In Shape for What?

Often you can overhear comments from runners about not being in shape. One of the contexts I hear it which is interesting is when someone drops down or moves up in training or racing distance.

It begs the question: Who is in better shape a miler a 5K specialist or the marathoner?

The answer is perhaps none and perhaps any of them. The distance someone races or specializes in is not an indicator of their conditioning. A marathoner is not inherently in better shape because they can run farther nor is the miler in better shape because they can run faster.

However, let’s assume that all have raced at their best in their given distances. They would each be considered in excellent condition. None of them have a leg up (pun intended) on the others in being “in shape.”

Now, continue that line of assumption. All are in shape. Now we drop the marathoner down to race the mile and do mile-type fast workouts. We also move the 5K guy/gal and miler up to long runs in preparation for a marathon.

The results are interesting and the refrain that often come from all three of our runners will be very similar – “I’m just not in shape” (…for this). Comments related to this might be “this seems so fast I’m not in shape to run this fast” or “it is too far for me I’m not in shape yet.”  I’ve heard this all before many times. The key to these statements in making them more accurate of course is that they aren’t ready for that particular type of running. They are not out of shape per se but indeed are out of shape for that particular type of effort.

Everyone by now knows or has heard of training specificity. You train at what you want to be good at. You do not train at bicycling in order to be a good runner and vice versa. But we need to expand on that. You also do not train like a miler in order to run good marathons or vice versa. It is not specific to your racing goal. So, a miler has trained to be very fast over relatively very short races (and workouts). And the marathoner has trained at much more modest paces over far greater distances. They are indeed both in great shape.

So, during transition periods in your training such as dropping down in track repeat distances while upping the pace or doing trail running or moving to longer long runs; you will need to allow yourself to “get in shape” for that specific effort and intensity. But, do not mistake that for being “out of shape” or having “lost conditioning.” After a few weeks the efforts become more manageable.

By the way, a smart runner will keep their hand in a little bit of all workouts along the way – fast, long, hilly – so they don’t completely lose that specific ability. It does NOT take much to maintain speed or endurance. You do NOT have to be a miler doing marathon training in order to remain quite versatile in racing. The prime example of this is for our runners who participate in a yearlong running series which includes every distance you can imagine in all kinds of terrain and conditions. It is not unusual – with the right training program – to set many PRs along the way in a wide variety of distances.

So, for optimal flexibility in your ability to race – keep a wide variety of training in your program.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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3 Responses to In Shape for What?

  1. Chris Barber says:

    Keeping a wide base in your training program also helps keep you motivated. When training for longer distance races I like to run other races such as 5Ks, 10Ks, and trail races, which keeps me motivated and I often find I run faster than I would if I hadn’t been training for anything specifically at all. Although changing up your training is good for your body, the best training does are those that are molded to fit your specific distance. We had a saying in the Army, “Train as you fight.” Meaning train in the same conditions you will be running on race day.

  2. Justine says:

    I do a good job of varying my training for all distances, except marathon training. As the mileage goes up, my enthusiasm starts to feel all used up for my long runs.

    Between recovering and running long I think I really should go to the track once a week…but I don’t. I would never skip a long run, mind you, but my motivation, determination and general feeling of caring are not on board when it comes to a track work out. Sorta like flossing every night, I know iIshould do it, I know i would benefit from it and yet, I don’t. So far. Things change!

  3. Dean Hebert says:

    The good news is that you have plenty of company. The bad news… get out there and do it!!!

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