Thirsty (for knowledge) Thursday: "Crash and Burn" Running Workout

>> Thursday, December 03, 2015

I came across this article from a few years ago on Runner's World. The beginning intrigued me:

The weekly fartlek for elite and aspiring-elite runners in the Kenyan training hotbed of Iten starts fast and stays fast. Hundreds of runners try to stay with the leaders - they go as hard as they can, and when they can no longer keep pace, they drop out in droves. It's a puzzling concept for visiting Americans who have long been taught to calibrate their pace to ensure that they finish their sessions. But for Kenyans, this crash-and-burn style of training pushes them to test their limits.

I try to be a good pacer. I try to start my intervals at a pace I can maintain throughout (if not NEGATIVE split). So this idea of go-fast-from-the-start-and-stop-when-you-can't-maintain is new to me.

The article states how we start "normal" speed-work is a pace that's determined ahead of time in our head rather than by how good we may feel at the moment. "The Kenyan approach, in contrast, is to start each session - whether it's fartleks or track repeats - with lofty goals and hang for as long as possible. It's a high-risk, high-reward style that requires you to ignore the warnings from your legs and lungs for as long as you can." The author (and the Kenyans working out like this) believe that once you master this, you'll respond better to race-day challenges from your competitors, and avoid finishing with "unspent fuel" in the tank. Here's 3 points on how to do this workout:

Runners in Iten always have someone faster to chase, but you can replicate the effort even if you're training alone. Start an interval workout at a pace more ambitious than you can normally sustain—up to five percent faster—and pick a threshold that's two percent slower than your target as your stop signal. Do as many repeats as possible at your target pace, and once you slow to your stop-signal threshold, stop. If you're doing intervals of 400 meters or less and miss your goal due to a pacing error rather than fatigue, you can take one more crack. Otherwise, one strike and you're out. (If you try to stagger through progressively slower intervals, you'll dig yourself into a recovery hole that will take too long to emerge from.)

It's hard to adjust to not knowing how long a workout will last. Conventional training teaches us to ration our energy evenly over a given distance, but that doesn't work here, which is why crash-and-burn sessions are such a useful stimulus. They simulate the demands of racing a competitor who suddenly surges ahead. You don't know how long the surge will last, but if you want to win, you have to follow and hang on. As you complete your efforts, don't think ahead—you'll be tempted to start conserving your energy. Consider each repeat a separate battle that could be your last. As you fatigue, break the effort into halves or quarters and think only about successfully completing the current segment.

Crashing and burning doesn't literally mean running yourself into ruin. If you're careful to follow the Kenyan example and pull the chute when you can no longer maintain the pace, you should recover about as quickly as you would from any other hard interval session. That said, limit these workouts to once or twice a month. The mental strength you'll gain from these runs is invaluable, but useless without the good pace sense developed in traditional interval training. Mix up your workouts to master both skills.

That idea in the initial point about starting 5% faster would be if I were to run 400s in about 71 seconds instead of 75 seconds. And then I'd have to stop once I was 2% slower (so once I slowed to 73 seconds, I'd be done).

I can't promise that I'll try this soon, but if/when I try this (probably in the spring), I'll let you know how it goes. It sounds horrible. But worth it.

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