Many of us focus on the physical aspects of track workouts. We look for hard sessions that balance speed, strength and pace work for a goal race. The often overlooked aspect is finding sessions that mentally prepare us for the race. Here are three workouts that will get you physically AND mentally ready for your next race.
2 Mile + 6 X 300: Run 3200M (2miles) at goal 5K pace. Rest 5 min. Then do 6 X 300 with 100 rest.
Run the 300s at a little faster than 1 Mile goal pace.
The idea of this workout is to wear out your legs on the 3200 M and then run the 300s feeling tired; just like the last part of a race feels. This workout gives you confidence that even with rubber legs, you can still run fast and finish strong.
Alternating Pace 400 /200: Run 3 miles continuously, alternating between:
400 at 5K goal pace (or just a little faster)
200 at Half Marathon goal pace
Or it could be written out as 8 X 400 with 200 rest. Run 400s at 5K goal pace, run 200s (rest) at Half Marathon goal pace.
Have you ever gone out a little too fast in a 5K and then had to recover during mile two (while still running fast) and resume full 5K speed for the last part of the race? Or have you had to respond to a surge in a 10K and then get back in a groove? Or fight up a hill and have to recover while still running hard? This workout teaches you to shift gears and recover during a race which gives you a tactical advantage. Plus, the time you can run for 3 miles alternating paces, is very close to what you will run for a 5K race so it is a good prediction workout too.
14X400 Descending Rest: Rest 1:30 between rep 1 and rep 2, rest 1:20 between rep 2 and rep 3….. deduct :10 each rest interval until the rest before rep 14 is :10 sec. Run reps 4-5 seconds faster than 5K goal pace. So if your 5K goal pace is 6:00 per mile, that’s 1:30 per 400 M, so run these in 1:25 or 1:26. Don’t go too fast early in this one! You’re probably used to doing 400s faster than this but the short rest at the end will bite you. This purpose of this workout is to exercise control early, knowing that it will get harder- just like a race. You have to start out controlled and smooth and then be ready to fight the last few reps.
Pick one or two of these during the lead-up to your next race and you’ll have a mental toughness advantage.
The coaching clichés, “Let the Race Come to you.” and “Run your own race.” are common and repeated so many times they begin to sound like the teacher’s voice on a Charlie Brown cartoon. “Wha whaaa wha whaaa. Whaa wha wha whaaaa.” However, I was reminded the last few weeks just how true those little nuggets are. With the coaching cliché theme, here are two race reviews and lessons learned.
Run Your Own Race
This can be said for both races and training. When you are racing and you get sucked into a pace that is too fast early in the event, it can cause you to fade severely the last part of the race. Or getting lulled into a slow pace with speedsters in the pack can be just as devastating. Running with the leaders only to be out-sprinted with a fraction of a mile to go can be embarrassing and frustrating. Your coach will tell you to run your own race to give yourself the best opportunity at a fast time and eventual victory.
For training, if you have a target event that you’re preparing for, then stick to a plan for that event. Don’t get sucked into training with friends that doesn’t prepare you for the target race. If you’re preparing for a 50K, why would you race a 5K the week before?! Hmmmm. I don’t know.
Flatwoods 5K, April 11th, 2015
My sons wanted to race this one and I had a 50K to run on the 18th but why not hit a little speed? This is a beautiful course with good food and awesome pine cone trophies. I admit it; running a 5K the week before a 50K is not “Running your own race.” However, good times with my boys are important and I stayed true to the goal by not slacking on mileage the week of the 5K. Typically, I’ll take at least two days easy before a race to freshen up my legs and focus. Not this time. I logged a total of 85 miles on the week with 11 miles the day before the event. The race started fast. A few runners blazed out at under 5:20 pace. While I still went out a bit too fast, I held back and made strategic moves. The race went well and I was 3rd place overall, winning a cool pine cone trophy. There were spots where I challenged the 2nd place runner but he had some extra spring in his legs and ran hard. I also stayed on target with training by taking the next week easy, leading up to the 50K. Most importantly, I stayed true to important values; running with my sons and making running fun for them.
