Race Training

Running Specificity

The definition of specificity when applied to training, means the training you take on should be relevant and appropriate to the sport or event you are training for.

Specificity is relevant to most things we do in life…if you want to play the piano well, you don’t go out and take up guitar lessons, if you want to be an artist, you dont take up dance lessons...

Sounds obvious I know, but often when it comes to running and sport, people set goals, choose events and then go off  and do hours of training only to find that all the work they did didn’t really help them in the end, and they didn’t achieve their goals or are disappointed with the end result.

Most sports work on the Specificity rule. Trainers and coaches follow set guidelines, with the end result being to get their players or clients to be the very best at what they do. Most athletes need the same types of fitness training generally, they need to be cardio fit, strong and healthy…however, some sports require more specialised training, like power (footy, sprinting), agility (tennis, gymnastics), and endurance (cross country skiing, tennis, marathon running).

If your ultimate aim is to live a long, healthy, fit life then mostly you need to eat healthy, do weightbearing, strength and cardio exercises and incorporate some core strength training. So your week would include a healthy diet, a variety of cross training exercises over the week and maybe  a yoga or pilates class.

However, every now and again we want to do something amazing. We want to take on a sporting challenge and see it through to the end, have a great event day, feel fantastic afterwards and remember it for the rest of our days…so when we pick that amazing challenge we also need to make sure we train right for it

Believe it or not you can train badly!

In running it is especially important that you train right ,as many running events are different. Training for a marathon, or an ultra marathon, or the City to Surf 14km, or an off road trail run would all require very different forms of training.

Let’s Break it down

The Marathon- It’s a bloody long way..42.2km. You would need to train for 20-30 weeks, your longest run distances would be up to 30-35km. You would be doing anywhere from 50-100km running a week over the course of the program. You would need to focus on rest and recovery in between your long runs. Often long distance running can slow your run time down, so you would need to put in shorter tempo or speed training to make sure your cardio fitness and pace are still good. You would run 3-4 days a week with rest days for recovery inbetween.

Off Road/mountain running- maybe this one is only half the marathon distance, so do you think you will do half the training that you would do for a marathon? Not likely! This type of event needs strength and endurance. You need to get off road, to adapt your body and fitness to that terrain. You need to work on strengthen your legs, so you may hit the gym a couple of times a week, with the focus on leg pressing, squats and weights, and also add in some tough hill running over the week.

You want to win a 10km race in your age group or gain a PB- You still need to run 3-4 times a week. One session would be the distance or slightly more (so 12km for a 10km), a session would be speed work like sprints and recoverys, another session will be a shorter tempo run. Your aim would be to improve your cardio fitness which in turn will improve your speed.

Therefore-If you want to train for a marathon, you don’t spend 90% of your running time running around a track at high speed and If you want to run a PB over the 10km event, you don’t go out and run 10km every day praying to God you get one second faster

But more importantly you don’t decide to take up running or want to enter a running event and spend one or two days running and the rest of the days in the gym or pool.

You often hear me going on about cross training and how good it is, but for runners the cross training is like the side dish, your running should always be the big hunk of eye fillet on the plate!

I see it all the time when I am coaching

I set a program for an event (at the moment it’s the Gold Coast Half and full marathon in July), I list all the long runs and I also put up what I think runners should be doing over the week, how many sessions, how long, how many kms a week etc

A few weeks into training I ask how my runners are going with the program, and I get lots of surprising responses…’Oh I didn’t get my long run done, but I went on a 40km bike ride’…’I missed a few running sessions this week, but I am keeping my fitness up by doing body pump a few times a week’... ' I just joined the gym and I am really into it so I am going to concentrate on that for a bit...but I am still going to do the half marathon! ...And believe it or not this one ‘Oh I haven’t had a chance to run this week, I will pick it up again next week'

If you are training for a running event, running is the top priority. All other activities should fade into the background…if you start to get tired, or sore, during the course of your training, you don’t drop a running session, you drop some other activity…once you finish your event, then you can cut back on the running and get back into other forms of cross training exercise.

