Tag Archives: Running races

Antioxidants: Helpful or Not?

Antioxidants are a fundamental mixed bag. On the one hand, their ability to heal the body and combat inflammation helps the body recover quickly from exercise, not to mention help protect your everyday function and immune system.

On the other hand, researchers have in recent years discovered that this antioxidant influx also blunts the body’s adaption and supercompensation to training, that while you heal more quickly and completely you also interfere with the body’s ‘learning process’ in fighting the inflammation markers and growing to adapt to the stressor of your intense training.

Basically, because antioxidants are an external healer, your body is less likely to learn to adapt to the stress for future workouts.

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Struggling With Your Mile or 1500? Two Key Workouts:

The mile (or the 1500 meters outside of the US) is a tough nugget for runners. A common time trial and a popular racing distance at all levels of Track & Field Athletics, the mile comes closest to pushing your absolute anaerobic limits versus just challenging your raw power and speed like the sprints. It’s typically run at a cut above your VO2max and typically redlines your heart rate to its max.

As various coaches have said about racing, your speed is not the problem. Most runners, especially elite runners, have great speed. The problem is developing the specific endurance to sustain as much of your speed as you can over your needed distance.

Most coaches over-polarize middle distance training. They go to three different workout buckets: Hard, usually all-out intervals… tempo runs of a few miles… and your typical extended easy runs.

While all of the above are great for general fitness and development, your goal with the mile is a lot more specific than the above covers. The speed in your hard intervals are not being carried over 1500-1600m (and it can’t, and shouldn’t). The tempo runs are not as hard as you need to run in the mile, and the easy running definitely isn’t hard enough. You’re not working specifically on what you need to do once it’s Go Time.

Again, all of the above are generally valuable, and shouldn’t disappear. But as race season approaches, as you approach time for your mile time trials, your qualifiers, your key races… none of these elements are being suitably combined in your training, and race/trial day becomes 4-8 minutes of misery as you strain to stretch speed that lacks strechability, and you’re going (necessarily but) way too hard for your tempo/easy aerobic work to really help you.

Meathead Coach Mindset claims that such divergent training approaches will somehow come together within your body on race day when you need it. That’s not how most things work, and barring exceptional natural talent that’s not how training for the mile works on race day.

Obviously, I don’t think the answer is to run mile time trials several times in one sitting as a 4×1500 or 3×1600 workout to practice. That’s far too brutal, and totally unnecessary. There is a better, and more human, approach.

I previously covered an approach to racing or time trialing the mile that can help you focus through the strain and difficulty. But I realize most could benefit from one additional key step: Specific endurance training for the mile.

There are two quality workouts I think are valuable for specific endurance. Deep into training, these can replace your 200-400m repeats, and (if this isn’t a time trial but an event you actually compete in) can even replace whatever extended tempo runs you do. I think the easy runs and other cross training remain valuable for generating recovery and maintaining your aerobic fitness, but once you reach the end-game of peak training, your quality workouts need to specifically prep you for the 1500 or the mile.

Both of these workouts are best done on a standard Olympic size running track with full markings.


Workout #1: 2000 Meter Fast Finish Cruisers

Preface: This will push you beyond the mile distance and not only get you comfortable running hard for 1500-1600 meters, but to finish with a strong, hopefully max effort once it’s Go Time.

Depending on your running volume, you probably want to only do 2-3 of these in a single workout. If you do a good amount of easy running each week and can handle it, I’d do 3 in a workout. You want to be tired but in good enough shape to (if you had to) go for an easy run the next day, and to be able to do another long or quality workout in 3 days.

The Workout: After a good warm-up… start the 1st repeat at 10K pace (about 85% of your race effort) and run this for 2 laps (800 meters).

On lap 3 you may step it up a bit, up to 5K pace, for the next couple laps until through one mile (1600 meters). If 10K pace incidentally feels tough, you’re welcome to stay at this 10K pace into laps 3-4.

Once you get to the final lap (final 400 meters), pick up the pace and finish as fast as you can reasonably sustain for the last 400 meters. Don’t sprint all out but definitely go as fast(er) as you can kick, surge, stride, however you approach it.

Hold this extra speed through the final lap and then take an easy lap around the track.

Repeat the above for the next 2000 meters, and again until you’ve finished all your repeats.

NOTE: If you’re elite-caliber, and you’re only doing a couple of these repeats, you are welcome to start at 5K pace and step the middle laps 3-4 up to 3K race pace. I recommended 5K-10K pace if you’re doing 3 or more reps because this is a sizable enough volume of fairly hard running and too much could negatively impact future workouts.

