On Our Obsession with Distance and Pace

Runners on 400m Track - Abras and Dubai Creek Striders Runners

A couple of years ago, I posted a blog post which had tips for running in the heat, which has relevant and useful tips, especially if you are training for a big autumn or winter race. Over the past few weeks, several friends and I started ramping up our training for various races later this year (Berlin, Chicago, Beirut, Istanbul, Dubai etc.), and I have noticed that we tend to be quite fixated on the pace and the total distance we cover in our long weekend runs.

There are several risks associated with being so focused on the pace and/or distance combination, to name a few:

  • Injury
  • Fatigue and potentially getting ill
  • Dehydration
  • Frustration which can lead to self-doubt and go on to affect other areas of your training
  • Arriving at the race’s start line burned out and demotivated

Being competitive is great, however, there is a fine line between being determined and being stubborn.

Over-exerting yourself over the grueling summer months can significantly strain your body and muscles, especially if you do your long runs at marathon pace. See, there is a misconception amongst many runners that unless you do your long runs at the target pace of your upcoming marathon, you won’t be able to maintain the pace on marathon day. This will tire you out and is not even recommended in the cooler months. Some experienced runners go as far as having minimal ‘fast kilometers’ in their sets (But that could be attributed to having muscle memory and a strong base built over years of fast running anyway).

How can one work on this then? My recommendation, which is based on the advice of Angeline, the head coach of Super Sports ABRaS AC, the running club I have been a proud member of for the last few years is to gradually introduce marathon pace into your long runs and in small doses. To explain, instead of running the whole thing at target pace, for example, do the first few long runs at a slow pace, and then after a few long weekend runs, start your log run let’s say with 5k to 10k at a slow pace, then do 1k at target marathon pace and 1k at a very slow pace (recovery pace), and repeat the ‘intervals’ technique a few times in each long run, gradually increasing the number of kilometers that you are running at target marathon pace every week (but not run a full run at marathon pace, unless you feel super comfortable doing so).

Personally speaking, when I started training properly for my next full marathon, which is just over two months away, I dreaded running in the summer heat, and since running at Dubai Sports World’s indoor track would have probably driven me mad (the track is even shorter this year, and from what I heard there are even more people walking/standing on it this year. Urgh #FirstWorldProblem). I had to try and do things differently, so far it’s been going well. Here’s a description of my plan so far:

  • To get over the mental barrier of running long distances outside, I decided to start with doing long slow runs that are focused on time, without paying much attention to the number of kilometers covered and/or the pace I’m running at. So the first week I ran 2:00 hours, the week after ran 2:15 and so on all the way to 3:15 hours.
  • Most of the runs started well before sunrise (I struggle to run when it’s very sunny, even when I lived in Madrid, which had reasonable weather conditions for running for most of the year, I preferred running before dawn or in the evening). My alarm on Fridays is usually set to go off at around 2:30 AM (Yes, this means I am in bed on Thursdays no later than 10 PM, which is still relatively late #NoLife)
  • I reached the 3:15-hour mark in my long runs last Friday, and now I am working on distance. This weekend’s long run was 23-kilometers, with some kilometers at a slightly faster pace (But not target marathon pace, which in my opinion would be suicidal in this heat). Being sensible is key here.
  • So, next week’s run will be around 24-26k, the week after will be 2-3kms longer and so on, with each run incorporating some faster kilometers.
  • On a couple of runs where I struggled to finish my run outside due to the humidity, heat and/or sun, I completed the run on a treadmill. With August being the hottest month of the year, I expect a few more runs to follow suit.

It is important to highlight that every runner different, what works/worked well for me may not be very convenient or productive for someone else, but again, I cannot emphasize this enough: we need to be sensible, and for fellow guys, please do not be so egotistical and keep the big picture in mind. It does not matter if the other dude ran 3ks longer and/or a few seconds faster than you in pace. There is no point in running at insanely fast paces in the heat, and that sometimes less is more. The idea of marathon training is that you are gradually getting your body ready for the 42.195 kilometers of pavement/trail pounding it will endure, not to be drained, overtrained and burned out. I would also like to highlight that even if you are in good shape, losing some weight (even as little as 2 or 3 kgs) can improve your running form, stamina, and pace, as you will be lugging around less weight on your runs and ultimately at the big race.

Happy running everyone and be safe!

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