While I call it "the money set," the second set of our workout - where the longest repeats, tempo or acceleration work is focused - is of secondary importance to me. What's the most important is the first and the final twenty minutes of our Tuesday and Thursday evening track workouts. That's the time when I get to pry, subtly, into what the athlete has done in the previous two-to-five days, or what's in their immediate future.
Both Deena and Jim, my marathoners, enjoy jumping into the occasional road race as part of their training. In fact, they both did fairly well at a recent cross-country 5K event. I chuckled as Deena talked about her race; at a late point on the course she was running with a group and one or two suggested putting a surge in to catch a couple of runners just ahead. Deena said she smiled and let the pair (of guys) go on ahead:
"I was out there to enjoy myself, Coach. I had plenty left in me to push the pace but I wasn't in the mood."
...which to me seemed the perfect time to teach the ABC's of racing.
Run and race for long enough and it is certain the personal best performances will not only be smaller in time increments but also harder won. There are runners who choose to race on a near-weekly basis through the season. Most of them do it in the hope of improvement by the end of the season. Many will race every race the same way. Some may be fortunate enough to improve, but most will eventually be a runner most-frustrated.
When they finally describe what they do I have to bit my tongue and not refer them to the quote attributed to Albert Einstein. He might not have been a distance runner, but if he could figure out the theory of relativity then he certainly could figure out the definition of insanity.
Some races are relatively more important than others:
"C" races, to me, are those early-season "rust-busters" a runner uses to help determine fitness. (Jack Daniels, in his Running Formula, uses personal best race performances or time-trial sessions to determine training paces for long runs, easy running, threshold pace workouts, and interval pace work.) Nothing wrong, in my humble opinion, with running a 5K or 10K as part of or in place of a weekend run in the early season. "C" races are the events at which the runner should be able to shrug off a less-than-stellar effort, or smile and say "I'm on the right track" when it's all said and done.
As the runner gets into the middle of their training cycle; closer to the weeks of the season or the event which is their target, it's time to start plugging in the "B" race/races. The "B" races are used to simulate the effort desired for the target race, can be on a portion of the target event course, or resemble the terrain on which the runner intends to eventually race.
Naturally, the "A" race is that target race or races which the runner has circled in pen on the calendar months in advance. Everything in the training cycle, ideally, should lead up to the runner being their sharpest - four or five weeks if racing shorter distances, two or three for longer ones.
The recreational runner's racing schedule doesn't necessarily take an Einstein to plan. All they need to do is know their ABC's.