Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 27 Oct 2007 05:51:06 -0400

Racing with Class


(rerun from October 2003 RW)

"Teacher" is an honorable title, one that I wear proudly even if it doesn't quite fit. True, I teach running at the University of Oregon. But these aren't classes with lectures, guest speakers, textbooks, term papers and tests. Students spend most of our time together running, not hearing about it. They mostly learn by doing, not by studying.

My hardest lesson to learn as a writer-turned-teacher was how to write short. I had to condense book chapters, which already were distillations of life's running experiences, into single paragraphs e-mailed to students after each class. Here I further shrink the mini-lessons. These are the lessons that I believe all runners in my 5K/10K racing class must take away from the class even if they hear or read nothing else.

-- WHY RACE? Racing is hard, and moderately risky -- but also exciting, challenging and motivating. It puts your training and resolve to their final test. You don't take this test alone but in the company of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of runners like yourself. You aren't competing with them; you're cooperating. The competition isn't with others but with the distance, the course, the conditions and the voice inside that pleads with you to ease off.

-- WINNING WAYS. A great beauty of running is that it gives everyone a chance to win. Winning isn't automatic; you still have to work for success and risk failure. But unlike other sports there's no need to beat an arbitrary standard (such as "par" or an opponent's score). You measure yourself against your personal records. The PR gives you an objective measure of success and progress that doesn't depend upon beating anyone else.

-- GOING LONGER. Not all runners can go faster, but just about anyone can run longer. It isn't a matter of talent, but pacing, patience and persistence. Whatever your talents, however many years you have run, the possibility of covering longer distances still exists. However, you can't take big leaps in distance all at once. The safe limit for progress is about 10 percent per week -- for instance, no more than one mile added to the recent 10-mile run.

-- GOING FASTER. A little bit of speed training goes a long way. In fact, a little bit is all you should do. Most runners can tolerate fast training that totals only about 10 percent of weekly mileage. This can come two major ways. The first is as intervals -- a training session of short, fast runs with recovery breaks between. The other main way to train for speed is the tempo run -- at race pace or faster for a shorter distance. Realize too that racing itself is the toughest form of speed "training," so count it in the 10-percent limit.

-- GOING EASIER. Pacing isn't just for a single run. It's also something you practice from day to day throughout the week. Some runs must be hard if you're training to race, but most must be easy to compensate for that effort. In other words, you run less than your best much of the time -- neither long nor fast. The easy runs may be the most important because they're the most frequent.

-- RACE PACE. Crowd hysteria and your own raging nervous system conspire to send you into the race as if fired from a cannon. Keep your head while runners around you are losing theirs. Be cautious in your early pacing, erring on the side of too-slow rather than too-fast. Try to run the second half of the race as fast or faster than the first. This is where you reward yourself for your early caution, by passing instead of being passed.

-- RACE RECOVERY. The longer the race, the longer is the rebuilding period. One popular rule of thumb is to allow at least one easy day for every mile of the race (about a week after a 10K). One day per kilometer (or 10 days post-10K) might work even better if the race was especially tough. During this period, take no really long runs, none very fast, and avoid further racing. Remember that a race doesn't end at the finish line but continues with what you do -- or don't do -- afterward.

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