Anyone who has been competing for a fair amount of time knows that there are races where everything clicks perfectly into place. Perfect weather. Perfect group to race with. Getting “in the zone.” Effortless stride. The hard part is that this zone or peak performance is hard to capture. It just happens! If you train consistently, then you’re ready for that perfect race. It won’t happen every time but if you’re ready, it will come to you. Trying to force the perfect race to happen is foolish. You can force several great races in a row with training, solid mental toughness and good coaching but hitting that PERFECT race is something that you just have to wait for. Let it come to you. It is easy to burn up mental and physical energy by forcing a pace that is too hard. Getting flustered early in a race when things don’t go well can throw off your focus. Relax and let the race come to you. You’ve done the work, now let the race develop.
Sweet H2O 50K, April 18th, 2015
If you’re searching for an event that could give you that dreamy, “Perfect race” this was not the best option. The rain had been falling in Lithia Springs Georgia all week, the course includes about 8,000 ft of elevation change and weather was expected to be fairly warm with high humidity. The big creek crossing was eliminated from the course because the flow was just too dangerous and deep. Still, the wet trails and tributary streams provided ample opportunity to get wet.
I was running with my longtime friend and high school teammate, Steve Wilcox. We cruised into a comfortable pace early, knowing the challenges that lay ahead. We ran the event two years ago and for our first 50K ever, finished respectably; tied for 4th place in 5:13:22. Knowing that the course would be even more difficult with the mud, we ran conservatively. My friend, Bernd happened to be in Atlanta for work and made a last minute decision to show up at the race to get some training in. He planned to just run a few miles and then head back to his conference. Bernd was enjoying the technical trails along the creek and then sped ahead of us so he could pull out his phone and take pictures as we ran by. We were all having a fun, easy trail run. I talked to a runner wearing a singlet that said “Powered by Craft Beer.” I told him to find me after the race and I’d share my Swamphead brew with him. Fun times!
We went through two aid stations and dutifully drank some Gatorade and I slurped down one Accel Gel. We ran on past aid station #2 on pavement and knew we would be directed back onto trail shortly. We saw orange flagging around a corner and kept going, heading the obvious direction back onto the muddy trails. Then…… no orange flags. “I haven’t seen any flags in a while, Steve.” He acknowledged my concern and suggested getting around the next turn to look for flags. Nope. No flags. We started to back track and came across a group of 7 other runners who were also confused. I glanced at my watch and realized it had already been six minutes since we were at the aid station. Backtracking to where we saw the last flags, we found our way on course. I glanced at my watch again; ten minutes since we were at the aid station and we were almost back to it! My quick estimate was that we lost eight minutes. Crap!
Cruising on the trail, we began to hit some real hills. There were now about 20 runners ahead of us and as they hiked up the hills, we ran. Obviously some people figured out where to turn! This section of trail included the Gas Line hills and the slick Georgia clay on the steep inclines drained the energy from your legs as you slipped back a few inches every step. The declines were treacherous too. Short careful steps minimized the sliding but it was hard to stay in control of my stride. On the out-and-back leading to the aid station at the school, we saw the leaders heading back towards us. As the smiling, first place runner zipped by, offering encouraging words, I checked my watch. When we got to the aid station / turn around, I checked it again and told Steve, “The leader has twelve minutes on us.” Gulping Gatorade and slurping gel, I saved my conversation for the trail. On the trail, Steve and I estimated that we were twelve minutes behind first place and about eight behind fourth. “I wouldn’t worry about that right now….” Steve warned. He was right. We would be stupid to push the pace in the first half of the race. Heading away from the turn around, many of the runners cheered and I got a high five from Gainesvillian, Pat Gallagher, who was running with a friend on this course just one week after a 50 mile event. Beast!
