Do You Practice Like You Play?

RaceTrainingPaceI know I’ve mentioned it before, but I grew up dancing and playing sports, and the thing that was drilled into my head over and over (and over, GAH) was that if you want to play hard when it counts, you need to practice with just as much intensity. As a result, I was just about as likely to get injured throwing myself after a loose ball in a drill at basketball practice as during a big game. Then again, I was also just as likely to tear the ball away from a girl six inches taller than me because I’d been practicing—hard—against the boys, every chance I got.

So, when I signed up for the ING Miami Half Marathon on January 29 (yes, seriously, and no, I wasn’t drinking when I did it), I thought, “Cool. I’ll find a training plan and do a proper build up to the race.” Basically, I figured I’d practice like I would play.

Imagine my surprise when I started looking at running plans and found that, at least among the ones I looked at, the paces I was supposed to train at were far from what my goal was. I’m hoping to run a pace closer to a 10-minute mile than 11, and although the training plan I went with (Runner’s World Smart Coach, mainly because it’s free and has an Android app for my phone) has my pace set as 10:03 per mile on race day, it doesn’t have me training at anywhere near that pace for longer runs. Like, at all. In fact, the long runs are all much closer to a 12-minute mile. And, while there’s nothing wrong with that pace, it’s just not my goal.

True, some of the tempo runs put me close to that pace, and a couple of the speed workouts have me running in the nines but not for very far. Now, I know race-day adrenaline counts for a bit of a boost, but a minute or more per mile? That’s not how my body works.

I’m curious, since I’ve only done one half marathon, and it was a hundred years ago, and I didn’t really train properly for it—if you’ve done any distance races, how have you trained? Have you gone with easy pacing for the training and bumped it up on race day? Or did you practice the way you wanted to play? —Kristen

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  1. Alison says:

    The point of the slow pace on long runs is to increase your aerobic endurance. If you try to run fast for your first 10-miler, you will go anaerobic and not reap any benefit from the run. You’ll never improve. Yes, I trained the way you described and ran a half mary in a 1:57. . . that’s 14 minutes faster than a 10-minute pace time of 2:11, and is an 8:55/mi pace.

    Additionally, you may not do ALL your long runs at that 11-12 min pace. You’re supposed to do a tune-up race midway through training. Put that race time in a pace calculator, and you may find your long run suggested pace increases as your running fitness improves.

    The tempo & speed workouts are also important to get your legs used to going fast. If you skip that, you might be tempted to slog along at a snail’s pace on raceday. Bottom line – the training works.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I’m with Alison – keep the pace slow. If you push too hard or too fast on your long runs, it will take too long to recover and will screw up the rest of your training for the week. Your mid-week runs build your strength, and the long-run increases your endurance. Together, they’ll make your race-pace faster. The long-run is mega-important, but the rest of your training has it’s purposes too!

    That said – I always listen to my body. If I know it can take more, then I don’t worry about pushing a little harder.

  3. Emily says:

    Interesting, I’ve never thought of it that way… I have followed training plans as written and, assuming I was well-conditioned and well-trained, hit or beat my goal pace on race day.

    I’ve heard that practice runs can’t match the adrenaline rush you get from a race – maybe that has something to do with it? Also, your training is a long term plan, and pushing yourself during every run will surely lead to overtraining.

    I would be careful about pushing your training runs too hard, at least for the long run. Remember that the long run is designed to build your endurance, and the right mix of speed and endurance will come from your combined training workouts. Trust in your training plan!

    – Emily, veteran of 3 marathons and counting

  4. LizScott says:

    Sooooooooooo. Hm. Ok, I do think the practice of not having to run the full distance in training will allow you to complete a race. HOWEVER, I will say that the times I’ve PR’d a half marathon have been when I’ve been in the middle of marathon training and using the 1/2 as a training run. Those times, I had already passed the 13 mile distance in training (I think they always fell in the 16-18 mile week range) and was using the races to check out how fast a pace I could push, not a “can I make the total distance.”

    It made a difference. It meant I could do a warm up mile without worrying if I was overtaxing my mile-reserves in my feet. It meant that I was mentally in check, that I knew I could and would get to the end of the race no problem, so it was up to me to decide the speed I wanted to use to get there. Without exception, the half marathon races I have run in full marathon training have been CLEAR PRs over just training for the standalone race.

  5. Rhonda says:

    I use to think that too… Train the way you want to “Play” as you put… But my fitness trainer told me that over training can do more damage than good, can lead to injury, hurting your time and muscles. I agree with Alison and Stephine…

    To help me slow myself down I went runing with a friend that is at a slower pace and this has helped me learn to bring my pace down. It also has helped me last longer for my half marathon.

  6. Fully agree with all the comments: slow and steady can win the race, like a tortoise – but better than a hare’s!

  7. Jane says:

    Kristen if you are looking into the why’s of how distance running includes a lot of running at easier than race day pace check out a book from one of the current three big experts on it: Jack Daniel’s (Daniel’s Running Formula) Pfitzinger/Douglas (Advanced Marathoning) or Brad Hudson (Running faster from 5k to the Marathon.)

    As a reference most of my runs are in the 8:30/mile range and my Long runs in the 8:45/mile range but my last HM was 1:34 (7:14).

  8. Game is Game, practice is pactice… Its kinfd of psycological, you never train like in a game. Usually in real competition, you will overcome some points that in training days you wont pay attention.The land of best bottomed girls is were I live : Brazil and I am starting a website to give you some tips about having your butt upgraded. See me also in my blog greatfotyourlife.blogspot.com

    Keep pumping!One more rep…

  9. Natalie says:

    I train at a slower pace so I can run longer and don’t burn myself out or risk injury as much. I just ran a half marathon and ran .5 mph faster than I trained. Worked well for me. Good luck at your marathon!

  10. Ceb says:

    Practice is indeed needed when you want to run a marathon. Nice content, good read and informative. Learn a lot of stuff today.

  11. Ceb says:

    Interesting article, learn a lot of stuff about running and pace.

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