Some of the best workouts for runners can be those in which take the mental strain off of the athlete.
What do I mean?
What sounds more daunting.
An 8-mile run at your goal race pace or 2x4miles at the same pace with a mile jog in between?
Obviously, doing the entire run at goal pace is going to cause a bit more mental strain than the latter workout.
One of the ways runners can maximize their workouts is breaking them up in smaller portions.
As you get stronger you can allow yourself to branch out the distance of your training runs.
I know how frustrating it can be early on in a training block where you have, for example, an 8-mile tempo planned and you get 2-miles into the workout and feel like you just ran a marathon.
Running is just as much (if not more) mental as it is physical.
Your mindset and how you approach your training is vital to your overall success.
Listen to your body, it will never lie.
One are some of the best workouts for runners who have specific goals in mind you ask?
Well, let me first be honest and say that having run a 2.19 marathon does not make me an authority.
I am humble enough to admit that I have had my ass handed to me plenty of times in races.
I have done workouts in the past that even I thought I couldn’t do and than I get to the race and failed miserably.
Additionally, I have done crappy workouts than get to the race and have run some of my fastest times.
For example, back in 2007 I flew to Washington D.C. to compete in the Cherry Blossom 10-miler.
It was my very first race for the Army World Class Athlete Program.
I was nervous and I knew going in that I had not done any speed work, just mileage and some light strides every other day of the week.
I go out and run a than personal best for 10-miles running 51.29.
Did I get smoked that day?
The winner ran 47 minutes and change.
The point is sometimes it isn’t about how much speed workouts or mileage you are doing but where your head is at in the game and how rested you are going into the effort.
I didn’t really have much expectations going into the race.
Was I in shape?
Sure, but I ended up running a ‘descent’ time mainly because I was not stressing over every little detail going into the race.
The best workouts for runners are the ones that give you as much bang for your buck that you can handle.
Runners who have a specific goal in mind can’t rest on the fact that all they have to do is run mileage with one workout at just faster than their usual easy pace, that that will bring them a great time.
Training isn’t just about how many miles a week you run or what pace per mile you held for that tempo run.
Are you allowing yourself enough recovery?
Are you eating the right amount of foods?
Are you getting sufficient sleep and are you wasting precious mental energy over facts and formulas of workouts you did on the track which don’t matter.
I say these things because I did this for far too many years in my early career as a runner.
The biggest difference between the Kenyans and other runners, especially here in the United States, is they focus on pace, we focus on distance run.
They make races look easy because they spent so much of their weekly mileage at a much higher heart rate and exertion level.
A Runner Scenario
Runner A has a goal of running a 2.37.00 marathon and does his or her 20-mile run over the weekend at 7:40 mile pace.
Runner B has the same goal but does his or her 20-miler at 6.20 pace.
Which of these two runners are better equipping themselves to not only handle 2.37.00 marathon pace (which is 6.00 per mile)?
Runner A or Runner B?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to answer this question.
Can runner A get a benefit from running 7.40 pace for 20-miles?
Absolutely, but when it comes to specific race pace folks, you have to train in a specific way.
Talent that doesn’t work in an educated way is still going to get smoked on the roads or track
I wanted to break a 2.22.00 marathon back while still a 2.43.36 marathoner.
I had the initiative but as the hip hope preacher, Eric Thomas, says in the above video ‘I didn’t want it bad, I just kind of wanted it’
I had to make a switch in the way I trained and it didn’t involve running 140 mile weeks and bragging to all my friends of how much mileage I did.
Often times we confuse running more mileage as a means to justify what we feel we should be doing in order to run faster.
Quantity doesn’t breed faster times, quality does so don’t get hung up on mileage.
Look at what you have been doing in the past.
If you have been missing your goals or you feel as though your are not getting any faster, that your best days are behind you, simply look at how much of the mileage you are doing at a heart rate of 160 or higher.
How much of your weekly mileage are you spending at 80% or greater effort?
You might have to have a conversation with yourself.
Are you going to listen to what you have been quite possibly told all your life, that you don’t have the talent or have what it takes?
Are you going to continue to run all those miles at far too slow of a pace that will never yield the race results you seek?
I spent years doing my long runs slow.
DNF’s and race results that weren’t even remotely close to what I was looking for.
Let me also be very clear on something else.
I am a huge advocate on race pace training and quality over quantity, but there are going to be times where you do everything completely right and still miss the mark.
The difference between the mediocre and exceptional runner is simply persistence.
One deals with failure in a much more positive light, they persist and are patient.
