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.