Consistency

Cudworth Racing Sycamore
With these priorities in mind I mapped out a training schedule that would allow for consistently good racing throughout the year. I took a mild break in July and traveled to Colorado that year to hike and relax.  But by August I was back in preparation for the fall racing season, which would see competition on seven out of eight weekends in September and October.

Peak weekly mileage that year was 95 miles, and my lowest week was 35 miles, when I was sick with a cold. Otherwise I kept mileage between 55 to 80 miles per week throughout the year. And here the interesting result: the average daily mileage turned out to be exactly 6.2 miles. The target distance at which I wanted to race.

Not quite big mileage

That’s not massive mileage by many measures. But again, some months I raced three out of four weekends, so my priorities were skewed toward preservation and recovery as well as distance and speed.

A few weekends I even raced Saturday and Sunday. This involved a 5K on Saturday and 10K on a Sunday, and once I ran a mile race (4:22) on a Friday night and raced a 15K on Sunday morning. I set a PR in that 15K, proving that speed is a great way to enhance your tempo in road racing.

Mileage with a purpose and training specificity

I also trained twice daily during peak base-building periods. This followed a pattern developed in college when we cranked up to 100 mile weeks, often putting in six to eight miles in the morning and another 10 or so at night.

A typical week of training during my personal peak year included the following:

Sunday: Long run between 15 and 20 miles

Monday: Morning 3-mile run and evening 6-8 miles

Tuesday: Speed workout. Usually 3-4 miles at sub-racing pace of 5:00 or below. Mile repeats or ladder workouts.

Wednesday: Morning run and afternoon recovery. 6-10 miles.

Thursday: Uptempo run with what I called “unlimited surges” of 3-4 minutes in a fartlek pattern where I pressed the effort but did not go into anaerobic in any way. Might be replaced by hill work as well.

Friday: If racing, recovery day. If not, sprint intervals and or short speedplay work of 5-8 miles.

Saturday: Race or mid-tempo run with group.

This schedule was complimented by weight and abdominal work. During the winter months I’d ride on a bike trainer indoors on really cold days, but not too often.

The year revealed an instinct for training specificity that added up to exactly the daily average of 6.2 miles. That’s not to suggest that a marathoner should average 26.2 miles in training, but longer training volumes are recommended for that distance.

The weekend I SHOULD have run a marathon I trained 15 miles on Thursday at 1:30, then came back Friday with an uptempo run at 6:00 pace on Friday evening. I was not anticipating racing that weekend as I was supposed to serve as a guide for Bill Rodgers during a race in the Chicago area. However he decided not to run and offered me his number. So I jumped in the 25K and ran 1:25: 25 for 15.5 miles.

Clearly my training had added up to marathon-level fitness that year.

But I still had races to run in October that year, and placed first in one and top ten in the other three. Earlier that spring I’d set a PR in both the road and track 5K distances. All those were the result of training specificity.

And there’s the wistful consolation that marathon fitness was there. But no regrets. Training specificity demands that you have a focus. Any other results are just a bonus.

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About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @gofast and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and at 3CCreativemarketing.com. Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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