The course continued through some beautiful trails and the bright green of fresh tree growth was everywhere we looked. So was the mud. A few different times on the course we startled deer and we had to hop over a small turtle at one point. Steve kept me disciplined and I focused on gulping Gatorade at each aid station to the point where I thought the sloshing in my stomach was going to make me puke. At one point, I waved Steve ahead saying, “Don’t run behind me, I might puke on you!” The sloshing always settled down after a few minutes and I could get back to relaxed running. We reached the turn at the bridge on the second loop and I asked the course volunteer how far ahead the leaders were. She told me a race number and said “Five minutes ahead of you.” Steve and I assumed it was the fourth place runner still that far ahead of us. A short time later we saw a racer ahead of us, walking up a steep incline. To our surprise, it was the runner we had seen in first place. He was still smiling and still saying encouraging words to us but he was clearly hurting.
We arrived at the next aid station and were surprised to find out we were the first two runners! Somehow, we covered the eight minutes we had lost and more. We were still running well and had taken the lead. I gulped Gatorade, shot down an Accel Gel and had new life in my legs. One of the volunteers looked at Steve and said, “You need salt.” She instructed him to take a banana chunk and dip it in a bowl of salt.
He did it and then said, “Oh! That’s GOOD!” I almost barfed at the thought since I was topped off with Gatorade and gel. Yuck. Back on the trail we ran together and talked about how we ended up in the lead. What happened to the other three runners that were ahead of us? How did we make up twelve minutes on the first place runner? Steve had a simple explanation, “That’s why you run the race. Who knows what’s going to happen.” He could have said, “Let the race come to you.”
Back on the gas line hills, Steve was struggling. We turned at the Sheriffs Truck at the top of a big hill and I hollered at Steve as he regained some spring in his step to catch up to me. I arrived at the next aid station alone. Steve was staying tough but the lack of salt had caught up to him. The friendly volunteers informed me that I was at 26.2 miles! I glanced at my watch and joked, “Dang it! Not a PR!” The volunteers laughed, knowing how challenging the conditions were. Steve arrived at the station as I was leaving and he had tunnel vision to get to the drinks. He barely acknowledged I was there as he headed to the drinks he had been dreaming about for the last two miles. Not far down the trail, I saw the third place runner. He waved and we exchanged looks of encouragement and cheering without saying a word. Talking would just take too much effort at this point. Several other runners I saw cheered waved and smiled as we crossed paths. On the downhill sections I tried to be polite and say something back. My right hamstring was tight at the Powerline hill and I could feel it tugging more and more on the descent. I started talking out loud to my hamstring. “I love you hamstring. Help me out here and don’t give up. We’re almost there!”
At the final aid station I again chugged Gatorade and slurped some Mountain Dew. Jack’s hill had kicked my butt and a salted banana was starting to sound good. With only about two miles to go, I still wanted to make sure everything held together. Feeling confident and refreshed, I started off. I ran strong but cautiously thinking I was more likely to mess things up but running too hard than by running too slow.
The finish was a welcome sight and I was toast. The race director brought me a finisher’s hat and a glass plaque for winning. What a race! The post-marathon leg ache was coming on so I got up to walk around some. A beer, some ibuprofen, and rinsing off with a water bottle got me feeling a lot better. The Bar-B-Q lunch provided for runners was just what I needed.
That was a long trip to get to the coaching cliché but here it is: “Let the race come to you.” Steve and I got off course, fell way behind and had difficult course conditions to deal with. By running smart, being tough and letting the race develop, we ended up first and second. The Florida boys in the Georgia mud on a hilly course came out ahead because we let the race come to us.
What are the best local races to include on your calendar? According to the recent Runners Survey most people find races to run based on recommendations from other runners. Now you can get those recommendations without having to actually ask your running friends because I’ve saved you the time! You can use your long run to discuss politics, the best shows on The Food Network or the flaws of the college football playoff system. You’re welcome.
I got responses from just over 100 runners and they were asked several running related questions and the final section asked them to rate 17 local races. I didn’t include every single race in town. There are a bunch of races that are just fun-runs and don’t even claim to be a race. There are tons of “One Hit Wonders” that appear for a year and then never happen again. I tried to select 16 races that had at least two years of successful running and met a basic level of race organization. If you are a race director of an event not listed and want to know how your race scored or you want to be included in next year’s survey, let me know!
