As I prepare for this weekend's Marathon Clinic, there's little time for a new post. Therefore, in the spirit of "Renew-Reuse-Recycle", enjoy this nugget I wrote a couple years back to my college guys -- a far cry from 26.2, yet appropriate given the end of the IAAF Champs that featured USA's first pair of metric mile medals in...forever?
Also, since it's fall and I'm yet again stricken by the "Coaching Bug", enjoy this non-therapeutic*, performance-related post!
(*unless, of course, your "illness" is consistently poor mile performances!)
*****The "Shocker Mile" Race Strategy
The mile race (English or Metric) holds a special place in the hearts, minds, and guts of almost everyone. Perhaps not everyone's raced one, but most (by Executive Order!) were forced to run at least one in their lives.
As such, we've nearly all been prey to its perfectly cruel combination of distance and intensity: too long to dead-sprint, too short to "pace". On the track, four laps -- symmetry. Simplistic. Calculated.
The biggest challenge of the mile race is how one positions oneself for both optimal placing and fastest possible time. What I have found is that these two goals are not mutually exclusive.
*****Back in college, we did workouts called "Recover on the Run". Quite simply, you ran up a short hill, then ran aggressively over the top -- in essence, maintaining or increasing pace while forcing recovery "on the run". We carried this over into track, where we simulated this feeling by running 1000m repeats: the first 400 at 3K/5K pace, the middle 200m at mile pace, and the last 400 back down to 3K/5K.
This is a great workout because of the gear-shifting involved. It builds overall strength while also developing the ability to shift gears -- a priceless commodity in competitive racing.
A few years ago, while doing this workout solo, it occurred to me, "Why not race like this?" To me, it seemed the perfect solution to the two biggest issues of a mile race:
(1) Slowing way down after 400m
(2) Running terribly slow, mid-3rd lap, "waiting" for the race to be done
Simply put, this strategy involves two simple "moves", one at 400m and one at 1000m.
It seems simple. It seems easy. It might even seem asinine. But before closing your browser, stick with me:
A Typical Mile -- Running Fast the Hard Way
Below is a break-down of a "typical", effort-based mile performance, broken down by 200m segments (time in seconds in parentheses):
200m (31) -- out hard and quick for positioning
400m (32) -- finding a position, keying in on competition
600m (33) -- hitting the 400m "fast", you "settle in"
Stop here: do you see what is happening? With each successive lap, you are SLOWING DOWN A SECOND PER LAP!
809m (34) -- you sit behind in a pack. Half mile split is still pretty good
1000m (35) -- the guys in front of you are slowing; you don't move around them 'til the end of the lap.
1200m (34) -- THE GUN LAP. Time to play catch-up. The field is strung out and you're well behind the guys who got out really hard early.
1400m (33) -- you're passing a few people, but you feel like you're running all-out.
1609m (32) -- Last lap. All-out. Dead. The typical mile finish.
Why did this person run 4:24? Because "that's how fit they are"? No. It is because they allowed typical race dynamics to dictate their energy expenditure. Specifically, they fell into a "slow-down" gear by which they slowed 1 second per lap. And, to snap out of that and speed up, it takes an incredible amount of physical and mental energy.
Using the same first 400m, let's execute the "Shocker" strategy to see how it works:
200m (31) -- out hard and quick for positioning
400m (32) -- finding a position, keying in on competition; You also look ahead of you to monitor runners 5-10m ahead that burst out faster than you.
600m (32) -- "Move" #1 -- Using a smooth, efficient effort, you move up in the race field to the pack ahead of yours, typically 5-10m ahead. This pack ran 30-31 for the first lap, but they are now "settled in" to 32s. You settle in with them at the end of this lap
800m (32) -- let the pack drag you around, staying relaxed and composed.
1000m (33) -- you continue to lock in to this pack, but you are looking ahead to the next 1-2 competitors 5-10m ahead, anticipating your move at the 1000m mark. This keeps you focused and aggressive.
STOP. Look at this pacing. Rather than slow 1 second/lap, you have latched onto a pace-pack that dragged you along at an even pace. Through only slightly more effort, you are now FIVE SECONDS FASTER at the K.
1200m (33) -- "Move #2" -- the runners in your existing pack are slowing down. You move up in the race field to the runners you spotted earlier, running ahead 5-10m. Over the course of this lap, you reel them in and settle in off their shoulder.
1400m (32) -- time to compete. The runners you caught are faster and more competitive: they're trying to shake you, but you hold on tightly, allowing them to drag you through the penultimate lap.
1609m (31) -- you drop the hammer. The momentum of having moved up progressively through the race fuels a terrific finish
What a huuuuge difference! Eight seconds faster. Seems pretty tough, but which pacing strategy looks more smooth and less stressful?
*****Inexperienced, mentally-unfocused runners tend to get out hard and "hope" they feel well enough to compete at the end. If you want to be a tough, competitive runner and realize your potential, you have to take control of your race and mandate success! Deciding to move up after 400m (1 lap) and after 1000m (2 1/2 laps) put you on the offensive, putting your competitiveness in your own hands, rather than the hands of the field, or whether or not you "feel good" that day.
The greatest part about the "Shocker" Plan is not simply good pacing, but the competitiveness it fuels. When you execute it well, you build up terrific momentum and confidence. Rather than "think about" when you will make your move, it is pre-determined. With 400m to go, rather than "think" and "decide", you're already rolling! Moreover, who do you think has the momentum: you -- who's been moving up -- or the other guy -- who got out hard and is dying?
Coupled by smarter pacing and progressive racing, you are already passing people, setting up a monstrous bell lap.
Sounds good, right? But how do you make it happen?
"Recover-on-the-Run" Repeat 1000s. For the runner above (whose bests might be a mile in 4:16 and a 5K in 15:00), the paces might be:
72 - 32 - 72 = 2:56
For the five-minute miler/19:00 5K:
90 - 37 - 90 = 3:37
I recommend 3x K for beginners (600m jog rest) and up to 5-6x K for advanced (400m jog rest).
- Move up in the field at 400m and 1000m laps. This keeps you from slowing down, makes you more aggressive, and keeps you focused and competitive for the end stages of the race!