Ever been in a situation which might have made you uncomfortable, where you heard a person using a “four-letter-bomb” in nearly every sentence? Many coaches use four-letter words when working with athletes, but not necessarily the ones you reflexively think of. However, many runners become quite offended when a coach recommends the most offensive four-letter words – “Plan,” “Pace,” or “Rest.” Why is this so?
I think it’s because most adult, post-collegiate (recreational) runners really don’t want someone telling them exactly what to do. Many of them will avoid working with a coach for that very reason; they believe a coach will force them to stop thinking. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We would rather teach the individual runner to think for themselves. My goal is to put myself out of a “job;” to transform the athlete/coach relationship from dependent to interdependent.
The last post I wrote talked about the first of the three dirty little words, “Plan.” A written plan (which doesn’t necessarily have to be day-to-day in granularity) helps the runner to efficiently align the limited resources of time and energy toward the desired running-related goal. A runner who is able to map out and execute a realistic plan is a runner who will rarely be frustrated.
(Former) Emerald Coast Racing Team coach Dale Fox constantly reminded me that ‘running is a sport of PACE and PAtienCE.’ Effort and time are two of the many measures of a runner’s effectiveness. Runners who are able to sustain effort over the course of a single race may be rewarded with age-group or overall hardware, or a personal best, or at the least a satisfying race. Runners who are able to sustain effort over the course of several years’ worth of racing are rewarded with reputation and (in many cases) the adulation of their peers.
A case in point would have to be my friend Ruben Dias. Ruben was a running contemporary of my college coach; he trained with and raced against many of the great American runners of the mid-1970s. Aging has moved Ruben a few strides back in the pack in the past decades; a particularly bad Fourth of July race several years ago put him in the hospital for a few days and kept him off the roads for a year. However, he took the time to completely recover, and now has returned not only to the local running scene, but scored overall hardware at a half-marathon in Kansas City some weeks ago.
We need to know when and how long to run, but also how hard. We train to improve the body’s ability to transport blood and oxygen, to increase the ability of running muscles to effectively use the oxygen available, to lower the energy demanded by running, and to improve our running speed. Dr. Jack Daniels’ Training Formula book listed ideal training paces, which range from “very easy” to paces which replicate the desired pace for a target event. In between that level of “very easy” to “target race pace” (which is not “all out” running) there are training paces which align at 85 percent, 90 percent, and just above 95 percent of maximum heart rate. Each pace has a different benefit, like raising the threshold at which blood lactate is used to fuel muscles, improving running speed at maximum oxygen consumption, and improving running mechanics. To go faster or slower than the recommended range means you won’t receive the maximum benefit from that level of effort.
So, it is not only important to know how much running you are going to do, but how hard you’re going to run and if/when you’re going to train different energy systems. As the entry-level runner develops the running habit, they will become faster because they become comfortable with running. After a time, however, it’s time to think about what it’s going to take to learn to run faster. That eventually comes with the proper use of speed work – the right pace, for the right period of time, at the right time. Just like there is the right time to plant, the right time to water, to weed, and to care for the plant, and eventually the right time to harvest what has grown…there are times of the running year when it’s good to run more slowly and time when it’s good to run a little harder. Even the running week has good and bad days, and periods of time where the body needs to just plain recover. I’ll save that for the next post when I talk about rest.