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Why Are Workout And Race Times Different?

  • By Jeff Gaudette
  • Published Oct. 31, 2013
There is a lot of science behind improving your run times. Photo: www.shutterstock.com


There’s a scientific explanation as to why the vast improvement in your workout times don’t always show on race day.

Have you ever had a perfect training cycle and made breakthroughs in all your most important workouts, only to find that your workout times don’t seem to translate to similar performances on race day?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone and there is an answer — even if you don’t want to hear it.

In one of my previous articles, I explained how long it will take you to reap the benefits of a given workout in the short term. However, by understanding how the long-term process of training works, we can shed a little light on why runners can sometimes work out faster than they can race, especially in the marathon.

In non-scientific terms, I call this phenomenon the “backlog” of fitness. Think of it like investing — you’re banking fitness and miles, but you can’t withdraw them yet because the investment hasn’t matured.

Physiologically, this all relates to the development and lifecycle of mitochondria (the aerobic powerhouse that supplies our muscles with energy). By examining how mitochondria contribute to your racing performance, and analyzing how they are developed, you’ll get a clear understanding of how this “backlog” of fitness works and why it pays to keep training year after year. For our purposes here, we’ll keep the explanations simple and easy to understand.

First, we’ll take a look at the role of mitochondria and how they are developed. Second, we’ll examine how the density and volume of mitochondria play a role in both your short- and long-term development. Finally, we’ll put it all together for you so you can appreciate how your body adapts to a workload and performance improves after a training segment. By the end of this article, you’ll have a very clear understanding how micro and macro cycles work in regards to your aerobic progression.

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Jeff Gaudette

Jeff Gaudette

Jeff has been running for 13 years, at all levels of the sport. He was a two time Division-I All-American in Cross Country while at Brown University and competed professionally for 4 years after college for the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. Jeff's writing has been featured in Running Times magazine, Endurance Magazine, as well as numerous local magazine fitness columns.

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