OPTION: If you want to do 3 or more reps in a workout, you can (and probably should) only do the final two reps with the surge/fast final lap, while the prior repeats are done entirely at 5k/10K pace (so they’re basically just 5K pace reps or 10K pace reps). For example, let’s say you do 4 of these repeats in a workout. So you do the 1st and 2nd 2000’s entirely at 5K/10K pace, and then do the fast final lap as I described above for the 3rd and 4th 2000’s.

This ensures you have energy to successfully surge in your final repeats, while also ensuring all your work with those final surge lap reps is done when tired.


Workout #2: 3×500 Race Pace Repeats

Preface: This takes a page from Greg McMillan’s 5K and 10K workouts, and practices your ability to handle mile/1500 race pace in smaller, more easily digestible portions.

The Workout: Simply put, you run your goal race pace for 500 meters three (3) times, taking a recovery jog or walk between each rep.

Find the 1500 meter start line (or the 100M marker) on the track. Start the repeat here, running your mile pace through the main finish line, around the first turn and past where you started, until you reach the nearby 200 meter mark.

Turn around and jog or walk back to the 1500m start line. Turn back around, and start the next repeat. It’s important the recovery be short (albeit useful).

You do three of these repeats. I’ll argue as McMillan does with his workouts that if you run the 1500m, and you can evenly run your goal pace in all three of these repeats without significant trouble, you will hit your time goal on race/trial day.

NOTE: For those doing the mile, you may turn this into a 4×400 workout or a 3×600 workout. Obviously you’ll need to adjust the start, procedure and finish from the 500m repeats, but this is actually a bit easier than the above.

For 4×400: Run a lap. Simple as that. Instead of jogging a full lap, I would jog for about 100 meters (however you wish) before running the next lap. Since you’re doing exactly one lap, it doesn’t matter where the next rep starts since you’re stopping at the same spot.

For 3×600: Find the 200 meter mark halfway around the track and start your repeat there. You obviously get to the main finish line and continue with an additional full lap from there. Once you return to the main finish line and the rep’s done, continue along the track and jog back to the 200m line, then repeat the process until finished.

Final Note: Why start at the 1500m start line for the 3×500’s, instead of the main start line and just finishing at the 100m mark? For competitive 1500m runners, I like the pattern and sense memory work of physically starting at the line that a 1500m runner will start at. This helps with the mental patterning and prep for race day. Trust me on that. It will feel more natural and help with your nerves on race day to start these reps at the same place you’d start the race.


Scheduling These Workouts:

These workouts are best done about 2-6 weeks before a race or time trial, as peak training.

If you have multiple mile/1500 races, and you don’t compete at other distances, you could schedule these accordingly between races provided at least 2-3 weeks of time before your next race.

As with any training, you need about 8-12 days to see initial benefits from a key workout, so burning through these between races when your races are a week apart probably won’t help you. Do this before a block of races, and then let your races serve as your quality workouts from there.

I would do these workouts no more than three times a week, and ideally I’d do each one once a week, spaced at least 3 days apart. If you compete at this distance, you can’t go too far wrong during peak training doing the 3x500s in midweek and doing the 2000’s on the weekend.

Once again, remember that you don’t see benefits from a workout until 8-12 days later, so taper off and cease these about 8-10 days before your next trial or race, or block of races.


I hope this helps you run a better mile, whether you’re just trying to do so for your own fulfillment, or you run this distance competitively for glory, medals, and such. Best of luck.

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A Training Plan Need Not Be So Structured

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Ideally when deciding to run a goal race, you find or write a training plan (with or without a coach), and then you follow it.

But maybe no training plan out there is an ideal fit and you don’t have a coach. Maybe you had a plan and found out much too late that the plan is not working for you (and because none of us can rewind time, you can’t start over!).

Of course, it is entirely possible for a runner to train for a race without following a hard-set defined training plan. It might not adequately prepare you for the race, and therein lies the risk.

But then again there’s always a non-zero chance that following a given training plan doesn’t quite prepare you for a goal race either. Any approach to training comes with its set of risks. What would be the fun and accomplishment in training for a race if any recipe or approach made doing it foolproof or easy?

Still, if you want to run a race and you have at least a couple months to generally train, you could prepare for that race without a specified written training plan. It’s as simple as a consistent habit of multiple workouts per week, with as many of them as reasonably possible being specific endurance workouts: Workouts that specifically work on things you need to do in the actual race.

It helps if you’re already running regularly and in some degree of condition to race, but even if not you could adequately train with a general, consistent schedule provided you have enough time before the race.

Again, training for a race involves executing with these acute factors:

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Work out with purpose when endurance training

men running on road

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Matt Fitzgerald recently wrote on an interesting topic, asking: At what minimum volume does 80/20 training cease to be useful? I had some useful, common sense thoughts on the topic… that turned into the much longer piece below on endurance training, and how it must evolve past the basic runs consistent in most runners’ training plans.

