Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Steady State Runs

Fall is around the corner and racing season is almost in full swing. My major races for the season:

September 16: Philly Half
October 21: Army 10 Miler
November 11: Veterans Day 10k
December 8: XC Clubs (6k)

The season builds backwards, from longer races first to shorter races later. For me, this means easing off marathon type workouts and into faster, shorter stuff. But training for a half first means I don’t need to ignore my favorite aspects of marathon training just yet.

I like long, slow runs, but they are just that: LONG. If you’re not pushing the pace, they literally drag on for hours. You can’t (and shouldn’t) push the pace on every long run. There are both physiological and psychological benefits to running at a comfortable pace for a long time. But every few weeks I do think it’s nice to insert some faster miles to add a new training stimulus and break up the monotony.

For the marathon, the best way to do this is the marathon pace run. I put a lot of emphasis on these workouts and dread them beforehand (they are not easy!) but I’m all the better for it. If they go well, it breeds confidence. If they go poorly, it gives me a kick in the butt when I need it. And of course, it makes the next long, slow run seem that much more enjoyable.

Naturally, I wondered how I could adjust the workout to translate to the half. Greg McMillan describes the benefits of what he calls steady state runs, which are essentially the same thing only shorter. Whereas for marathon pace runs I generally start with 8 miles at MP and progress to 14, for steady state runs I started at 4 and will stop at 8. Again, the miles are nestled into the latter half of the long run for the week, providing a nice break from long and slow. The idea, of course, is to run them close to marathon pace, or somewhere between easy and tempo effort.

As per usual, my first attempt wasn’t great. But on my second I got faster, and more importantly, felt a lot better. (My third and final one will come this weekend, before a well deserved vacation.) Another difference from marathon training is to adjust the emphasis placed on these runs. Unlike for the marathon, these aren’t the most race specific workouts, so there’s no sense in beating myself up over them. (The bread and butter of half training is the tempo run.) Steady state runs help build confidence that you can maintain a good pace even after many miles, and for me it helps to know that, despite some training changes, I’m not losing too much in the endurance department. Also, it helps when the long run doesn’t take quite as long.

Dream big,

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