I see a lot of people get sucked into what I’ll call the “Odometer Vortex.” We all have been there at times (myself included, on probably more days than not): Focusing on the number of miles you’ve logged, haven’t logged, or need to log in a given day/week/month. And let’s face it, while the social sharing on dailymile is naturally conducive to a collective motivation boost to run more, it can also be counterproductive when the (spoken or unspoken) healthy competitions we have with our fiends on the leaderboard lead to overtrain via too many miles, too much fast running, or not enough time for recovery when it’s needed.
Here’s another scenario I see a lot: Runner XYZ absolutely crushes their training plan as it’s written for a marathon. Not only did they successfully complete all of their long runs, but they even finished a number of them faster than they planned. They taper well, they have a good nutrition plan that they’ve practiced during long runs, and they even get a good night of sleep before the race. Race day rolls around, and mile 18-20 rolls around, and the runner’s body is done. It’s a cramp-fest death-march the rest of the way to the finish line, and the runner is left scratching their head and wondering what went wrong.
I prescribe time-on-feet runs for my runners whether or not they have any of these issues. There are 3 types of timed runs that I integrate into training cycles, and each of them serve different purposes. I’d encourage everyone to use these runs to help shift their mindset away from being a slave to the odometer every day, as well as to be better prepared for the next big race on the calendar.
Easy Timed Runs: A large proportion of our total miles should be truly easy miles. Let’s leave the reasons behind that for another post, but suffice it to say that the most common approach to easy runs (I should run X miles @ Y pace) is sometimes a problem. What if you are tired from a workout the day before and your legs have no business moving that quickly? Or what if you are getting more fit and you’re ready to handle a little bit quicker easy run pace? So, for a couple of runs each week, just set out to run an easy pace (by feel) for a set amount of time. Don’t look at your pace or distance until the run is over. Yes, that’s hard, but people managed to survive for decades without Garmins, so we can all do it a couple of days a week. This will help you learn to let your body be the guide, and you’ll spend less time getting injured from trying to hit an arbitrary goal pace, and probably more time getting to be a faster runner. Why do this? To get out of the rut of focusing too much on the numbers to the detriment of your training.
Timed Benchmark Runs: This is a different way to approach a tempo run. It tends to be less stressful than the “I need to run X miles @ Y pace” approach, and again it lets your body and fitness be the guide. After a normal tempo warm-up (about half the planned tempo time), run at a moderate effort for a set number of minutes (anywhere from 20-60 depending on where you are in a training cycle). Depending on what race you are training for, this effort should be your estimation of your goal race effort by feel…something that comes with time and through practice (all the more reason to practice it, right?). This is a great way to measure progress, too. When you do this workout in, say, weeks 12 and 15 of a marathon cycle, you’ll get a sense of if you’ve improved your fitness and ability to pace by feel. Why do this? To give yourself a regular checkpoint of progress and learn how to manage race paces by feel without needing to rely on the watch.
Goal Time on Feet Runs: In my book, this is a mandatory run for long race success (any race from half marathon distance and up). It’s also the missing piece for a lot of people who have some marathons under their belt and are looking to race one with a specific goal in mind. The concept is this: If you want your body to handle running for a certain time (let’s say it’s 3 hours for the sake of explanation), then you need to make sure you train to run that long. For someone looking to run 3 hours, a 20-mile training run might take 2:30-2:40, or even less time if they mix in some marathon pace miles. That leaves a big chunk of time after which that runner isn’t prepared for how their body will respond, and for which they don’t have a tremendous amount of confidence. Not a great thing going into a marathon that you want to run hard. So, my runners will all have a goal-time-on-feet run 3 or 4 weeks out from race day, which will be run at an easy pace throughout. Then on race day, when they get to mile 20 and they start to feel fatigue, they’ll be familiar with it, have trained through it, and know how to keep moving forward to reach their goal. Why do this? To shift from a runner who fears the last phase of a long race into one who is confident they can keep on pace the entire way.
Try these workouts and you’ll probably surprise yourself with how well they go. I personally run 2-3 runs a week with a stopwatch only or with my Garmin left on time-of-day, shooting for a set number of minutes of running. The Timed Benchmark runs can be mixed into a training cycle every 3-4 weeks, and a Goal Time on Feet run can be done once or twice in the last phase of a long race training cycle.