First, to address Matt’s question… I think it’s important to consider the length of your goal event. Short of the marathon, I think it’s important during easier runs to practice running the duration or distance you plan to run your goal race, to accustom your body to the volume of running required.

For shorter events, this is easier. A 5K (3.11 miles) takes most runners 20-40 minutes, so it stands to reason you should be running at least 20-40 minutes or about 3 miles in easy runs. Doing 1 mile or 5 minute runs aren’t going to help you much at all. Hal Higdon has the right idea for beginners: Just work on running easy as long as you can uninterrupted until you can run 3 uninterrupted miles. That task in itself will suitably occupy most if not all of your training for such a race.

Something longer like a 10K (6.21 miles) might take more like 40-60 minutes. Even if you don’t run 6 miles regularly, running 40-60 minutes regularly in easy runs is probably a better idea than just brief 2-3 mile runs. Even your easier runs should have some specific application to the distance or time you plan to race.

It becomes more complicated running a half marathon, marathon or more. A 13.1 mile Half requires around 90-150 minutes of racing for most. Obviously, it’s not reasonable for most people to run 2 hours or 13 miles everyday. And of course the marathon requires a limit-busting 26.2 miles, and can take several hours. No one in their right mind will ask you to run that much.

The 60 minute race threshold is where a trainee should cease trying to run the distance in easy workouts, and focus instead on aerobically beneficial workouts:

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The Open Road Mile: Modifying the mile strategy for non-track courses

Previously I wrote about a strategy for running your best mile on a standard track. Of course, not only do many people not have access to a track, but in many situations you may be asked to run a mile on a course that definitely isn’t a track, e.g. a mile long road race, or a time trial at school, the military, as part of a fitness class, etc.

The strategy I wrote about doesn’t quite work here because it’s built around each of the four laps taken around a track. In fact, as I mentioned when discussing Lane 8, running the mile in a different lane not only changes the start and finish for your mile, but requires you adjust the strategy even then.

So what do you do when you’re running a mile on an unmarked course? Can the strategy be adjusted for that?

Totally. If you don’t have a marked course for your mile, but you at least know you’re running a full mile… this method can be modified by time.

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How to run a focused and pain relieving track mile

Few races or time trials were as painful for me as the mile. Never lasting more than 7ish minutes, the level of effort a mile trial demands always felt brutal.

I’d do one on the track, and before the first of 4 laps was done I was wondering how in hell I was going to manage three more, let alone post a good time.

At the same time, whenever I’d try to pace myself on the mile I’d end up going far too slow out of the gate and no matter how fast I ended up by the end, the end result was always disappointing.

I’d long since figured out how to pace myself in races, but the mile always flummoxed me. The pacing and technique that served me well in 5Ks and longer didn’t work with the mile.

Any distance shorter is mostly about busting ass out of the gate and running as fast as you could. That’s easy. And that doesn’t work for 1500-1609 meters.

But I finally figured it out, how to measure out your max effort in controlled doses and run the best mile you can, on a typical 400 meter track. Once I did this I shattered my mile PR by almost half a minute, and I didn’t even want to die afterward.

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Your goal pace has an easy run pace

Most runners train for a race with a goal pace in mind. Many will train for that goal pace by running it in varying distances and durations during their training.

Various authors, most recently and notably Matt Fitzgerald in 80/20 Running, advocate building a solid base of mostly easy running from which you can do a bit of tempo-specific running each week. This makes sense since your ability to run fast won’t matter much without the aerobic development to sustain a desired pace over your desired race distance.

Jeff Gaudette of Runners Connect takes this a step farther. He actually posits that most runners already have the desired speed to run a goal pace, that what they lack and need to develop is the aerobic and neuromusucular fitness to sustain that pace for their desired race distance.

Gaudette has a good point. Whenever you are able, go outside and run as fast as you reasonably can (i.e. don’t hurt yourself). I imagine if your pace was measured you’d easily exceed your desired goal pace.

I also imagine you won’t be able to hold that fast-as-you-can pace for very long. Running at max speed, you’ll be winded and your muscles will be neurally screaming in seconds. I’ve done max speed reps for giggles a few times, and I find the longest I can reasonably go at that intensity is about 30-45 seconds.

When we do speedwork, we’re not really training ourselves to run faster. Most of us already can run pretty fast. What we’re training is the ability to hold a given speed over a desired distance, whether that distance is 400 meters, 5K, or a marathon. (Ultra distance runners by and large have other aerobic and endurance concerns during training aside from speed)

This is why many coaches say the goal of speedwork should be economy, i.e. refining your form and taking every step as efficiently as possible, so that when you run your races you’ve honed and improved the efficiency of every step.

I realize I’m digressing a bit. I mentioned easy pace for a reason. We focus a lot on speedwork, on our goal pace, while forgetting that every goal pace has a corresponding pace at other distances… as well as a corresponding regular and recovery run pace.

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