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Training — Speed workouts to Boost 10KM and Half-Marathon Performance

Coach Dean Hebert

Coach Dean Hebert

A reader submitted this conundrum:

I have a question about how to train in regard to the somewhat skewed endurance profile I have. I’m a 2:54:00 marathoner, 1:22:00 half, 38:22 10k and 18:16 5k. I am extremely comfortable at threshold pace and paces slightly slower. But I suffer immensely at fast paces of 3k-8k pace. I have just recently started the FIRST program to try to clear 1.20 in the half. I’m am not able to even keep the pace for a 19:00 5k runner for the VO2 session (3′:28/k), but I am on paces for a 17:30 runner on the mid-tempo (3:45/k;5k) and long-tempo (4:01/k;15-20k) sessions.

How should I train in order to get faster for the 10k and half-marathon when I suffer so much trying to do the VO2 work (ed: highest speed intervals). What would be your expert advice? Should I gradually increase the speed of my VO2 workouts? For me, my 5k speed almost equals my VO2 speed, but I can run for an hour at 4:00/k pace without too much difficulty. Sigh!

Note: without seeing all of the runner’s workouts it is difficult to truly analyze where there might be a breakdown in their training. The following is our best assesment based on the information submitted.

You are not alone in dealing with this situation. I have seen this type of time pattern before.

Now let’s admit right off that not all runners are created equal. The fact is that some runners will be better at longer slower races and some will be better at the mile or 5k. Though proper training will greatly influence this the fact will remain that some runners will never fit the formulas to predict race results. Remember, those formulas (yes, ALL of them) are based off of population studies. If you remember stats at all, a population has a full spectrum of participants and the formulas end up a blend of everyone including the outliers. I say all this to set the stage that you cannot blindly follow formulas for “expected” performances at various distances. This is where a good coach can both optimize your potential as well as point you in the direction of your “best” events.

This is not to say that you cannot get better at your weaker or slower distances. With proper training that is tailored to your strengths and weaknesses you indeed can improve.

I observe several things about your pacing. I do not know the program you are following but the terminology is unusual (mid tempo and long tempo). Tempo should be between 10k-15k pace. For you that is about the 3:52-4:00/k; absolutely no slower. The bulk of your quality repeats on a track should be at GOAL 5k pace. For you I would recommend 3:30/k. The workouts at 3:45/k are what I call garbage miles. It’s not that they are useless or “bad” workouts. It is that they aren’t fast enough or slow enough to be doing what they are supposed to be doing. Trash them.

My approach to “fix” the overall issue might be quite different than others. Some good research has indicated that if we can get your maximum speed faster it will drag ALL longer (and slower paced) paces along with it – upward. This is because we run all longer distances at a percentage of our fastest speed. If you run a marathon at 60% of your maximum speed then; when your maximum speed is improved that same 60% will equate to a faster pace.

The second issue is most likely that you do not run sufficient miles at the quality paces. You should be running 20-25% of your total mileage at quality paces.

Here are some workouts that should fall into this 20-25% of your weekly mileage to increase your speed over time:

— The fix #1: The most common pace used in “quality” speed work for distance runners is about 5k pace. In your case along with that I would infuse higher quality repeats on the track. Mile paced repeats with slightly longer rest intervals are good. Finish workouts with a timed 400.

— The fix #2: Run progressively more repeats with progressively shorter recoveries at 5k pace. Start with 12×400 and move to 20×400. Move from 1:00 rest to :30 rest between reps. This raises your total mileage at 5k pace while gradually moving towards making it more race-like with short rests.

— The fix #3: “Superset” repeats are great. The combinations are endless but here is an example. Run 1:00 at just under all out then jog for 2:00 and repeat. Start with 6 reps and build to 12-14.

— The fix #4: “Lacate stackers” are magical killer workouts. An example would be to run 200 meters at just under all out (yes – you’re flying) then proceed to 400 meters at about mile pace then proceed to the next 800 meters at 5k goal pace. This is a 1400 meter rep that forces your body to run fast with an overload of lactate from the fast start.

— The fix #5: Perform a 1600-2000 meter time trial every 2-4 weeks as part of your program. One RACED mile has as much physiological benefits as just going for an easy 10k run! Better yet, it trains you neuro-muscularly to run faster.

— The fix #6: Perform time trials periodically at all the shorter distances: 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000. And stack them! Do one. Then jog easy and walk for 10-15 minutes and repeat it. Grow to a third or fourth. Though your times will get a bit slower with each subsequent effort, running fast while greatly fatigued is magic for conditioning.

So, to sum it up: We do have genetic predispositions. We can’t change those. We can optimize what we have. We get faster by running faster.

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona, USA
Contributing Editor, Running Advice and News


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  1. 1. What do you do if the online time projections don’t work for you? « The Running World According to Dean February 19th, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    […] on 19 February 2009 by Dean Hebert A wonderful conundrum is posed by a runner that I address on Coach Joe’s blog. Ever wonder why you are disproportionately faster (or slower) at some distance than all those […]

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