Don’t race your training: middle distance running repeats
The most common question I get asked is “How do I avoid racing my training?”
This question comes from both beginners and experienced runners alike. Let’s take a look at some answers to this question.
If you are new to endurance sports, then it might seem like a good idea to run fast during the weekdays and slow on weekends or holidays. However, if you have been doing this for a while, then you will realize that this approach doesn’t work out very well. You may even start to think that you shouldn’t train too hard on any given day because it could affect your performance on other days.
On the contrary, if you are an experienced runner, then chances are that your performances tend to improve over time regardless of what kind of training schedule you follow. Therefore, you don’t need to worry about competing with yourself.
There are two main reasons why you may want to avoid racing your training:
You are trying to keep up with someone else’s pace You feel like you aren’t getting enough rest between runs (or workouts)
Let’s first examine the second reason. If you really want to compete against another runner, then it would make sense that you should run faster than them every single time they go out on a run. Well, obviously this isn’t going to happen since every runner is different and some are just faster than others.
But, what if you pick a certain runner that usually runs at your pace?
Then you could try to race them. This approach has two major flaws:
You don’t actually know what that other person’s true capabilities are (unless you race them). You don’t know how fast or slow you are running at any given time. Your pace can vary by as much as 5% to 10% (either slower or faster) depending on a variety of factors (surface, temperature, humidity, wind, etc).
What happens when you try to race someone else is that you are always comparing yourself against someone else. It is very rare that you will actually be exactly on the same page as another person (even if you are training together).
The first reason why you might want to avoid racing your training is a little more complex. It has to do with something known as “internal load”. This is a phenomenon that occurs when you train at different paces on back-to-back days.
The most common complaint is soreness and fatigue. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happens often enough that most runners are aware of it.
In the context of running, we can define “racing your training” as running at a much faster or much slower pace (at least 5% to 10% faster or slower) compared to your average training pace. Let’s look at some examples:
If you run at an average pace of 8 minutes per mile and you run any one day at 7:30 min/mi, then the next day you should run at least 8:10 min/mi. If you ran 8 min/mi then it would be considered “racing your training” but it wouldn’t be if you ran at 7:40 min/mi.
If you run at an average pace of 8 minutes per mile and you run any one day at 6:45 min/mi, then the next day you should run no faster than 7:55 min/mi. If you ran 7:30 min/mi then it would be considered “racing your training” but it wouldn’t be if you ran at 7:10 min/mi. (by our definition).
However, if you run at an average pace of 8 minutes per mile and you run any one day at 7:00 min/mi, then the next day you can run as slow as 7:40 min/mi. You are still within the acceptable range of 5% to 10% slower than your average training pace.
If you run at an average pace of 8 minutes per mile and you run any one day at 5:30 min/mi, then the next day you should run no slower than 6:40 min/min. If you ran 6:15 min/mi then it would be considered “racing your training” but it wouldn’t be if you ran at 6:00 min/mi.
It should be noted that this phenomenon has been studied, but the exact causes are not well understood. One common thought is that our bodies may get confused about how hard it needs to train because the training stimulus one day may be different than the previous day (due to racing your training).
For most runners, it is probably best to err on the side of caution and avoid racing your training. That means that for every run, you should try to pick a pace that is close to your average training pace. You can certainly run faster or slower on any given day, but it probably shouldn’t be by more than 5% to 10% compared to your average training pace.
On the days where you are running significantly faster or slower, your training load should probably be reduced (fewer miles). It is easy enough to maintain a good fitness level if you focus on running every day and keeping all of your runs at an average pace that is close to your fitness goal pace.
My normal training pace is 8 minutes per mile and I am trying to get down to 7 minutes per mile. I ran 7:45 on Monday and 6:55 on Tuesday.
Is it OK to run 7:40 today?
There is some disagreement about whether or not this applies to all workouts, such as long runs and speedwork. It appears that racing your long runs only affects your long runs (and your long term fitness) and does not affect your next day’s workouts. However, racing your speedwork definitely affects your next day’s workouts.
So you probably shouldn’t race your easy runs, but it probably doesn’t matter as much with easy runs.
For most runners, it is better to run 7:40 today than it is to run 7:00 tomorrow. It is definitely not OK to run 8:00 miles tomorrow regardless of how fast you ran today. Our suggestion would be to average your training paces over several days.
Some people feel like easy runs help you recover from speedwork and long runs, so if you are racing those, you may want to consider slowing down a bit on your easy days.
For our purposes, we are going to define racing your training as running more than 5% above (for slower races) or below (for faster races) your average training pace. You should avoid racing your training as it has the most negative impact on your fitness the next day. You would run 7:40 for this one run and then go back to your normal training pace the next day.
