Maintenance Workouts During Racing Season

By Ryan Warrenburg, ZAP Fitness

In May of 2010 Chris Solinsky shocked the distance running world when he shattered the American record and became the first non-African runner to break 27 minutes for 10,000 meters. Solinksy went on to run a massive personal best at 5,000m in June, a time her surpassed again in August of that year. Solinsky’s coach, Jerry Schumacher, spoke in an interview about that summer and credited their approach of taking ample rest after each of his big performances that year to Solinsky’s ability to maintain such a high level of racing all summer. While we will never sniff 26:59 for 10,000m the importance of rest is just as critical during the summer 5k / 10k racing season.

Focus on Recovery

The ability to maintain, and even elevate fitness before and after races is predicated upon proper rest and recovery. It is easy to forget that if we are racing every 2-3 weeks during the spring and summer those races serve the same training purpose as a high intensity workout. When planning training it’s important to account for that and avoid the temptation to squeeze in more high intensity speed work. This formula is tempting, but often results in burnout and decreased performance. One of the things I would speculate helped Chris Solinsky run so well throughout the summer was keeping moderate strength workouts in the equation, even during the racing season. The aerobic component provides the base for all training and if you eliminate that component once you start racing the base begins to crumble and it becomes very hard to sustain a high level for an extended period of time.

The workouts below are particularly useful to incorporate during your summer racing season if you are racing every 2-3 weeks. You’ll notice most of these are sub-maximal efforts designed to ensure proper rest while maintaining your aerobic foundation and touching speeds at or faster than race pace to balance your preparation.

Tempo Run

This is a tried and true staple for distance runners from milers to marathoners, but it is typically thought to be of use during the base building period or early in a training program when the focus is on building aerobic strength. However, incorporating a shorter tempo run every 2-3 weeks during your racing season is a great way to keep the aerobic component as part of the program without taxing yourself so much you have a hard time recovering between races. Keep your tempo run no longer than 20-25 minutes during the racing season and target a pace that is about 10-15 seconds per mile slower than your 10k pace. After your tempo take 4-5 minutes rest and finish with 4-8 repeats between 40-70 seconds at or a touch quicker than 5k pace with as much rest between them as you need to fully recover. This reinforces the muscle memory of finishing fast.

200-Meter Repeats 

If you find yourself racing on back to back weekends this is a good session to run during the middle of the week between races. You can do this workout on a track if you like, but you can just as easily do it on the road or trail and with time instead of distance. If you do the workout on the track run 8-10 repeats of 200 meters each with a very easy 200-meter jog between each. For the 200-meter repeats start them at roughly your 5k pace and work forward a little bit every 2-3 repeats. Focus on staying relaxed and smooth with good form, the idea is to finish feeling like you could have run faster. If you do them based on time just make the recovery jog twice the time of the fast piece, for example, if you run quick for 45 seconds then jog easy for 90 seconds between each of them. This workout is a great way to stretch out the legs between hard race efforts and improve your mechanical efficiency without taxing the body in a way that makes it difficult to recover.

Fartlek

Fartlek running is something that can be used to suit many needs and therefore can serve as a perfect maintenance workout during your racing season. This particular fartlek blends some light strength work with some quicker turnover work. Run 2-3 sets of (3 minutes quicker, 90 seconds easy recovery jog, 2 minutes quicker, 60 seconds easy recovery jog, 1 minute quicker, 3 minutes easy recovery jog). The 3 minute piece should start at or a few seconds per mile slower than your current 10k pace and then the 2 minute piece should be 5-10 seconds per mile quicker with the 1 minute piece another 5-10 seconds per mile quicker than that. The recovery jog can be at your normal easy run pace or up to 30 seconds per mile slower. If you are running the workout a few days before a race do 2 sets and if you are running it a week or more out aim for 3 sets.

Tempo Intervals

Tempo intervals, or cruise intervals, compliment the racing season perfectly. They allow you to get in some quicker work without the taxing effort of a hard, race pace interval session. There are a variety of tempo interval distances you could use, but I would recommend between a quarter mile and 1 mile. One example workout would be 4-7x 1,000 meters (or you could use 4-5 minute intervals) with 90 seconds rest between each. Start this workout 7-10 seconds per mile slower than 10k pace and finish at 10k pace. You should finish feeling like you could do several more at the same pace. This workout gives you a moderate aerobic stimulus similar to the tempo run but at a quicker pace.

During your race phase it is important to have your best performances on race day and not in workouts. Incorporate some of these more moderate sessions in between races in order to maintain a consistent level of race success.

*This Article Originally Appeared in the June 2017 Issue of Running Journal