We all know someone who just has to be in front, turns every easy run into an all out sprint and has to be first back to the house. Are you a training racer?
The group run can be a brilliant thing, a mixture of abilities getting together to just chill out, enjoy some easy runs and shoot the shit. It’s a huge part of any athlete’s training. The easy mileage make up a big part of the volume and it’s great to share.
But share those miles with the wrong person, or even just getting over eager yourself, and the training race begins.
So it only takes one half stepper (someone who always has to be half a step ahead, regardless of pace) and a sprinkling of ego for the pace to start picking up. Be it an easy, progression or tempo run, the conversation flows and the pace gets faster every mile.
Someone like myself, a certified half stepper, only need be with another competitive runner and before either of us know, it’s a training race. Living and training with Paul Navesey we both had to make sure the training race wasn’t too common a feature. But it’s not always a bad thing.
Using the training race
Training in groups is generally always a good thing, even when it gets competitive, if you’re sensible.
It might be that you both have a progression run or if one athlete is just faster than the other, you can accept the pace will ramp up and plan it like that. The same with tempo running, although at least one of you needs to keep an eye on over doing it.
When a whole bunch of half steppers are involved in a group run or session then things can easily escalate. This competitive edge can be great for an intervals session, pushing each other to your limits and enjoying the sharing of hard work.
It still takes a sensible head not to get carried away, as smashing yourself in every hard session isn’t the way to go. You don’t always have to go to the well in every session, even the faster ones.
With consistency being the key to progression, going a few per cent easier in tougher sessions might be the difference between getting injured and having months of uninterrupted training.
Solo training race
You don’t need company to have a race. With everyone wearing a GPS watch and the world of Strava, you can be having virtual races all the time.
It normally starts as an easy pace but half way though to notice you’re on for a good average pace or a new PB for this loop. At first you ignore it. It’s an easy run, you’re well rested, just take it slow. Then the average pace drops again. It’s race time.
Before you know it you’re in a progression run and your easy 45 minutes is going to be a 36 minute 10k. Hammer time.
Strava takes it a step further. I wouldn’t suggest that everyone reading this is a #StravaWanker who researches local segments to go “crush”, but every time you upload you see where they are. Your regular loop has regular segments.
It’s good to see your own progression over months and years. It’s less beneficial to see it as a competition every time you step out the door and then charge up your favourite hill. These solo training races can leave you exhausted.
The middle ground
What training racing can leave you at risk of is doing all your running in the middle ground. Everything is ‘steady’ or ‘average’. Scientists like Stephen Seiler in Norway have highlighted the importance of polarisation in training.
The biggest difference between elite and non-elite runners wasn’t mileage, pace or hours, it was polarisation.
The whole 80/20 theory championed by the like of Matt Fitzgerald come from Seiler and other’s work. 80% of your running should be easy and the other 20% at a high intensity.
Do too much in a mile ground between these two and you don’t get either right. You never really get enough easy running in, nor do you get the best out of yourself in the higher intensity sessions.
Training races are the perfect place to go too hard for your session. Every session should have a purpose and if that’s to go a bit steadier then invite your half stepping mates. If it’s an easy recovery then maybe run solo.
And remember. We all know a training racer. If you can’t think of one, then you are one. Take it easy.