I’ve been racing long courses for years. In the past 4 years I’ve raced two 50 mile ultra’s, two Full Ironmans, and 2 full marathons. In reality, I’ve raced fewer than 2 5K’s. I’ve been training my body to go long and steady. My training consisted of mainly steady state base training, while ramping my speed 8 weeks prior to the gun going off. I’ve always limited my short course racing, as it rarely fit in my plan to run my best marathon.
My last race was the Pittsburgh Marathon (read the race report here) on May 5th. Since then, I haven’t “trained” but I haven’t turned into a slug either. My workouts have been unstructured and even untimed. On a last minute whim I decided to sign up for a local 8K. I’ve never found too much success in ‘shorter’ courses. I find that the ‘comfortable hard’ perception is much more tolerable than ‘exhaustible hard’ that’s associated with anything 10K and shorter. These races are definitely out of my comfort zone. My heart rate hasn’t been consistently over lactate threshold (LT) in almost a year (probably longer). Sure, I’ve done intervals on the track and even tempo runs, better never a sustained >LT workout.
All three were true. I finished in 30:21, with an average heart rate of 174 (my LT is 168), and I was absolutely out of my comfort zone. You may have heard the saying, “You need to run fast to run fast.” I’ve always been a strong proponent of this theory, but clearly need to work on my implementation. I understand that my times may be fast for some runners, while being fairly easy for others, but I only compare me to me. Afterall, speed is relative.
It’s crazy how our body adapts to distances. I’ve run a few courses this year, all of which were rather hilly. As the start and finish line grew apart my times slowed, but not accordingly. For example, take a look at the following recent races:
What’s even more disheartening was that I wasn’t truly racing #2-4, but rather treating them as training races. Clearly, there’s a disconnect between my ability to function aerobically and anaerobically. I was completely out of my comfort zone during the 8K (maybe the heat had a little to do with it). I tell runners all the time I’d rather train and race a marathon than run a 5K. There’s plenty of truth in that statement. I think I may be allergic to lactic acid? Maybe I’m just mentally weak when it comes down to the pain?
One thing is for sure, I could use some speed development. I hate to be one of those guys who run one pace across varying distances. I need to tap into my inner lactate and carbohydrate system. I need to spend some time out of my fat burning comfort zone. It will start this summer. I’m signed up NYC (again), and plan on changing my tactics for racing. For those of you who don’t know me, I have a inner passion for cycling and triathlon (minus the swim). I will be training for my next marathon as duathlete (I miss my bike!). The cycling will cut into my run mileage for sure, but will also aide in my quest to qualify for Ironman World Championships in Kona next year.
For those of you who find yourself in a similar situation, stuck in fat burning “same pace” across multiple distances mode, try working at or above your lactate threshold. Teach your body to thrive in uncomfortable situations. You’ll body will adapt, learning to clear lactic acid quicker, while fine tuning your anaerobic/aerobic systems. Remember, there’s a higher risk associate with running faster so be sure to give yourself some wiggle room and extra recovery time.