How should we adjust our training plan to prepare for different strategies?
by My Finish Line
Running is getting from A to B. So is Cycling. So is Swimming. Why is there a need to even contemplate such a thing as a ‘race strategy’ then? Are coaches and athletes over-complicating things in order to create the illusion of a higher echelon of knowledge in order to make the simple demands of a race seem more complex (and thereby ensuring their importance and relevance?).
In a word, no.
From Seb Coe (hang at the back of the pack and work your way through and rely on a sprint finish) to Lance Armstrong (despite the obvious groans here he was the pioneer of low-gear high cadence climbing thereby working the aerobic energy system and not overly tiring his legs), there has always been an element of inter-competition strategising that has existed in order to increase chances of your strengths becoming a part of your results.
Those of us experienced in triathlons have been there ourselves – the decision to let a “breakaway” get away or not? To hang back or push forward ourselves dependent on how we feel at the time? Work to our pace strategy or respond to the competitors? These are all part of the strategy game. The crazy thing is, despite our knowledge and interest in heart rate, GPS, pace, speeds, thresholds of power etc going stratospheric over the last decade, we hardly acknowledge these intricacies in our training.
Take, for example, the scenario of the ‘early breakaway’ be that in cycling, or running. The effect on how this affects people’s race strategies are enormous, however they aren’t replicated in training.
Once successful track coach in the USA has enjoyed phenomenal success largely based on the fact that he re-creates the race environment in training. For example in a mile run he will purposefully task one of the runners, anonymously, to create a sizeable gap after one lap or so to see how others respond and how this intervention changes not only their race strategies but also their available energies at the end of the race. It is all well and good to have a fantastic sprint finish but what if a competitor breaks away early with still 75% of the race to go? That sprint finish then might be the difference between 8th and 7th (therefore immaterial).
The message? Break your training up now and again. Replicate the ‘bad days’ in training by, for example, placing yourself in a position of physical tiredness early in your run purely in order to see how you physically and mentally cope with completing the task. Conversely, attempt a “negative split” (where you run the second half of the run quicker than the first) and see how it affects your overall time and pacing strategy.
If nothing else, it will make you enjoy that “same old run that you do” a little more by approaching it in completely different ways.