Race specific sessions

Training, September 01, 2018

The last 4-8 weeks before a race is where athletes need specific sessions to dial in the pace they hope to be able to handle. Doing these sessions too early in the programme can lead to poor progressions and a lack of joy.

Having focus in your training, and following a plan that blends in with your lifestyle is essential if you want to work towards racing goals in the short term. More importantly it then allows consistency to continue to build on fitness and strength. 

Very often athletes can undermine progress before an important race by training the wrong energy system in the weeks before the event. The final 4-8 weeks (depending on importance of the race) is important for dialing in the plan with sessions that ready the body and mind for the event. 

Lets unpack the term "specificity". All training when done correctly promotes "adaptation". Your system (body and mind) will adapt to the demands you place on it as long as you allow the required rest to allow absorption in the long term. As an example in the base phase as you progress your time running you will increase your cardiovascular efficiency (heart pumping blood to working muscles, and the mitochondria (aerobic power station) within the cells increase in number.  While all types of running will improve your running, and kettle-bell exercises will increase full body strength with better synchronicity (allowing improved form at the back end of a run), running at your specific PACE and over similar TERRAIN as the race day will produce better results.  Race specific sessions means meeting the demands of the race distance by applying the best possible workouts to get you ready for race day.

The last few weeks before a race should include several sessions running at or just faster than race pace with short rest periods in-between. This is in contrast to much faster efforts with larger rest periods earlier in the training programme (these short hill reps or speed play sessions are great for boosting VO2 max and improving form maintenance). Before embarking on the race specific sessions you have to have a great base to launch from. This is developed through some slow miles (I call it LSD - long slow distance work), body weight exercises, cross training (swimming, cycling), yoga, and some short sharp work to boost VO2 and get used to discomfort. All these components go into developing the platform to really get the most of the finishing touches with the race specific sessions.

The race specific phase will start from 4-8 weeks out depending on the importance of the race, your athletic history, and how the individual athlete has handled the base, and pre race specific phase. In the race specific phase by training more at the "race pace" and not doing as much long slow or short sharp then you can lose overall general running fitness as you get better at just one particular distance. 

Every distance has it's own special demands, and when planning the sessions in the final weeks it's crucial to progress to harder and more specific workouts. This is accomplished by making the intervals longer and/or the rest intervals shorter. For example for a marathon I sometimes use a 10km and 5km at race pace then a few weeks later this will become more challenging with 2 x 10km at race pace (the interval is the same at 5min EASY jog).

Examples of sessions

5km - Starting with 10 x 400m (if have access to a track) or 80-90sec at slightly faster than race pace with 100m EASY jog inbetween, then working up to 6 x 800m or 2:50-3:10min

10km - Starting at 6 x 1km at 10km pace with 60sec slow jog inbetween working up to 4 x 2km at 10km pace with 2min EASY jog inbetween.

Half Marathon - Starting with 2 x 5km at slightly faster (2-5sec per km) with 5min EASY jog inbetween, working up to 3 x 5km at race pace with 3min EASY inbetween. The half is a real test of you to clear lactate while running close or above your AT (anaerobic/lactate threshold).

Marathon - My favourite session for the marathon is 2 x 10km at a little quicker than race pace (6sec and up to 10sec (for experienced athletes) per km) with 7min EASY jog inbetween.  This session makes you run at your threshold for around 20km which helps with utilising fat as a fuel, gets you used to running on tired legs, and is a simulation of the stiff, cramping leg feeling when you start the 2nd 10km after the 7min rest.

Trail - Just getting time on feet in specific terrain with your race kit, and getting used to fueling. Sometimes I like to have a little tempo towards the end of these runs to show that you can always go a little faster :) Working up to a race I work on aspects that need to be improved. This depends on the individual athlete and the nature of the event. For example short steep climbs, foot - eye co-ordination work, Longer tempo climbs, rock jumping, and FULL body strength.

EVERFIT coach Brad at X-terra half marathon in 2016.