Now for some nerdy statistical stuff. I asked for runners to rate the race only if they had run it in the last two years so each race had about 20-30 actual scores to get their average. You’ll notice the scores are pretty darn close! I ranked by the percentage of runners who scored the race “Good (4 stars)” or “Excellent (5 stars).” I also listed the average number of stars for each race which would shuffle the ranking slightly. However, that isn’t really the point here. Is the #1 race MUCH better than the #7 race? Nope. I listed the best scoring events to recognize the TOP events in town. All of these are really well-done races and easily worth the cost of the entry fee. A difference of 0.5 on the average star score is not statistically significant. The spread between all of the races below is 0.66 so all of these races were highly rated by the runners who did the events and the scores are extremely close.
Race % that scored the race 4-5 Stars # of runners Average stars
A note for statistical comparison from last year to this year- the survey site I used changed how the 5-stars system and blended averages are calculated. Last year’s ranking was based on the average stars metric expressed as a %. Confused? I was too for a while. The bottom line is this: If you want a baseline score from last survey to compare directly to this year, I can do that for you. I’m not sure there is a huge benefit to that unless you’re a nerd but if you want it, I can do it!
Running to most people is a chore, a punishment, a grinding way to “get in shape”. For me, running is a way of life. It has brought me closer to my family, allowed me to befriend incredible athletes, stay in the best shape of my life, and encouraged me to travel all over the country. It is so much of who I am and what I do, and I’ve been lucky enough to create a life that combines my hobby and my profession seamlessly.
My father began running when I was a young teenager. I grew up in a very small town in eastern North Carolina, there were no sidewalks, no running paths, and certainly no 5k runs. I remember friends asking me, “Was that your DAD running on the side of the highway?”, and I’d roll my eyes as I…
This is not an all-inclusive listing and has some out of town events listed along with local races. This is also just a listing for upcoming races from now to April, 2015. The one thing they have in common is that I have run them all and feel comfortable recommending them to you. As you select races, it is a good idea to ask fellow runners and get a feel for the event. Check the comments on Active.com or other websites. Look at Athlinks.com to see previous year’s results and you can check on the size of the event, the times and other runners who have done it so you know who to talk with. Researching your races is one of the best ways to ensure you spend your registration money on events you will enjoy. Please add comments to this post about upcoming races you would recommend to fellow runners. Also, refer to the RRCA guidelines for selecting a race. http://www.rrca.org/education-advocacy/buyer-beware/
January 24th– Matanzas 5K, St Augustine. One of the fastest, most competitive 5K races in the state. If you’re looking for a PR time on a flat course with a well-run event, this is your race. http://www.matanzas5k.com/
February 8th– Tallahassee Marathon. This is a flat marathon course which I found surprising in Tallahassee! It is a great smaller-scale marathon, similar in size and feel to the Five Points races. They always have cool speakers at the expo and it finishes at the FSU track. http://www.tallahasseemarathon.com/
February 14th -15th– Five Points of Life Races: Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5K, Gainesville. The largest running event in town with an expo and lots of runners. Not super-fast courses for the Half Marathon or Marathon but you get to see a lot of Gainesville and run through Ben Hill Griffin Stadium! http://www.fivepointsoflife.com/race/registration/
February 21st-22nd– Gasparilla Distance Classic, Tampa, FL. Pick from a half marathon, 15K, 8K or 5K. This race weekend features pirate themed medals, a huge expo and everything you’d expect to find at a major national event. The courses are all along Tampa Bay so the scenery is nice and the elevation change is minimal. http://www.tampabayrun.com/
March 7th– Race the Tortoise 5K, High Springs. Still looking for that fast 5K time that you almost hit at Matanzas? Here’s your shot! There are some slight inclines but this out and back course is pretty fast. Cool tortoise trophies for the winners and a good breakfast after the run. https://www.itsyourrace.com/event.aspx?id=2980
March 14th– Gate River Run 15K, Jacksonville. This is a mega-race with 20,000 runners, a huge expo and tons of fun surrounding the race. It is worth the trip to Jacksonville for this national class event. If you don’t feel like driving, take a bus with the Florida Track Club. http://www.gate-riverrun.com/
March 14th– Run for Haven 10K & 5K, Gainesville. If you’d rather not run in the massive crowd at River Run, this is a great local race that benefits Haven Hospice. A scenic course through Town of Tioga with a fantastic party atmosphere after the run is a great way to celebrate St.Patrick’s Day! http://www.havenhospice.org/haven-run.aspx
April 11th– Flatwoods 5K, Gainesville. Not quite ready for a full trail experience like Trail of Payne? Here’s a nice one! The course is a lime rock road loop through beautiful Austin Carey Forest. You are lucky to run out on the trails because they are not open to the public! A fun event, beautiful scenery for the run and awesome pinecone trophies!