I dropped down a 1.50.02 20-miler in training (a 5.30 per mile average) in late 2011 6-weeks prior to the Monumental Indianapolis Marathon.
A finish time of 2.26.42 and a 5th place finish.
Of course, considering the environment I was training under dealing with military field problems that time and finish weren’t bad, but this clearly was off my potential.
I was aiming for a time of 2.17.00 or better, looking back a common mistake I made was my training block was too long.
I should have run a marathon 2 to 3 weeks after that 20-mile long run, rather than 6-weeks after I had done it.
Timing is everything but I don’t regret the training I did in trying to earn the 2012 Olympic Trials marathon standard of 2.19.00.
It is far better to train on the edge and test what you can really do rather than being too cautious and never allowing yourself the satisfaction of getting out of the comfort zone.
Ever heard the phrase about the turtle?
He gets nowhere unless he sticks his neck out.
It’s true, sometimes you have to push the envelope to see what you can and cannot do.
If your goal as a runner is to run and race faster than you are going to have to take a hard look at how you are constructing your training regimen.
I certainly had to.
Here I was a 2.43.36 marathoner having put up 6.14 pace for 26.2 miles, yet I had this pie in the sky goal of holding 5.25 per mile pace, nearly a full minute, per mile no less, for the marathon distance.
If you are a 4.00 hour marathoner do you think most of your friends really would be believe you have the capability of breaking 3 hours?
It isn’t up to them, it is up to you and most often than not, even our close friends and family (at times) hinder us and even doubt us.
You have to have a faith so strong, a commitment so utterly unshakable to make massive changes in your race performance and most importantly you had better have the will to endure failure along the way.
Do you know how many times I failed before I ever broke the 2.20.00 marathon barrier?
I failed far more often than I succeeded but the love of what I was doing was too strong.
What are some best workouts for runners I can suggest?
Well, it depends on what type of runner you are i.e. middle distance, 5k runner, half or full marathon specialist but I will list a few key workouts I have done over the years that have helped me run 1.07 for the half-marathon and 2.19 marathon.
These are workouts I am currently constructing for myself leading into the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Marathon.
1. Long runs at faster paces
Let me be very clear, you have to have layer a strong foundation before attempting these forms of workouts because I can assure you, they are taxing on the body.
This is by far the hardest workout I do.
I do my long runs at 160 beats per minute wearing a heart rate monitor and when I am fit I can get in 20-22 mile runs at or around 5.35 per mile pace.
If you would like to know a bit more on my training philosophy on heart rate monitors feel free to read Heart Rate Training | Why It Is Important For Runners.
The last American female to win the Boston Marathon, Lisa Rainsberger, suggested I do this and that training philosophy helped me in breaking the 2.20.00 marathon barrier.
One of the best workouts for runners I advocate, regardless what distance specialist you are is increasing the pace of your long runs.
You teach the body, over time, to burn fat as fuel at speeds more relative to pace you aiming to race at.
2. Short Aerobic Capacity runs
Aerobic Capacity is also known as your VO2 Max.
These runs are extremely difficult and fast but produce fast twitch muscle fiber recruitment.
The more fast twitch muscle fibers you can recruit your body to use the faster you are going to run, period, end of story.
The problem is it is painful and far from easy.
Examples of Aerobic Capacity runs are doing 8x1000m on the track at your 3K to 5K race pace with short recoveries, repeat sprints up a 200m hill all-out or repeat 1-mile repeats at your 5K race pace.
Fartlek runs can also be great substitutes for track workouts and take the mental strain off of focusing on laps.
Consider doing 15 sprints all-out between telephone poles with equal jog recovery and when I mean all-out effort I am talking about turnover, no lag time.
3. Lactate threshold runs aka Anaerobic Threshold efforts
These are also called tempo runs, which are efforts that teach the body to deal with ever increasing amounts of lactic acid building up in the bloodstream.
The important thing to remember here is extension of time spent in that LT zone.
Be patient, the body will adapt.
If you would like to know more of some of my favorite workouts fill free to read 7 running workouts to help you run a personal best.
I usually run these efforts at a heart rate between 165 to 175 and know I am getting fit when I can do a 10-mile run at that heart rate under 54 minutes.
In closing, the best workouts for runners encompasses stressing the athletes’ body to the maximum.
Running faster times involves getting the heart rate up and extending the amount of time you spend there.
Easy running has its place in regards to recovery and it is vital that you, as the athlete, take it just as seriously as your hard efforts.
The patient and persistent athlete will get results.