Specificity is not just about the running training either, it’s about all aspects of your life and if they can all come into line when you take on a running goal. You decide to run a marathon but you travel a lot for work, so you don’t think you will be able to get the long runs done…don’t train for a marathon. The heart and soul of a marathon training is the endurance part and the distances...don’t take it on if you cannot afford the time.

Or- just general health... you have never run and you are going to run a marathon but you also have a goal of wanting to lose 20kgs, so you are going to go on a crash diet, one of those low carb drink ones and then you will lose all the weight and run the marathon…yeah right….you wont get past one km with feeling exhausted and you will spend the whole training program dragging your weak, tired body around for miles and miles.  Once again it’s about specificity, a long distance race requires energy, and you need to eat well, focusing on good quality energy going in, so that your body will perform for you in the marathon. Crash diets and running have never really gone hand in hand

Here are some other things to think about and to trick and train your body (and mind) for a specific running event

  • Your long distance event is on a Sunday…then make sure your long runs are done on Sundays. I have many people say to me, 'Sunday is my rest day, I don’t run on a Sunday', but the marathon they are training for starts at 6am on a Sunday (as most do). If you train for your long runs at 6am on Sundays , your body soon picks up on that, and realises this is the day we get up early and run a really long way…if you never do a long run on a Sunday on race day your body will say ’Whoa, this is the day we sleep in, then have a leisurely breakfast and read the papers, what the hell are we doing standing her in the dark on this start line’ your response will be, 'no today we are running 42.2km'…but unfortunately your body is still curled up in bed and wont perform the way you want it to.
  • Your event is in the evening, but you are naturally an early morning runner. One of your training runs a week should be at the time your race will be starting, going from morning to evening running can be really hard and like all things it requires the training.
  • You live in a cool dry climate and your race is in Asia! Training for humidity is hard, if you just don’t have it where you live. It is a lot tougher  running in humid weather, your body works harder and can suffer more in hot, humid conditions. The great Australian Marathoner and mother of 4, Heather Turland, was inventive when training for the commonwealth games marathon in Kuala Lumpur, she put the treadmill in the kitchen, stuck pots of boiling water on the stove and ran for miles and miles. Try running in the warmest part of your day in the area you live in, adjust the temperature (heating) indoors and run on a treadmill. You only need to do this once a week on a training run, just to give yourself a feel for the different conditions and how your body reacts. 
  • Your event is off road and you live in the middle of Melbourne or nowhere near a forest or off road areas. Within your training program you will need to organise about 3 or 4 runs in an area where you can run off road, even if you have to drive a long way to get there. Off road running is very different to road running, you will need different equipment (trail shoes) you will need to take your own drinks and food, all this sort to thing needs to be trained for.
  • Your event requires you to run several times over a day or days…my training program for the Warwick Penath (5 running events over 2 days) had a day where we had to run in the morning and again in the afternoon or evening…It didn’t matter how far or fast we ran on both sessions, it was just designed to train the body to get used to the idea of putting the running shoes on and heading off twice in one day. I remember when I first did this, my legs just wouldn’t work the way they usually do, and I’m sure they were just letting me know, ‘hey we have already done this once today, why are we doing it again’...by the time the event came around, the twice a day running wasn’t an issue.
  • Your event has hills- then train on hills once a week. There are two ways to deal with hill running. Find a hilly course of 7-10km and run it once a week, or find a great hill put it in a 2km loop and repeat the loop 3 or 4 times . Its also a good idea to check out the map of your event course with the altitudes and try to match your hill or hills to it.
  • Train on your race course- if you are running an event locally, download the map and run the course (maybe not a marathon, but part of the course), it’s good to trouble shoot any problems you may encounter on the course.
  • Research your race- I don’t know how many times I have entered events around the world and I’ve been on the  race website, looked at the course and have still been shocked by how hard or different I thought it was going to be…look on websites, look up reviews on running forums, someone who has run that event will have some viewpoint on it, read up on it. Race sites are usually very good at answering queries about their event, so drop them an email with any questions you may have.

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