Running a trail 50K is a real challenge that I’d recommend to any marathoner. If you can complete 26.2 on pavement, you can do a trail 50K. Or if you can do a road half marathon, you can do a trail 25K. The experience is very different than a major road race and a fun change of scenery. There are differences in race day planning so hopefully my experience will give you some guidance on how to prepare and execute a good race.
The Croom Zoom is near Brooksville in the Withlacoochee State Forest. The route starts out on a limerock road for about a mile and then continues into loops on single-track forest trails. With a 6 AM start, headlamps are required for the first hour or so of the run. For my local friends, the trails are quite similar to San Felasco. I would say they are a bit tougher than the Millhopper side of San Felasco, but a little easier than the Alachua side. The hills were more than I expected but not in steepness, just in length. There were a few long steady climbs during the course.
Standing on a dark road at 5:58 AM, the race director addressed the audience of headlamped runners. “We have some Boy Scouts camping here this weekend. They are great at helping out in the park and really enthusiastic about picking up litter. So enthusiastic, they picked up about 2 miles of our trail markings yesterday afternoon.” The crowd noise was a mix of laughing and groaning. “We got out there and re-marked so it should be fine. There are glow sticks the first few miles.” He continued with a brief course description, locations of aid stations and other general announcements.
The course was VERY well marked. I went slightly off course a couple of times but it was based more on my carelessness than on the course markings!
I ran the 50K while my friend and old high school teammate, Steve Wilcox, decided to run the 25K. My start was 6AM and his at 7, so I saw him driving into the park as we ran the first mile. I was jealous because I could have used the extra sleep! I fell in behind a runner who clearly wanted the lead. He is an experienced trail racer from New York so while I thought he would be tough competition, I had to believe the warm temperature and humidity would be a challenge for him. We were joined by a guy from Tampa who said he’d been on the Croom trails before but only on a bike. All three of us were new to the course, running in the dark. After about 8 miles, I decided to take the lead and push the pace. It was light enough to see the trail and still relatively cool. My strategy was to gain some time during the cooler conditions, knowing it would soon warm up. I stopped at each aid station and drank at least 3 cups of water and consumed 5 PowerGels during the race.
My plan worked well in some ways. I did build a gap that the other runners couldn’t close so I won the race in 4:24:09. However, the last few miles were pretty slow and I had some leg cramps. I’m not sure if it was a hydration issue or some other nutrition based problem. With temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s and humidity at 98%, I know I needed water and lots of it!
I ran in trail shoes but noticed many of the runners were in regular training shoes. The trails at Croom had lots of roots in some spots but generally, your regular running shoes would be fine. I was pleased with the Salomon Mantra2 shoes I ran in. They felt nice on the sandy trails and on the occasional spots with mud and roots, I had good traction.
The post-race celebration at the Croom Zoom is like a family picnic. There are grilled burgers, hot dogs and other food. The runners gather and share stories from the trail and cheer for the 100K runners who are still passing by on their way to another loop. My friend Steve entertained himself by watching me suffer from ab muscle cramps while trying to untie my shoes.
Croom Zoom is a well-organized event and I came home with a T-shirt, a finisher’s hat and a super-cool trophy. For my marathoner and half marathoner friends interested in a new, fun challenge, I’d recommend Croom Zoom.
