Incorporating Race-Specific Workouts Into Training

For half-marathoners and marathoners, longer repeats in the range of 3 to 6 miles are crucial to race-day success. Photo: John Segesta

Examples Of Race-Specific Workouts

Each distance has its own physiological demands, but designing a race-specific phase of training has two universal principles:

1. You must progress to harder and more specific workouts week-to-week, just like you do in a normal training cycle. Your first-race specific workout should include more rest between intervals or be slightly shorter than your final workout. The goal should be to make progress toward running goal race pace with as little rest as possible in your final hard workout.

2. You can manipulate two variables when progressing your workouts: the length of the intervals and the amount of rest you take between them. So, the pace of each race-specific workout remains the same, but the rest gets shorter, the interval distance gets longer, or both. For example, your first race-specific 5K workout might be 5 x 1K at goal race pace with 90 seconds rest between intervals, while your final workout six weeks later might be 3 x 1 mile at 5K pace with 45 seconds rest between intervals.

Here are sample race-specific workouts for four of the most commonly run distances, along with an explanation of what is being targeted physiologically.

Specific workouts for 5K

In a 5K-specific training phase, your goal should be to improve your speed endurance – your ability to maintain a fast 5K pace for the entire race. You’re more than capable of running much faster than your current 5K pace for one mile already, so you need to work on holding race pace for 3.1 miles. My favorite starting workout is:

12 x 300 meters at 5K pace with 100 meter jog rest in 30-35 seconds (i.e. “jog” 100 meters in 30-35 seconds as your “rest”).

Once you get comfortable with this workout, you can progress to 12 to 16 x 400 or 600 meters at 5K pace with a 100m jog rest between intervals.

Specific workouts for 10K

The 10K is similar to the 5K in that you need to hold a fast pace for a relatively short period of time. However, the pace for 10K is slower than 5K, but you have to hold it for twice as long. Therefore, 10K specific workouts require longer intervals. Here are two of my favorite:

5 x 1 mile at 10K pace with 45 seconds slow jog rest, hammer 1 more 1-mile interval (to make 6 total miles) as fast as you can.

3 x 2 miles at 10K pace with 2 minutes jog rest between intervals.

Specific workouts for half marathon

The half marathon is a test of your ability to quickly clear lactate while running at a pace that is just above comfortable. Moreover, you need to train your legs to endure running hard for 13.1 miles. Here is my favorite specific half-marathon workout:

3 x 3 miles at half-marathon pace with an easy 800-meter jog rest between intervals. This is a very difficult session, so you can start with a slow 1-mile jog or reduce the intervals to 3 x 2 miles.

Specific workouts for marathon

Specific marathon workouts get a little tricky because it’s impossible to simulate the distance and intensity of the marathon in one run without totally ruining yourself. The marathon requires you to be very efficient at burning fat as a fuel source to conserve carbohydrates while running fast on very tired legs.

Therefore, marathon-specific workouts are often a combination of workouts throughout a week that build up fatigue and require you to run with low glycogen levels rather than one long, specific workout.

While hard long runs are certainly an important part of marathon training, my favorite workout is 2 x 6 miles, which was made famous by runners at the Brooks-Hansons Olympic Development Project:

1 mile warmup, 2 x 6 miles @ 10-20 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace with 10 minutes rest between intervals, 1 mile cooldown

The purpose of this workout is to run at your threshold pace for a total of 12 miles, which will help you: (1) increase your ability to burn fat as a fuel source when running at marathon pace; (2) practice running on tired legs; and (3) simulate the “dead leg” feeling many marathoners experience after 18 miles. Likewise, the goal of the 10 minute rest is to get your legs stiff, stagnant and uncomfortable to simulate how your legs will feel during the latter stages of the marathon.

The next time you’re building your training plan, think about the specific demands of the race you’re targeting and schedule one, progressive race-specific workout each of the last 4-6 weeks of the training plan.

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