Sometimes a guy comes along and says "Everything you know about running is wrong." They're usually crackpots who disappear after some initial publicity. (Remember hearing you can run a marathon on 12 minutes of training per week? How many of those guys are you seeing at marathons?) Recently, I ran across someone who told me that I was looking at everything the wrong way and, surprisingly, he made some sense. There's so much to cover that I'm not sure it hangs together, but it certainly gives me material to write about.
Let's start with the most basic idea: Does practice make perfect?
The standard idea is that if you do something repeatedly, you improve. Let's say you can run six 800 meter repeats at your 5K pace with three minutes rest in between. The next time you try to do that workout, it should be easier; you might be able to run seven or eight repeats instead of six or you might be able to run them slightly faster or maybe you run exactly the same, but it feels easier (perhaps you wear a heart rate monitor and your heart rate doesn't peak as high the second time). Each time you do this, you get better, but there's diminishing returns and eventually you start to plateau; this means you're in peak shape, at least for doing this one workout.
The new idea is that the first time you do the workout, you're the most rested you'll ever be. The next time you do it, unless you wait until you're completely recovered, you won't be able to do it as well and if you wait until you're fully recovered, you're not training often enough to see any improvement. If you try to match what you did the first time, you'll become overtrained and risk injury.
This is a bit of a shock if you're used to measuring progress with benchmark workouts. After all, if you're not measurably improving during your training, how can you expect to improve in your racing? First, you have to race often and see if your race times improve. Second, you have to not leave your best races on the track, to not be overly competitive and perfectionistic in training (this hits awfully close to home for me), but leave the really hard work for the races.
This suggests that the guys who are beating me in races but aren't training very hard aren't just more talented, but better rested. My argument against this is that a proper taper would compensate. The first time I'd run 6x800m wouldn't be my first workout ever - like in a science experiment - so the idea that I'd be most rested then doesn't really hold.
What started to click for me was that there is no race where everyone's running 800m repeats. The answer is that you do less of that type of running in each workout, but make it better conform to the race for which you're training. If you're training for a trail race, perhaps you move the repeats to hills. If you're running a long race, perhaps you add repeat 800s to the end of a longer run. Being able to throw in one or two hard 800 meter bursts at the end of a race could be an asset, as could learning to return to a base pace after running them. This fits in with both trains of thought.
It does have me thinking though that my trying to both train harder and more specifically at the same time may be my undoing.
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