What I Learned During My Biggest Running Year Ever (while winning the MDRA Grand Prix)

>> Tuesday, January 01, 2013

I'm always up for sharing advice. As a college professor, it's kinda what I do (I've taught 57 college classes in the last 8 years, plus a ton of workshops). I'm not going to preach my random advice - if you're a regular reader, you've heard bits and pieces of my running philosophy. So I'll just share the things I've learned in 2012 by running the most road races I've ever done in a year, while completing and winning the "Minnesota Distance Running Association's" Grand Prix series.

(The MDRA is a 2,400+ member running group, and they hold a Grand Prix series each year of 13-14 races ranging from 1-mile to marathon. I took the lead after the 4th race of the series in 2012 and never looked back [even though I thought I was going to be caught at the last race]. Here's a post from when I had learned I won the series. I'm NOT the fastest runner in Minnesota! Hells no! I never even won any of the individual races in the series. I was just "consistent" and relatively speedy all year.)

Here are my 7 pieces of advice:
(Don't miss number 7 - it's the most important one!!)

#1: Want to get faster? Do more of it!
Want to run faster? Run more. Sign up for a race series. Want to bike faster? Sign up for a Time Trial series. Want to swim faster? Sign up for Masters. Or swim in a few meets.

I've told myself that I'd do some series like this before, but I wanted to be faster first. Don't worry about being REALLY good at something - just sign up to do a lot of that something, and you'll get better at it the more you do it. Don't WAIT until you've gotten better - doing a swim, bike, or run series will MAKE you better.

#2: Race RUNNERS, not a TIME.
I'm usually so "triathlete" minded: "Well, my current Olympic Distance Triathlon PR is 2:15. Being this course is hiller and I'm not in as good of shape right now, maybe I'll shoot for a 2:20." I learned to stop saying stuff like that before all of these running races and just aim for the next person in front of me. The Grand Prix series is based off of points earned based on where you placed among other Grand Prix racers, so catching that next runner can mean more points. (In this post I noted the few seconds that could have lead to a lot more points during the year: through ALL my races this year, I could have been just 100 seconds faster [over 85 MILES of racing] to earn over 150 more points.)

It might be a hot day, so times might be slow. It might be a perfect day, and times might be fast. (I experienced both of those this past year.) I got better at not worrying about a specific time, and I got better at ACTUALLY racing.

#3: Train for what you're racing.
This seems like a giant "DUH," but let me explain. I LOVE doing intervals. In the past, I'd usually try to run 3 times a week: intervals, a long run, and a tempo run. If I were training for a long race (like a half marathon), I'd be bumping up my longer run to get ready. BUT I SHOULD HAVE BEEN BUMPING UP EVERY RUN.

When I racing the New Prague Half Marathon in May, I was SHOCKED that I was holding 6:10 - 6:15 pace on those hills. (Read my race report where I talk about smiling and practically laughing out loud [I believe the kids say "lol"] during the race because I didn't know where that speed was coming from.) "That speed" came from logging more miles.

Easy runs had been longer than they used to be (8-10 miles instead of 4-6). Intervals (which are great for 5K speed a few years ago) were non-existent in my training. And my long runs were just as long. But because I was going longer on everything else, my body felt comfortable running harder for those 13.1 miles. Being I was doing more distance races than I ever had in the past, I learned that really adding on the miles helped my racing.

Still smiling with just a few miles left during my first 25K this year!

#4: There's no such thing as a "wasted run" or "junk miles."
This ties-in to the point above. As long as you're not over-doing it, log some miles! If I was still sore / tight from a race, I'd go easy, but I'd focus on form and make sure to find time to stretch well afterwards. I stopped running every run hard (like I was doing 3-4 years ago), but every run still had a purpose. Easy runs "flushed" out the legs when they needed it. If I was too sore / tired to run, I just took the day off and didn't worry about it. And I LOVED every mile of my 511 miles with Henry in the stroller!

#5: Stay injury-free by not training hard.
I didn't do NEAR the number of hard tempo runs or track workouts this year. And I logged over 11% more running miles than my best year 2 years ago. (And that's over 27% more than last year!) The reason I could run so much more is that I wasn't killing my tendons and muscles by running SO hard all the time.

