March 24, 2020 – Not training for a race

Hey Guys!


What I’ve been thinking about this week: how grateful I am to still be able to run – in any form. As I’m typing this it’s snowing a wet, rainy snow, and I’m still thinking: “at least I can still get out for a jog”.


I read something that resonated with me. So often we are training for a race with specific elements which need to be crammed in so we can get as fast as we can in the time we have. We rarely really give enough time to each phase or element of training that we should, as we aren’t trying to become the best well-rounded runners for the long-term – we’re trying to maximize our efforts for one specific distance on one specific day. We’re counting mileage, measuring paces, getting our speed, hills and threshold runs in – skimming as much as we can from everything.  Basically what this is like is “studying for the test”. All we want is the result at the end of the race/test.


Studies have been done that show that kids who study for a specific test outcome often don’t receive the same deep learning as kids who spend more time experimenting with different approaches and making more mistakes in divergent areas. Kids who study for the test will likely get better test results on the day, but months and years down the road, they haven’t retained as much and aren’t able to use the knowledge they’d learned in the same way. Kids who learn by trying different things, making mistakes and figuring things out on their own, even going on tangents unrelated to the testable material, don’t ace the test. But kids who learn this way acquire a greater grasp of the subjects and more useful, transferable knowledge years down the road. (ref: Range by David Epstein)


Many teachers tend to teach to the test and many coaches tend to coach for the race. We are all judged based on our latest results. As a parent, despite all the research we know, it is still hard to say, I’m fine with my kid getting C’s on their test – I trust that their teacher has the long game in mind. And as athletes it’s hard to say I’m fine with this season of mediocre results or even looking like I’m going backwards because I know there’s a bigger picture I’m working towards a couple of years down the road. We only see things directly in front of us.


But now we don’t have a test to study for – a race to train for. So we can take this opportunity to do away with grading and measuring ourselves. Let’s run in a way that we can learn something different. Maybe this is an opportunity to go back to full on base mileage mode with no speed. Maybe you can experiment running more slowly through technical trails (something that will help you to become a more well rounded runner, but probably not a faster marathoner in 12 weeks). Maybe you can actually take some time off to heal something you’ve been running through for too long. Or, how would you feel if you only did shorter runs – 30 minutes or less – but added some good quality strides every or every other time? (how most elite athletes who started running in high school initially developed). What if you took the time to really focus on strength with hills and stairs and core work and squats and lunges at the expense of mileage? Or what if you just set out every day with no plan at all – and learn to listen to your body as to how fast and far it wants to go each day? You might be surprised when you set out for an easy run and find your body wants to push it a bit – go for it when you want to! Or turn your run into a walk if that feels better one day.


That’s my headspace right now. If you like having one structured workout a week, here are some options for this week so you don’t have to make it up on the fly:

  • 6-8 x 3 min hard, 1:30 easy
  • Hills – any mix of long and short
  • Riverdale Hills – to work on that important but oft neglected pure power
  • Classic old-school fartlek: during your run pick a landmark in the distance and run hard to that. Jog until you feel recovered. Repeat however many times feels right.

Thanks guys – keep going – you’re doing awesome!