I am planning on running a 1:30 half marathon in two weeks and I am currently running at an average pace of 8 minutes per mile.
Should I train at an average pace of 7:30 per mile or 7:00 per mile until the race?
The problem with racing your training is that you are pushing the hardest when your body is tiredest. Any time you want to check how you are doing compared to your average training pace, you can look at your splits. The second half of your run should usually be between 0:30 and 2:00 minutes slower than the first half. If it is a lot slower, you are pushing too hard.
Should I run every day?
This is a higher intensity than most of the other questions, but we will add a little to the answer to try to cover all situations.
Our first suggestion would be to train at 7:00 min/mi for your average training pace. This strategy has the benefit that if you have a bad day, it won’t throw you off for very long. You should be back to where you need to be in a day or two.
For beginner runners, running every day is not necessary and you should only run when you don’t have any soreness or injury. There is no point in running everyday if you are not ready to run everyday. As a general rule, we do not recommend running more than 3x per week during the first month of training.
After that, you can start doing an extra run per week if needed.
Another suggestion (and the one that we use) is to have two sets of numbers. One set that you use for most of the month and then a second set that you use for the last week or so. This helps you limit the bad effects of a bad day, but still take advantage of any good days you might have.
After a couple of months of running, I am going to do my first race. Also, we don’t recommend any runs longer than 1.5 hours in duration when running less than 3x per week.
When you start running more than 3x per week, you can run every day if you want, but we would recommend taking at least one day off per week to allow your body to recover. Most people find that the first couple of weeks they are so sore that they do not want to run the next day anyway. I am worried that I won’t be able to finish.
What should I do?
We have all been there. If you are new to running and are signed up for a 5K or half marathon, you are probably wondering if you are going to be able to finish the race. While we don’t know your level of fitness, we can give you some general advice on how to increase your chances of finishing your first race. This is completely normal, so take the time to rest if your body needs it.
If you are training for a race that is more than two months away, you may want to switch to an alternating “week” running 3x per week and then 2x per week to allow for a little extra recovery time.
Should I run before work? after work? before and after?
The first thing we suggest you do is start walking around the track at least two laps (4 miles) a day. This has two benefits: it helps you build up your endurance and it makes the track more accessible in distance (most tracks are measured in laps rather than miles). So, if you can only run 1 lap (1.5 miles), you can still do a little running and walking and finish the whole thing.
After your lap, walk for 10 to 15 minutes. As your endurance increases, you will be able to run a little longer before having to walk. After a month or so, you should be able to run the whole 4 laps without stopping.
If you can run more than 2 miles at a time now, then I would suggest starting with the below beginner training schedule since it is specifically designed for people that can run more than 2 miles.
We recommend you don’t do both of these routines at the same time since they both address different parts of your physical fitness. It is, however, perfectly fine to start running in the morning and then run after work as long as you are not tired when you go to work or when you run.
If you are unable to run 2 miles at this time, then I would suggest starting with the beginner training schedule “for non-beginners” and as your endurance increases, slowly build up to running 2 laps (4 miles) and then start adding the walking as mentioned above. This will ensure that you don’t try to do too much too soon and end up with an injury.
Remember that you are walking for a reason. This is not a race and you will not get “left behind” if you can’t keep up with the rest of us. You are running when you are able to and that is all that should matter to you.
You have completed your first 5K! You should be very proud of yourself. Now that you have the basics down, we can start adding some speed and hill training into the routine.
We also will start addressing some injury prevention techniques.
12 Week Intermediate Schedule: (beginning to include speed/hill training and injury prevention)
Wed: Speed Training or Long Run
Fri: Speed Training or Long Run
Sat: Long Run or Speed Training
Or, you can do a 5 day cycle where you have four days of running and one day of complete rest. The days of the week are irrelevant, just make sure you have a day of complete rest every week.
The first run of the week is to be a “Long Run” and should be as long as you can comfortably go. The second day should be either speed training or a shorter “long” run. This shorter long run should be at a faster pace than the first run of the week.
The goal here is to prepare you for running at a faster pace for longer periods of time. For the third day, you have the option of doing some speed training or a shorter long run. The speed training can be done on a track to improve your running form or outside to improve your endurance and build up your leg muscles. The shorter long run should be at a comfortable pace that you can hold a conversation without getting too winded. This is supposed to be easier than the first day. The last day of the week is a complete rest day.
The second week is a reverse of the first with a speed day instead of a long run on the third day.
The following is an example of what your weekly training might look like.
