Be Ready to Race in 6 Weeks

We had such a long winter that I didn't forget to prepare for racing season as much as I procrastinated. I've had some years where I totally rocked the winter running, keeping my mileage up to 40-50 miles a week and doing regular strength workouts. I was in shape in time for the Shamrock Shuffle 8K, one of the larger races in the country that kicks off the racing season for many in late March. This year is a different story. My mileage was dismally low through March as we continued to get pounded with snowstorms. In my experience, I need a base of at least 6 weeks of consistent mileage of 30 miles a week to be able to take on more challenges in faster training and racing. Taking on too much too quickly often resulted in my getting injured.

For me an ideal training plan includes a base phase of 6-10 weeks of endurance build-up, 6 weeks of strength training, and 4 weeks of sharpening. I've achieved my best results that way, but sometimes we have to compromise our plans to adjust to life's realities. In some cases, bad weather, sickness and injuries can interrupt training so we're not where we'd like to be, yet would still like to do some races and not embarrass ourselves. But some of the most popular Spring road races take place within the next 4-6 weeks. I have a condensed training plan that has worked well for me.

It essentially involves a single extended sharpening phase, leaving out the tempo runs, hills and fartleks I normally do in the strength phase. As always with speed training, there is risk of injury. But if you listen to your body and are able to get through it, the rewards can be some good race performances. I don't recommend it if you do not have at least 6 good weeks of base endurance, are injury prone or are currently feeling some pre-injury warning signs of sore achilles tendons, calves, shins or hamstrings. While I did run the mileage I wanted 6 of the last 8 weeks, it wasn't as consistent as I'd like, and I'm experiencing a tight right calf, so I'm not able to start doing intervals yet. I am registered for my first race this Saturday called the Bark in the Park, which benefits the Anti-Cruelty Society. I'm going to have to refrain from pushing too hard to make sure my calf stays healthy, use it as a training run and shoot for better performances in early June. 

Keep in mind a shortened plan is a short cut, which is not the best base for long term improvement. I'll talk more about Arthur Lydiard-based training theories in another post. But if you want to improve your speed in the short term, this is the most effective way I know of.

For those of you ready to play with fire and take the plunge, here's the basics. Two interval sessions a week, two recovery days (one day off and 3-4 miles easy the other), one medium distance, one medium-long run. If you are a beginning racer and/or are focusing on a 5K, shorten the mileage and sessions as needed. Advanced runners and 1/2 marathoners can use their judgement to add mileage.

Pace Intervals (PI): Intervals at your goal 10K race pace. Always warm up at least a mile with some dynamic stretches (such as high knees, butt kicks, walking lunges). For your first workout try 2x1200 (3:00) -- that means a 3:00 jog rest in between, 2x800 (2:00), 4x400 (1:00), then 6x100 strides (S), where you gradually accelerate to about 90 percent of all-out effort, hold for 5 seconds then smoothly decelerate, with full recovery in between.

Speed Intervals (SI): Around 6-8% faster than your race pace. For 8-minute pace for example, 400 at 1:53, 800 at 3:45, 1200 at 5:38. Recovery is jogging half the interval distance. Week 1: 2x800, 4x400, 4x200, 4x100 S. 7-minute pace, 200 at :49, 400 at 1:39, 1200 at 4:53. 6-minute pace, 200 at :41, 400 at 1:22, 800 at 2:44, 1200 at 4:08.

Lactate Sessions (LS): This involves running nearly as fast as you can for 1 minute, followed by 3-4 minute recovery jog. Depending on your fitness, you'll hit that lactic wall at around 30-40 seconds, and get acquainted with that unique discomfort of lactic acid burn!

Week 1: PI - 2x1200, 2x800, 4x400, 6xS | 4-6 miles | SI - 2x800, 4x400, 4x200, 4xS | 3-4 easy or rest | 4-6 miles, 6xS | 8-10 | Rest!
Week 2: PI - 1x1 mile, 2x800, 2x400, 6xS | 4-6 | SI - 4x200, 4 LS, 4x100 | 3-4 easy or Rest | 5-7, 6xS | 8-10 | Rest
Week 3: PI - 1x1 mile, 1x1200, 1x800, 2x400, 6xS | 4-6 | SI - 4x200 | 3-4 easy or Rest | 5-7 | 9-11 | Rest
Week 4: SI - 1x1200, 2x800, 2x400, 1x200, 6xS | 4-6 | 5-7 LS, 6xS | 3-4 easy or Rest | 5-7, 6xS | 9-11 | Rest
Week 5: SI - 2x400, 1x800, 1x200, 1x800, 6xS | 4-6 | 6-8 | 3-4 or Rest | 5-7, 6xS | 10-12 | Rest
Week 6: SI - 1x1200, 1x800, 2x400, 4xS | 3-4 or Rest | SI - 4x200, 4xS, 4x200, 4xS | Rest | 3 easy, 3xS | Race!

Again, listen to your body and cut a workout short if you experience unusual pain. Advanced runners may need more of a challenge and replace the Pace Intervals with Speed Intervals, and add extra intervals. Good luck! What are some other workouts that have helped you improve your race times?

Tony has been a runner for over three decades, competing in cross country and track in high school and college, and road races for various clubs. He's served as team captain for several Corporate Challenge teams at YMCA of the USA, and has informally coached many friends over the years.

Tags: Y, YMCA, Run, Running, Jog, fitness, training, race preparation, intervals, lactate session

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