Start Strong, Finish Fast
Preparing for endurance events requires a great deal of time and effort. Typically, athletes use long slow distance (LSD) training in an effort to boost their aerobic system as much as possible before a race. There is no real substitute for improving the aerobic system than LSD training, and a strong aerobic fitness will directly translate to better times on the course.
However, this technique will only take you so far. At a certain point, the level of competition will require more than just a crap-ton of miles on the legs. Reaching the next level of competitiveness means adding more to your training to help you not only cover the distance, but also beat the competition.
Start in front and stay in front. [Photo courtesy of Sam Winston]
Fill Your Training Gaps
Races are won by your ability to push beyond the limits of your competitors and maintain it for longer. Achieving this will make you the fastest kid on the block. However, you will have gaps in your performance if all you do is train aerobically. The remedy to avoid this adverse outcome is to teach your body to start strong and finish fast.
As a sprinter by nature, I learned from personal experience the advantages of having a strong base of speed work. No race is completely flat and being able to accelerate up hills to put distance between you and the other runners comes from a well-developed ability to produce speed and power. Training to develop speed and power should be an integral part to any endurance training regimen.
Training for speed and power concurrently with endurance needs to be properly approached to be successful. Your number one training priority is endurance and conditioning, and the elements added for speed and power are supplementary. These workouts are not intended to turn you into a competitive sprinter, but they will help you create an ability to accelerate faster, climb more efficiently, create distance upon passing, and out-kick in a foot race down the home stretch. All of these aspects of a long distance race are present and important, don’t let them fall behind.
Interval training is an essential tool to add to your workload every week. Intervals come in a variety of forms and when done correctly, add the experience of running faster than race pace over the same competition distance. With a slight recovery between intervals, the body is trained mechanically and neurologically to produce higher velocities over longer distances.
The key to getting the most out of your interval workouts is to start strong. The first interval should be as difficult as the last. These intervals are designed to help you get off the start line in front, or close to it. When your initial acceleration at the beginning of the race is superior and you’re placed in a better position from the front, it’s easier to maintain than it is to chase, both biomechanically and energetically.
Here are a few interval workouts to add to your training:
- 30/40’s: 200m intervals done consecutively beginning with the first interval at 30 seconds, then followed by the “recovery” interval at 40 seconds. Repeat for the desired distance.
- Repeat 4’s: A staple to interval training for runners. 400m run at 5% lower than race pace, then an easy jog for 400m. Repeat for desired distance. This can be modified by reducing the recovery interval to 200m.
- Ladders: Option 1 - Start at 100m and increase the distance by 100m every interval. Maintain a 1:1 work-rest ratio. Option 2 – start at 800m and decrease distance by 100m every interval, maintain a 1:1 work-rest ratio. There are a lot of ways to vary this form, but the idea is to have higher intensity at shorter distances and opposite for longer intervals while climbing or descending the ladder.
Another important aspect to long distance racing is being able to out-kick the guy in front of you as you approach the finish. One fatal habit is immediately beginning a cool-down at the end of a long aerobic-based run. This can create a subconscious habit of finishing the last part of the race slow. When the home stretch calls for a footrace, you cannot expect to overcome the other runners without an ability to find that extra gear when exhausted.
The most effective way to introduce this aspect to your training is to end each practice with fast strides from 100-150m. Three or four are sufficient and fulfill the purpose of awakening the fast-twitch muscles to get them accustomed to firing when the system is taxed. Finishing long runs with these strides teaches the body how to use energy and create more intense forces muscularly. When the body has used all of its energy stores after 2 or 3 hours of constant effort, winning a sprint finish is unlikely if you are not conditioned to accelerate under these conditions.
Train to Win
Competing in the endurance arena requires more than a solid cardiovascular system. Add interval training twice a week and practice fast strides after every long run. Being able to start strong and to finish fast will not only translate into faster times on the course, but also a greater ability to compete and win the one-on-one battles.
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