Week 1: Mon: Rest, Tue: Rest, Wed: 6mi, Thu: Rest, Fri: Rest, Sat: 13.1mi, Sun: Rest
Week 2: Mon: Rest, Tue: 8x400m @ mile pace w/ 200m jog, Wed: Rest, Thu: Rest, Fri: 5.5mi, Sat: 15.5mi, Sun: Rest
You can change the days around if they don’t work for you, the most important part is to get in three run a week and one complete rest day. The long runs are designed to get you used to running longer distances and the speed training is designed to improve your running speed. You can do more than what is listed, but please don’t do less.
This training schedule is very general and applies to the average person. There are a lot of factors that come into play, including your current fitness level. If you are currently very unfit, then you might need to do more rest days and shorter distances.
If you are already fairly fit, then you might be able to do more intense training and can probably do with less rest days. It all depends on your current condition.
You should always listen to your body when it comes to running. If a day comes where you don’t feel like running, then don’t. There is always the next day and more important, there is no point in injuring yourself.
The best thing to do is take a day or two off and then return to a reduced schedule until you feel back to normal. Then you can build up again slowly. The last thing you want to do is to push through the pain and cause yourself a more serious and longer lasting injury.
Along with your running, you need to be eating right and getting the proper nutrients. This isn’t the place for a diet plan, but you can refer to one in the Appendix at the back of this book if you need to. The most important thing is staying hydrated.
Always carry water with you while you run and make sure to continue drinking throughout your run.
Good luck and if you have any questions, please post them in the online forum pertaining to this book.
Other People’s Opinions
Now that you’ve decided to run a marathon and trained for one, you’re going to have to deal with other people, who for whatever reason want to talk about your training or even your decision to run a marathon in the first place.
Reactions will vary from indifference to genuine curiosity with a wide range of responses in between. Most people won’t care at all. Some of your friends might be mildly interested or even encouraging.
Your boss might care just because he is worried that you’re going to come in tired and not be productive, but then he doesn’t really have any say in the matter if you come in late a few times due to your training. If you work for a really understanding place, they might even give you a fitness stipend.
Your mother might care because she is worried about you and doesn’t want you to get sick or hurt yourself, but will be happy for you if you stick with it and accomplish your goal.
The girl that you’re trying to impress might be the one that cares the most. Because she’s going to be the one that gets to share in your glory if you succeed. Of course you might be doing this just to impress her and if that’s the case, then good luck.
Your friends will probably all tell you that you have no chance of finishing, but you’ll ignore them and try your best anyway. Chances are if they really believe that you won’t make it, then they weren’t true friends to begin with.
Your doctor is going to tell you that running long distance isn’t good for your body and is just going to cause you pain and perhaps even physical damage in the future. You can choose to heed his advice or do what you want. It’s your life after all.
And then there’s your significant other to deal with who will either be very supportive of you or not. If they aren’t supportive, then you might have to make a choice between marathon training and the relationship. It’s a choice you shouldn’t take lightly since there might be other factors involved.
Weigh the pros and cons and decide what’s best for you.
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re either set on running a marathon or you’re just poking fun at the whole idea. If it’s the latter then that’s okay too. The world could always use more cynics.
Besides the obvious health benefits and feeling proud of yourself for accomplishing a goal, there are other tangible rewards:
The first is looking at how much money you’ve saved and thinking “I can’t believe I ran 26 miles instead of just driving to the store.” You’ll probably also be eating a better diet so your clothes will probably fit better and you will have more energy.
One more note before you begin your journey. Be sure to take lots of pictures along the way and after you finish. The whole point of this exercise is to accomplish a goal and have something to show for all your hard work.
Good luck! If you’re like most people, you’ll probably be more active in general. Instead of watching TV, you’ll get up and do something productive.
Another reward is that you now have a base to build upon. You can always improve your time or training methods. You could run a half-marathon after you complete your first marathon or even a 100 mile ultra-marathon if they appeal to you.
Return to the Table of Contents
Sources & references used in this article:
Interval training at VO2max: effects on aerobic performance and overtraining markers. by VL Billat, B Flechet, B Petit, G Muriaux… – Medicine and science …, 1999 – europepmc.org
‘Working out’identity: Distance runners and the management of disrupted identity by J Allen Collinson, J Hockey – Leisure studies, 2007 – Taylor & Francis
Habitus, Barriers and the [Ab] use of the Science of Interval Training in the 1950s by P David Howe – Sport in History, 2006 – Taylor & Francis
: what do we know, and what do we still need to know? by BD Levine – The Journal of physiology, 2008 – Wiley Online Library
Running to run: Embodiment, structure and agency amongst veteran elite runners by E Tulle – Sociology, 2007 – journals.sagepub.com
trail running, training, science, plant based, minimalism Menu by RT Running – rawtrailrunning.com