Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Slow Down to Run Fast

I've been doing a lot of research on this idea of slowing down on training runs in order to run faster in races.  I'm a believer.  Worse than that, I've become a zealot!  I can't say I've completely complied with the idea during marathon training, but the problem there is the fact I didn't have very accurate training paces to start out with.

And that's the key, having accurate paces on the front end.  If you've been running a while and you seem to be racing at the same pace as you train (or worse, slower), you've most likely been training too fast.  This isn't just me talking here...take a look at an article on McMillan Running titled Finding Your Sweet Spot (Maximal vs. Optimal Adaptation Rate).   Basically McMillan says  
The maximal adaptation rate occurs when your body is adapting as fast as possible to the stresses you put on it. It summons all its resources to build new blood-delivering capillaries, energy-producing mitochondria, and stronger muscles and tendons. But adapting at the maximal rate requires that your body be stressed to its limit. Over time you're bound to push past that limit and get injured or burned out and perform poorly.

The optimal rate of adaptation, on the other hand, occurs when the body is stressed to a tolerable level, allowing it time to adapt without having to draw on every ounce of its physical and mental reserves. It gradually adapts and is at far less risk for injury or burnout. At the end of a training run you feel pleasantly fatigued but also know that you could have done a little more.
Remember my post a while back on Lactate Threshold Training?  It's basically the same thing.  In the Candy Shop episode of I Love Lucy (see the clip in the other post)...Lucy and Ethel were able to handle wrapping the chocolates in the beginning...and even when the conveyor belt sped up a little bit, but eventually the candies were coming out much faster than they could wrap them up.  If you train too slow, you aren't challenging your body (and won't get faster).  However, train too fast and you'll end up fatigued and/or hurt (and most likely running races at the same or slower paces than you do in training).

Finding the "Sweet Spot" is just as important in running as in golf!
So...HOW ON EARTH do you find that optimal pace?  The easiest way is to hire an experienced coach.  However, even a coach will need information to determine what paces to plug into your plan.  The best way to start out finding the training sweet spot is to look at races.  What are your recent PRs?  McMillan has an excellent pacing calculator.  I have no idea how he did it, but all you have to do is enter your most recent PR and he gives you training paces, and expected finish times, for various distances (provided you've trained appropriately).  I'm finding it to be extremely accurate.  I can't say I've been the best at holding my training paces down, but I am getting better.

After you have a starting point, you need to closely monitor your training.  How are you feeling?  Is your speed work getting faster?  How do you feel the day after harder efforts (ie: long runs, speed work, hills)?  Are recovery runs leaving you feeling recovered or exhausted?

If you have any specific questions, please leave a comment, or feel free to email me at I Will Run Strong at Gmail dot com (spelled out to hopefully avoid spam spaces).

Thanks for stopping in.  Come again soon!


  1. Interesting, but I am kind of locked in to running hard 3 days a week. My OCD want let me slow my pace too much. I am sure it works for some people. See you at RCM.

  2. You are figuring it out Dana!
    We could talk for days about this and still not cover every thing. When you get done with the Marathon. We can discuss it over some coffee.



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