Preparing to race well can be a complicated process where it seems as if the stars need to align just right for you to race to your potential. But, if you commit to understanding your individual strengths and weaknesses as a runner, you can simplify the process while getting into the best shape of your life in time for race day.
"Every runner is unique. You have to think about your training differently than what you might be used to. [Most runners believe] the plan drives the ship," says exercise physiologist and USATF-certified running coach Greg McMillan. "But the runner should drive the plan. Take the training plan as your template and move things around based on your strengths and weaknesses."
Step one: Figure out how quickly you adapt to training stimuli.
McMillan, founder and head coach of McMillan Running Company, which provides online coaching to adult runners, and coach of McMillan Elite, a nonprofit Olympic development team based in Flagstaff, Arizona, suggests that runners think about training in different zones: endurance, stamina, speed and sprint. Think about how you've adapted in the past to workouts that fall into these four zones—for example, long runs would fall under the endurance zone, and 400-meter repeats would fall into the speed zone.
McMillan's Run Training Zones: A Cheat Sheet
- Running at a slow, easy pace where your heart rate is between 60 and 75 percent of its maximum
- Breathing should be comfortable
- Goal: to build endurance
- What happens physiologically as you adapt: fewer heartbeats are needed to deliver blood to the working muscles; increase in capillaries, which deliver a greater volume of blood per heartbeat to the muscles; muscles are encouraged to store more glycogen (your first source of energy); you become more efficient at burning fat as a fuel source