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Race-Pace Run Training

Race-Pace Run Training

Your main races demand you're fast, and the only way to achieve pure speed is by running at the correct intensity, says Steph Forrester

Adding race-pace run sessions into your current programme will help you to peak in time for your main event of the season. So whether you want to set a new PB, beat friendly rivals or simply feel more confident about getting through the intensity of race day, the sessions prescribed below will help you to achieve your goals.

The primary aim of the workouts is to give yourself the opportunity to get used to the feeling of racing in the comfort of your own training – a scaled-down race, if you will, that will prepare you for the physiological and psychological demands of competing at speed.

Before we progress, a word of warning: race-pace training shouldn’t be used as a quick-fix fitness booster. Although it will increase your fitness, without a good training base these sessions can increase the risk of injury and over-training, and you’ll develop poor technique. In short, to get the most out of these sessions, ensure that you’re fully prepared for what lies ahead.

Preparation and planning

The key to these sessions is hitting the right intensity, so the first stage is to determine your own pace intensity, which will be speed, heart rate or perceived effort.

Speed and heart rate can be based on what you’ve achieved in previous races and training sessions or, if using perceived effort, the intensity should feel around six or seven out of 10 for races up to Olympic distance; five or six out of 10 for longer races.

If you’re uncertain of your race-pace intensity, use the first few sessions below to test the correct pace for you.

To mimic race conditions, the workouts are best done on terrain similar to your main event. But remember: the idea is to focus on running at the correct intensity, not to worry about your footing.

Ideally, these sessions should be introduced around six to eight weeks before you race. If you’re racing already, only do one of these sessions each week. In the week leading up to a weekend race, the last day to consider a race-pace session is Tuesday and should be of reduced duration.

Since they’re of relatively high intensity, it’s important that you’re reasonably fresh going into the session and pencil in one or two easy days afterwards. Keep the duration and distances low to begin with and build up gradually over a number of weeks. If you have a good fitness base, then either one or both of the sessions listed can be introduced into your weekly training.

However, if you’ve had a disruptive winter’s training, keep the sessions shorter and only complete one per week to allow you to continue working on base fitness.

Like a bullet off the bike

The sessions will prepare you to run off the bike in a triathlon by focusing on:

Pace judgement. The most efficient way to complete the run leg is at an even pace, and the most efficient way to achieve this race nirvana is by using intervals run at your intended even-pace speed. You should also work on negative splitting where you learn to pace yourself by not going out too fast and running strongly through to the end of the session/interval.

Conditioning your body to make the switch from biking to running. This will minimise the amount of time it takes to shake off the old ‘wobbly leg’ syndrome after hopping off your pride and joy.

Improving your running off the bike by thinking about your running technique.

The content of race-pace training sessions depends on what distance you’re racing. In the box below we set out training sessions for sprint, Olympic and Ironman distances, providing one running interval session and one bike-run, or brick, session. And the aims of each are…

Session 1 Running intervals are aimed at getting you running efficiently and to develop the feel of running at your specific race pace. This session can be done on either a time or distance basis.

If you have no access to a track, then using the times indicated are fine. If you prefer to complete these sessions on a track, however, then use the 100m closest to the interval times suggested. For instance, the 90sec intervals are likely to correspond to either 300 or 400m intervals.

Session 2 Bike-runs will help to condition your body to switch from biking to running, and to help you find your correct running pace as quickly as possible. A number of drills are included in the run section to help you improve your running technique off the bike, ensuring you can wave goodbye to slouching with tiredness!

Completing four of each session in the one to two months leading up to your main race will give you the ability to run even pace off the bike. They’ll also help you find the pace you can maintain throughout the run leg without slowing down too much before the finish… or finishing with the knowledge that you could have run a lot quicker!

Steph Forrester is an Olympic triathlete, Tri2xL.com coach and sports biomechanist


Olympic to middle distance


Olympic to middle distance

Profile image of Matt Baird Matt Baird Editor of Cycling Plus magazine


Matt is a regular contributor to 220 Triathlon, having joined the magazine in 2008. He’s raced everything from super-sprint to Ironman, duathlons and off-road triathlons, and can regularly be seen on the roads and trails around Bristol. Matt is the author of Triathlon! from Aurum Press and is now the editor of Cycling Plus magazine.

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