Hammer When It Matters: 3 Tough, Targeted Workouts
Last time around, I introduced Go Zone Racing. Go Zone Racing seems intuitive; some brush it off by saying, “Anyone can say run faster at the end.” But this misses the point.
Go Zone Racing isn’t just “go faster at the end.” It encompasses and reinforces what great coaches and athletes have taught us for years -you must plan for success, not hope for it. This strategy involves breaking the race into smaller pieces, with a different directive for each piece, that builds to a successful result. It requires that you focus your mental state on successful strategies across the entire race. After working with runners at all levels, I’m convinced that a lack of attention to race planning is a chief reason breakthrough performances or even expected performances aren’t as common as they should be.
To help instill the Go Zone Racing concepts, I’ve described the Top 3 Go Zone workouts below. No matter whether you’re prepping for the 800m or the half marathon, these Go Zone workouts practice the winning Go Zone Racing strategy.
Nothing is better for preparing you to use the Go Zone Racing strategy than a progression run. In a progression run, the latter part of the workout is completed at a faster pace than the initial parts. Like all speed work, there are thousands of possible progression runs, but I’ve found two types to be the most effective.
Run to the Next Level
It’s 6 o’clock on a Tuesday evening at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I’m talking with Neil about the reasons behind a recent race disappointment and with Dave about his spring marathon mileage buildup. Newcomers Joe and Monica wait to discuss pace for their upcoming intervals; meanwhile, around 10 more experienced runners warm up together, rehashing the past weekend, debating the relative merits of various post-workout watering holes, or planning the next West Valley Track Club beer mile.
All of these athletes have joined the club for one basic reason: to improve. And, although each may see a different aspect of the experience as most important, all have found something in the mixture of group training, weekly workout schedules, and socializing that has enriched their running experiences.
I did all my best running, modest as it might have been, solo. I became intimately familiar with the pitfalls that can result from training without a coach or experienced training partners, even as I read every available book on the theory and practice of training and worked toward a Ph. D. in exercise physiology. Now, after discovering how much the camaraderie of team training and team competition can enhance someone’s enjoyment of the sport and improve their performance, I understand well the pull that brings this group to the track each week, and I try to ensure that their experience with the club benefits their running.
To figure out whether joining a club and/or working with a coach can help your running, you need to figure out what your needs are, and understand what a club or coach can bring you. For most runners, finding a club may be a better first option than searching for a coach. Most clubs do offer coaching, and a good, diverse club composed of experienced runners can take over much of what a coach offers. As pointed out by Bill Clark, a former world-class distance runner who coaches the South Bay wing of WVTC, much of the coaching and guidance available to club runners comes from teammates on group runs.
Never Too Old – Secrets of Late Starting Elites
The phenomenon of the “overnight sensation” might be so common as to be cliched in the entertainment industry, but it’s almost unheard of in American running. The path to running greatness is nearly identical for those at the top: four years of high school competition, followed by another four in college, and then several more seasons struggling upward through the ranks of the track or road racing elite, learning the ropes and paying one’s dues before being able to finish in the medals or money. But every so often someone comes along and ignores that roadmap, bursting into the front pack without any significant background in running.
The latest such phenom is Kelly Jaske, who placed second at the USA Half Marathon Championships in Houston in January in 1:12:06. It was a huge breakthrough for Jaske, who didn’t start running until she was in law school at Harvard, and whose marathon PR was just under 2:50.
Over the years there have been other elite or semi-elite runners who have enjoyed similar success without an extensive running background. Mike Reneau qualified for the 2008 Olympic trials marathon with the Hansons-Brooks squad after a career as a wrestler in high school and college. Aileen Condon played field hockey and lacrosse before becoming a top finisher in New York-area races with a track 10,000m PR of 34:07. And Jill Gaitenby Boaz became the poster girl for no-background running success: As a Boston College senior, she watched the Boston Marathon from a roadside party on Heartbreak Hill; a few years later she would run 2:36:45 there to place 14th as the first American. She represented the U. S. in two world championships in the marathon and won the USA title at that distance in a then-PR 2:36:10.
A closer look at these athletes, however, belies the scenario of instant success achieved the first time they laced up a pair of running shoes. All of them had some athletic experience, even if they didn’t have the running background common to most top runners. And they all certainly possessed the potential for running success, even if realizing it was delayed.
“You’re not going to run well if you don’t have the inherent ability,” says Jack Daniels, who is currently working with Reneau in Arizona. “People with talent would probably have done well five or 10 years earlier in their lives. It’s true that once they mature they have a better chance to take advantage of their bodies. The added strength they have in their 20s might help them avoid injuries a little better, too.”
Lyle Knudson: Running’s Forgotten Coach
The tall blond man sits by the window in his favorite breakfast place, hunched over a plate of poached eggs at 9,100 feet in the Rocky Mountains. It is 10 degrees outside and even colder with the stinging wind. Not a great morning for running. But, as with most days, decent enough to talk about it. Talking about running, after all, helps the tall blond man feel in touch.
Once upon a time, he was current and relevant, a coach everyone in the running world knew well. He coached seven Olympians, two before he turned 30. Launched the women’s track and field program at the University of Colorado. Was named Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year at Florida. Served as head coach of the women’s Pan American team when the Pan Am Games still mattered. Perhaps most notably, he introduced a training model so deep and complex that even now, decades later, almost nobody understands it. If it didn’t produce such miraculous results, it would’ve vanished years ago, just like the tall blond man who invented it.
And the Problem with Deals with the Devil
If there’s a rule about deals with the devil, it’s that you don’t realize you’re making one at the time. Especially when the devil in question walks with a cane and looks more like Kris Kringle than Beelzebub.
He said his name was August Knox and that he was a researcher working to beat multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and all the other muscle-wasting disorders the world has ever known. Maybe he was. He was peddling a dream, and you don’t look a gift horse too strongly in the mouth.
You remember BALCO, right? Well, suppose BALCO had visited you at age 42 and asked if you wanted to be a guinea pig for a new product. Kringle/Knox wasn’t with BALCO, obviously — they’d been out of business for years — but that’s what he was peddling. Test samples of a new product, guaranteed undetectable by conventional tests, that would tune up your muscle efficiency not just by enough to roll your performance back to age 30, but to match you with the best of them.
Could you win an Olympic medal? No guarantee there, but you’d be in the hunt. There was only one catch: If humans were like rats, you’d peak in a year and stay there for 18 months. Two years, if you were lucky. After that? Well, once the rats had started to decline they’d done so rather precipitously.