Sharpening: Race Preparation for the Spring Racing Season

Coach Mike Broderick

If you have been following the periodized training plan which we discussed in an earlier article, your running since the beginning of the year has likely been mostly easy aerobic miles with an emphasis on rebuilding your aerobic base and increasing your total mileage and the length of your long runs. As we begin the transition into the spring racing season, we move into the sharpening, or "race preparation" phase of training. The sharpening period has two principal functions in the season training plan. First, it provides time for the runner to adapt to his or her base mileage buildup. Second, it is the time to incorporate race specific training to improve performance in the goal event(s). Adaptations take time, so it’s a good idea to allow from 6 to 10 weeks for your sharpening period to allow these adaptations to occur.

The goals for this period of training include improved running efficiency and adaptation to race specific intensity, duration, terrain and environment using simulation of race conditions. This is the time that you develop confidence and pace judgment. In this phase you should maintain or reduce your weekly mileage from its basebuilding peak while adding some higher intensity running, or "speedwork" to your schedule. You might start by replacing your longest mid week run with a speed workout. Be sure to follow a "hard/easy" schedule where you always follow a harder or longer workout with an easier workout or a rest day. Speedwork comes in many "flavors", but for most race distances from 5K to the marathon, your most effective type of speedwork will probably be intervals or continuous pace runs at your projected race pace. These runs will most effectively train your body to function efficiently at that pace. Some good rules of thumb to live by with these pace runs are to keep the total volume (mileage) lower the faster the pace, and to keep the length of any continuous pace run shorter at the faster paces. So-for example, try to limit your total "speed miles" in any one workout at 5K race pace to about 3 miles maximum (e.g. 6 X 800 meters or 5 X 1000 meters) with an upper limit of about 1600-2000 meters in any single long interval. Runs at 10 mile to half marathon race pace could total 5-6 miles broken down in intervals of 800 meters to 2 miles (3200 meters). Be sure to allow some recovery time in between the intervals to reduce the overall stress of the workout and to allow you to run the hard parts at a strong even effort. Typical recovery times between intervals range from 50% to 100% of the time or distance of the hard interval for the shorter faster paced runs with shorter recoveries for the longer and slower paced runs.

If you do start adding speedwork to your program for race preparation, be sure to stay alert for signs that you are working too hard, are not adapting, or are overtraining. These include not being able to maintain the pace for your hard intervals from the first to the last, getting weaker or slower instead of stronger and faster, continuous feelings of fatigue, grouchiness, difficulty sleeping, decreased appetite and lingering illness. If you notice any of these back off your speedwork and reduce your training until the symptoms disappear. You can help to avoid these problems by gradually incorporating speedwork into your schedule, starting at moderate intensities and volumes and building over the sharpening period, allowing sufficient recovery between workouts and following a sound nutrition program to keep adequately fueled.

Spring really is around the corner, and adding a bit of well structured speedwork to your running schedule will help you to shake off the winter doldrums and improve your spring racing times.

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