HIT YOUR MARKS
Friday, 25 March 2011
From the April issue of Runner’s World
Twenty-five x 400 at 10,000-metre race pace. That was my benchmark workout two weeks out from nationals in 1985. At first, I didn’t think it sounded too tough, since each repeat was followed by 30 seconds recovery. But after 16 reps, I wondered, What use is the recovery? It wasn’t lowering my heart rate. By 20 reps, I was sure coach had missed a lap, and in the final few I dug down to simulate the finish of a race and crossed the line on rubbery legs. The laurel wreath for my effort was a pat on the back – and the knowledge that I was ready to run my best.
A benchmark workout serves as both a conditioning tool and a predictive session. Running at such speed too frequently or for too long can do more harm than good as athletes become overtrained and overtired. During crucial championship seasons, my own coach would typically schedule one of these workouts about two weeks before nationals or a PB attempt to gauge my fitness and build my confidence. Here’s how and when to do them – no matter what your target distance.
GOAL RACE - Half-Marathon
10 to 15 x 1000 metres at race pace with 60 seconds recovery. I learned this workout from New York City Marathon champion German Silva in the rarefied air of Toluca, Mexico. Perform it two weeks out from your race. I would suggest doing no more than 12 repeats, unless you’re planning on breaking 60 minutes for the half. Bonus points for completing it on a gravel track at 10,000 feet of elevation.
GOAL RACE - 10K
25 x 400 metres at race pace with 30 seconds recovery. Break this beast up in your head as five sets of five, and if you’re prone to injury, change direction on the track every set. I loved and hated this workout. I generally ran it only once a season. Had I run it more often, it would’ve chewed me up, spit me out, and left me too tired to compete. It was the bludgeoning hammer that forged my final competitive edge. I looked forward to it because when it was over, I knew I was prepared to successfully tackle the upcoming race.
GOAL RACE - 5K
3 to 4 x 1 kilometre at race pace with 3:30 to 4:00 recovery. This workout can be done closer to race day than the others, as little as 10 days out. Again, the magic of this and all the sessions mentioned here comes in the specific pacing: While kilometre repeats at 10,000-metre pace are an almost weekly staple, when speed is ratcheted down to 5K pace, it goes from bread-and-butter workout to benchmark workout.