Life's about balance. And so is running. I'm still trying to find the right balance of "long" vs "speed" in my running workouts, but I've learned I need to cut out a little more "speed."

#6: Lots more running miles will NOT help you in a triathlon!
I was hoping that my high running miles would make up for my lack of training on the bike. But during my 2 Olympic-distance triathlons this summer, that proved not to be true. The bike wore out my legs, and no amount of run training can make that final run easier once your legs are hashed from the bike. Note to self for next year: bike more if you want to be better at multi-sport races.

And here's the big one.....

#7: Race-pace miles will make you faster AND keep you from becoming injured.
When do you say "this workout will make you faster AND keep you injury-free?" That doesn't happen. Intervals are great for making you faster, but they can take a toll on your body (my sore heel doesn't always like them). Running easier keeps you more injury-free, but that doesn't help your speed. Doing longer runs is great for your endurance, but that might flare up an overuse injury. What I'm trying to say is you NEVER hear "do this to stay healthy AND make you faster" with regards to a run workout! So this tip is magical!!

I started doing race-pace miles with Coach Jen Harrison 2 years ago in my quest for a sub-60 TC 10 Mile. And I really learned a lot about them since then just by doing them so much. This past year, I did 3 half-marathons and a 25K (15.5 miles), and I used workouts with race-pace miles leading up to all of those races (and I use them frequently on my stroller runs with my son). Speaking of my son...

Henry digging for raisins during his first 10K with me!
(We passed most of those people in front of us to finish 4th out of 300+.)

Let's say I want to run 13 miles - I'd maybe break it down like this: warm-up for 3 miles, up the pace for mile 4, and then run 6 miles around race pace (maybe all near a certain pace or maybe all descending a bit [like 6:30, 6:25, 6:15, 6:10, and then whatever I can for the last 2]), and finally I'd cool down for the last 3 miles.

They helped me get faster by teaching my body how to run at a certain pace. It's like I'm saying "Hey body - THIS is what you need to get used to doing. THIS PACE RIGHT HERE. Got it?" But being it's not super fast for the entire run, you'll save some stress on your body. And I've been more prone to "overdoing it" as I put the years on this body of mine...

They helped me stay injury-free because they "mixed-up" my long runs. I'm prone to overuse injuries, so if I just ran a 13 mile training run at 1 pace, I could easily get injured. But by mixing up the tempo, it really helps my body deal with that distance. I've often felt aches start to show up as I'm starting to build my speed, but being I'm only running at that pace for a bit, the aches go away when the speed changes. This might not help everyone, but it's really helped me. Henry and I do this on nearly every run together of 6 miles or more.

Oh, and I should note 2 more things with regards to "race-pace miles." First, it's EASIER to run LONGER doing this. How awesome is that! Look at my example above of "3 mile WU, build for a mile, 6 miles faster, CD for 3 miles." That doesn't sound too bad; you're only just thinking about the next few miles in the workout. But once you do that, you've covered 13 (potentially boring) miles! Second, this only works well (for me) for longer races, like 10 miles or up. Maybe even 10Ks too. Race-pace miles wouldn't have quite the same benefit for me if I tried doing a 6 mile run with the middle 2 at 5K pace. Use these in your longer-distance race training.

I felt the need to add an "amendment" to this entry the day after posting it. With regards to "race-pace miles," I don't run them "all out." I run them like I'm running the middle of a race. So if I'm doing 6 miles at race-pace, I'm not sprinting to the finish - THAT would get me injured. I save that sort of speed for tempo runs or shorter intervals. Instead, I'm "keeping it strong" throughout as if I were maybe running miles 3-8 of a half marathon. I finish the race-pace miles feeling well worked, but not dead.


Mark Baker 12:31 AM, January 02, 2013  

I haven't been reading blogs recently, so I missed your announcement. congrats on winning!

I'll have to keep these tips in mind myself as I contemplate another year of running.

Carolina John 4:03 PM, January 02, 2013  

that's great stuff. I need to work more race pace miles into my routine.

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