Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 15 Aug 2000 09:03:56 -0400

Up to Speed

(from RC 313)

Reading my recent ramblings about the leisurely pace of long run (see Commentary titled "How Long?"), you might have been left wondering: If you train one to two minutes per mile slower than race pace, how do you reclaim that time on raceday?

Somehow the faster running was nearly always there for me when called upon. I credit this partly to raceday magic, and mostly to the effects of previous racedays.

The ability to speed up when it counted surely wasn't the result of my training. I never did any speedwork outside of races, or took everyday runs anywhere near race pace.

My trick was to race -- often and at all distances -- in lieu of fast training. Seldom did more than two weekends pass between races.

The story last week looked at the long runs that supported my fastest marathons, the six sub-threes. Now I can tell the rest of the story.

The last shorter race before the marathons fell an average of 2-1/2 weeks earlier. The average distance was 12 miles. The pace averaged 6:05 per mile -- or about a half-minute faster than the marathons.

Abandoning all racing during their training buildup, as today's marathoners often do, would have been a mistake for me. I'd have missed the most fun and most effective type of speedwork.

Let me dig into history even more ancient. I justify this exercise because it carries a lesson of current value.

As a senior in high school, I followed Arthur Lydiard -- or what I'd interpreted as his teachings -- through winter training. My training miles were longer and slower than ever before.

This training left me strong but sluggish. Early-season mile races lagged far behind those of the year before, when I'd trained for speed all winter.

In a panic I stopped running mile races except those that counted most -- Drake Relays and State (plus its minimal-effort qualifying meet). Instead, to salvage speed in a hurry, I became a half-miler.

Running that distance two and three times a week, my half-mile improved by eight seconds in less than a month. More importantly that speed translated to big gains in the rare miles -- a six-second PR at Drake and another four-second drop at State.

These improvements wouldn't have come without the strength gained through winter miles. But the mile times almost wouldn't have been as fast without the speed gained by racing at half that distance.

Half-fast racing also served me well before my fastest marathon. The last sharpening-up race was a 20-K, or a tad less than half a marathon.

The same plan can work, I think, for a 10-K runner honing speed with 5-K's or a half-marathoner with 10-K's. Speed gained at the shorter distance leads to better times at the longer one.

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