How to Hit Your Race PR in 2014

Here are a few considerations to prepare you for your best race season ever.  

  1. Consider your Weaknesses
We often as athletes want to work on what we are good at and what we like to do.  This is normal, but getting out of comfort zone and working on our weaknesses will make us a more durable and well rounded athlete.  
There is a much better return on investment with training our weaknesses than building on top of our strengths.  Here’s a fun analogy; why add a spoiler (ie speed) unto a junky car with no durable engine (ie endurance) and aerodynamics (ie technique)? How much time will you really improve?
NOT MUCH. It’s pretty ridiculous but we do this so often in our training.  We don't prioritize our weaknesses until they keep building up and then we'll end up looking like this car. We know you're a good swimmer so stop swimming five miles a week and work on your run.  We know you're a fast runner but you keep finishing weak  at the end of the race so work on your technique and tempo.  Don't add a shiner spoiler, add a stronger engine!
A good way to assess your weaknesses is to use previous races to assess this. Just a couple of examples:
    1. Did you feel like you had a little more in you? Do you want to run faster: intervals and high intensity may need to be added.
    2. Did you feel like you ‘ran out of gas’? Do you want more stamina? Then think about adding tempo runs and long runs.  
    3. Does your technique not stay consistent? Then you need to work on skill and technique drills to improve your turnover rate and efficiency.

  1. Consider your Schedule
Regardless of the perfect training plan customized to your weaknesses, if it can't realistically fit into your busy work and life schedule, then it is bound for failure.  I have seen this often in runners for example. They learn from their mistake but try to add too much mileage in, for example. This can lead disappointment and anxiety when you continually don't hit your planned training times. You feel like you're playing catch up.  This will lead to suboptimal training when you do get to your runs and a much larger risk of injury from the big jump in volume of lack of rest.
So plan a realistic training schedule that you KNOW you can do. Be realistic about your goals because of this. Don't expect to break a world record and work 40+hours a week.  Remember the pros train as a job and have most of the day to do it.  So, even running twice a week can still be enough to improve your PR, albeit utilizing quality runs.    
You can also try to add training into your normal routine. For example, maybe you can bike to work. That added 15-20 minutes of riding just became 40 minutes of training each day. That can go a long way towards your goals!

  1. Consider the Importance of a Strong Foundation.
10 years ago we argued the importance of interval and high intensity training. Now its the only thing athletes like to do it seems.  Some people, like Crossfit Endurance, will try to make speed a priority.  Although its key to improving your technique and time our foundation as runners or triathletes should be built on the ‘long run’ or steady state brick.  The long run holds the hierarchy and can not be overlooked.  Long runs will build stamina and durability as well as teach the body to use fuel efficiently. It also helps you maintain proper form when you are fatigued. Start the long runs well within your comfort zone but continue where you can still carry a small conversation.
  1. Consider the Benefits of Cross Training
We can either decrease volume of your training or add in strength/cross training to prevent risk of injury.  We generally don't want to decrease the duration and intensity so adding strength training to keep the muscles balanced and the body moving without compensations will aide in injury prevention. Cross training will reduce repetitive strain and improve motor control carryover to our fitness related goal.  Further you will enhance your range of motion which can improve overall economy with your goal task. Plus there’s increasing scientific evidence that a well-developed strength program will improve performance. Runners can improve their economy, and therefore speed. Cyclists can see increased time-trial speed and time to exhaustion with strength training.  So adding in a little strength/cross training will improve your performance and get you closer to your PR; and implementing can be very easy and not time consuming at all.  An effective workout can be done in only  15-30 minutes.  For example, 15 minutes of tabata intervals with 4-5 total body movements or 30 minutes of yoga from your tv/dvd (verizon has a bunch of good videos) can work well.

Contributed by Dr. Jake McCrowell


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