Let’s imagine for a minute that you’ve set the goal of breaking 50 minutes for a 10k. Let’s say you’ve sat down, picked a local race, and set your sights firmly on realizing that goal: ten consecutive, nonstop five-minute kilometers. You know it’s going to take discipline, you know it’s going to take a plan, and you know it’s going to take training.
And so you tell your coach to lay it on you: “Train me to run those k’s!”
You open up Training Peaks and quickly scan through the weeks ahead. You see a pattern: regular speed work, some hill sessions, and a long run. Each week looks pretty straightforward, and you feel you can commit to the mileage. So you dive in.
At first the speed sessions are tough: hitting kilometer repeats in 5:15 takes some work, but you’re doing it. You can notch some 400 meter efforts as fast as 5:05 pace, and your 800s are in the range of 5:08-5:10 pace. Week after week you hit the repeats, and you start to feel very comfortable with your ability to run 5:05 pace, but you have not yet consistently run 5:00 pace or faster for any distance. You are starting to wonder when your coach is going to tell you that you need to dive under that 5-minute barrier; when you are going to push the limits and get faster.
But before you know it, the race is upon you and you realize that over the past several weeks you have only ever run faster than 5 minute pace once, and you did it for only about 2 miles. You wonder if you have trained the body properly to reach your goal; you wonder if you’re ready. You figure it’s too late to change anything, so you had better just hope for the best, jump in with two feet and see how the body handles the 5-min kilometer pace.
Midway through the hope-and-run plan, you find yourself cramping in the hamstrings, slowing dramatically, stitching up wildly, and wishing the finish line were near. You stabilize somewhere around 5:10 pace and you force yourself across the line—grateful to be there, but dejected and let down.
My guess is that every reader is thinking that this is a preposterous plan, and that training for a 10km in this manner would be something he or she would never do. Not ever. And most athletes would have to question at some point or another why the coach never prescribed running intervals at or below goal race pace. Or why did we hope that we’d magically perform better on race day without the proper practice and preparation.
Yet my guess is that many readers—many of us athletes and coaches—have made this very same mistake when it comes to race day fueling.
Exactly the same as the scenario above, our bodies need practice with race fueling. But too often we overlook the importance of practicing our race day fueling. We dash out the door for a quick hour run without grabbing a gel or water bottle. We head out for a long bike ride and “forget” to drink anything until the final 30 minutes when we realize we have not had a sip.
Or we approach a key session with the intention of consuming race-appropriate calories, only to find ourselves perched up at the 7 Eleven scarfing down potato chips and coca-cola, or maybe donuts and chocolate milk because “we heard Mirinda Carfrae does that.”
Yet we somehow find ourselves scratching our heads and wondering what went wrong when we end up with GI distress midway through the IRONMAN marathon; or vomiting the contents of our stomach halfway through the bike ride. Or even better, we defy logic by following a perfectly crafted fueling plan—down to the calorie—based on the advice of a coach or training partner or magazine article, without trying it in training. Repeatedly.
Just as the body needs to experience race pace—and paces that are faster than race pace—in order to handle the efforts we expect of it on race day, the body needs very specific practice with the fueling methods we plan to utilize on race day. And just as we might push the pace to 4:40 or 4:45 per kilometer in order to achieve that 50-minute 10k, we can also benefit in training from pushing the caloric intake a bit beyond what our exact needs will be on race day.
In a future blog, I will address the many ways to implement this into your daily and weekly training, but first and foremost, I will reiterate the importance of practicing your fueling plan on a regular basis. Next time you are heading out for a run and find yourself thinking “it’s only an hour run,” I challenge you to grab a gel and take it halfway through, even if you don’t feel like you’ll need it.
There’s no time like the present to begin eliminating the “hope-and-run” strategy from your game plan.