Duh! How Many Times Do I Need To Learn To Pace Myself?
Some runners put themselves into slumps because they are too energetic in their running. Other runners have slumps because they don't get enough sleep due to busy schedules. Some runners run heavy/heavy day after day. Some change the 10% rule to a 25% rule. Others change LSD (long slow distance) to LFD (long fast distance). Many want improvements NOW in their running, and they aren't content to progress at their body's schedule. Some older runners try to run at the intensity they did when they were younger. All of us can fall into these "slump traps" if we aren't careful, and our training curves will have peaks and slumps that resemble oscillating curves.
What can we do to avoid slumps? Can you spell B A S I C S? Let's all say in unison, "I will follow the basics of running, use moderation in my running, and let my body dictate how intense I train." There, that was easy! Now, we'll never put ourselves into a slump. Right.
By following the basics, we can eliminate self-induced slumps. However, we still may experience slumps that occur naturally due to our body rhythms. Jeff Galloway expressed it this way:
you must build rest weeks into your program: every second or third week, you should automatically reduce total mileage. This gives your muscles the extra time to “catch up.” -- http://www.jeffgalloway.com
If we don't allow for that extra time, our bodies will go into a natural slump. We'll have a lot of improvement, and then we'll have an unexpected down-day. We haven't been abusing our bodies. We haven't been violating the basics. We just find one day that we don't have it. When this happens, the best thing to do is take a rest day or two and then continue our training. I read an article in Runner's World about a world-class runner who experienced a natural slump two days before a big race (I'm sorry but I don't remember his name). He took the next day as a complete rest day (the other runners thought he was crazy). He understood his body and that his loss of performance two days before the race was a sign from his body that he needed to rest. He acted on that sign, and then ran to first place in the race.
Two articles that I recommend that cover the basics of running are Coaching Running on the Internet and The Basics of Jogging. The coaching article was published in the newsletter of the Nashua, NH Gate City Striders. It outlines 12 of the more important basic principles of running. The jogging article is by Dr. George Sheehan, who for a number of years was medical columnist for Runner's World magazine. He answers the questions How fast, How far, How often? In addition to these articles, there are many books and web sites that teach the basics of running.
Through following the basics in your training, you can smooth out the variations in your performance so that your training curve will resemble a staircase instead of an oscillating curve. This training will include increases in distance and speed (the steps) to cause your body to respond and become stronger, and it will include sufficient rest between runs.
If you aren't into racing, you probably don't care when performance peaks occur -- you just take them as they come and enjoy them. However, if you do races, it's important that you maximize your performance on race day. Runners who peak before a race often get discouraged because they've had such great training runs, and then on race day they "run out of gas" so to speak. So, for racers, the objectives are (a) to avoid slumps that sap our energy, and (b) to time our bodies to perform at maximum performance on race day.
Hey, My Race is Next Week. What should I do to Max My Performance?
Here are comments from two coaches about peaking on race day. Links for these comments are given so you can read the details.
- Tapering. Reduce your LSD mileage by half in the two weeks before the race. Begin the tapering period feeling refreshed and well rested. If you're overly tired, the taper won't help much.
- Continue to do the same percentage of speed work up to the race. "Since your mileage is being cut in half, the amount of high-intensity speed training should also be cut in half." Avoid long, hard intervals that put high stress on your body. Do shorter repeats with longer jogs between for full recovery.
- End your taper with two or three days of light jogging. Don't overdo this, because you want to begin the race being well rested, ready to perform at peak performance.
- Mentally, visualize yourself doing your best in the race.