Ok, so you really want to improve your running times. You don’t have a track close by for track workouts. You don’t care to push yourself on the roads by yourself. You do love the t-shirts you get at races. What’s a runner to do?
The answer is simple and effective. Race yourself into better shape.
Years ago when Long Slow Distance (LSD) was in vogue as a training approach, some runners had exceptional results though they never did “speed work”. Perhaps you’ve even heard runners chat about getting in better shape as the race season goes on; often without speed work. If you look closely at their training schedules, you often see weekly races. Sometimes they even threw in a couple races in the same week or weekend. It was a fun diversion from plodding along doing mindless miles. And of course they didn’t regard many as true “races” since they weren’t the focus of the season. They were “running through” them. It was no miracle that they started to get faster as the race weeks progressed. They however were falsely laying claim to their prodigious running miles as the cause. They were doing the equivalent of an extremely high quality training run (or two) each week – they raced. And this is what they were doing right!
Even today coaches advocate if you race during a week, it will generally replace a speed workout for that week.
There are some things to keep in mind if you use this approach.
- Despite not entering each race to set a personal record, you must have in mind to push each race to your current full potential. Just running comfortably hard will not suffice.
- Try different tactics – go out very fast, run extreme negative splits (faster seond halves of the race).
- Enter a wide varitey of race distances.
- 5k are good but shorter are ideal. Find that low-key track meet and enter a couple events like the 800, mile (1500/1600) and 2-mile (3000/3200) then finish off by being part of a 4×400 relay team.
- 10k are ok for marathoners; but anything longer is far too slow to make a “quality” difference.
- Race weekly or at least every other week through the season.
- Run relay-type races or multiple stage races which force you to give multiple race-hard efforts within the day or weekend.
- Create a budget for entering your races. (For the price of some of the races out there you would be better off hiring a coach with the money!)
Understand that there are limitations on the results you will get with this approach. It will be exceedingly difficult that you will be able to peak at the right time or run your personal record at that one “special” race.
Save your t-shirts for a quilt.