Back in early January I took the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) coaching class to become a certified RRCA coach. I learned a lot and got to meet many runners who are inspired to help others in our sport. The class, based in large part on Dr. Jack Daniels’ work, is very solid and takes into account years of scientific study about the sport along with a large dose of common sense learned from working with athletes. Still, runners are quirky people so the coaching challenges are always interesting. Some of the test questions were pretty funny but actually quite realistic if you know runners! So with that backdrop, I posted a sample test question in the facebook group for the class. Here is the question and the responses I received in the facebook comments:
So coaches- You have an athlete who has been training for a marathon. He…
Many of us take our running pretty seriously and strive to get optimal performance out of our bodies each race or workout. Some of us use all sorts of products to enhance our performance or at least make it more survivable. GPS watches and heart rate monitors to zero in on optimal pace, special compression clothing to enhance muscular endurance, sweat wicking fabric shorts and shirts to keep cool and of course shoes with the latest lightweight foam midsole that will propel our feet faster than ever. Don’t forget the leder hosen and Alpine hat.
My friend, Kevin Love and his band or merry men and women known as the Running Tabs put on a race worthy of German costumes and post-race beer consumption. A course winding through Town of Tioga and ending near World of Beer isn’t a bad way to get in a race. The course was well marked and accurate so those who started drinking before the run didn’t get lost. The race registration included a nice pint glass and tickets for beer. The awards were fantastic. (Thanks Lloyd Clarke’s and Oakley!) Atmosphere after the race included a kid’s game area, music, and of course beer. The whole event struck a nice balance of a well-run, competitive race and a lot of fun.
Since Kevin and his crew set up a good balance, I decided to strike my own balance for the race. I ran hard, competed and took the running part seriously. I also wore a costume, had a beer with friends and completely enjoyed the whole event.
Here’s my note to Race Directors: Set the stage for the runners to have the full range of accomplishment, fun, competitiveness, social enjoyment and a unique atmosphere. If you hit all the bases well, you expand your audience. This race was a first time event and it was not run on a big budget. You don’t have to be a big event to pull it off. You don’t have to be an experienced race director to make it work. A lot of work is involved and having good teamwork with your core volunteers is essential. Gather your vision for an event; get some key people to buy into your event vision and then make it happen! I bet if you showed up at one of Kevin’s group runs, he’d be happy to log a few miles with you and give you his tips! The word is you can get priceless race director advice from him for the cost of a pint of beer.
This recent article from Matt Fitzgerald basically says that elite runners and less-elite runners can follow the 80/ 20 rule. 80% of distance at easy or below threshold running and 20% of hard or above threshold running. Research from many elite runners bears out an 80 / 20 ratio or very close to it. Fitzgerald’s recommendation: whatever your total mileage, follow the 80 / 20 rule. http://running.competitor.com/2014/08/training/train-like-pro_111078?utm_medium=whats-hot
To back up for a minute the 80% / 20% rule has been around in many applications. It is known as the Pareto Principle, named for an Italian economist from the early 1900s. He noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. He later found that ratio in several other areas. Today we see it applied in several examples:
Work: 80% of the work in an organization is done by 20% of the employees.
Charity: 80% of donations come from 20% of donors.
Sales: 20% of customers buy 80% of your merchandise.
Projects: 80% of value is achieved with the first 20% of effort
I agree and would take it one step further. (I’don’t have a scientific study to back this up but let me know what you think)
The Coach Dan Clark Principle: 80% of your running potential can be achieved with 20% of your miles.
WAIT! Dan Clark, the high mileage disciple is saying WHAT!? Stay with me here. 20% of your miles is the “hard” mileage: Intervals, tempo runs and those last few miles of your long run that really hurt. So if you only did the hard miles, then you could reach 80% of your potential. That’s how “Run Less Run Faster” works. That’s how the 3 day a week training plans work. They get you most of the benefit with only 20% of the work. So if you are interested in achieving 80% of your potential, those plans work fine. This is also the realm of the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), CrossFit and many other fitness fads that are prevalent today. They say “Do cardio the right way! Do Intervals!” They are 20% right. It is not an either / or scenario. It isn’t bad cardio vs good cardio. You need both in correct doses.
For distance runners, the correct dose is about 80% base miles (zone 2, training effort, conversational pace or however you qualify it) and 20% hard (Track work, tempo runs etc). So log your miles, run your track workouts, get in a tempo run and strive to achieve 100% of your potential.