Race-Week Workouts for Success

My college coach spent as much time raising cattle as he did training runners. And in the final week prior to championship races, he would often say to our assembled group: "The hay is in the barn, boys. Now we just need to make sure it's stacked right." This usually led to a series of quips—bovine in nature—and a lot of mooing from the team.

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While most of us were from the suburbs, we knew what Coach James meant with his farming analogy: The crucial work had been done throughout the year; all we needed was a little pre-event sharpening and we would be ready to race. It was—and is—a sound approach, yet I often see very experienced coaches and athletes make the critical error of trying to cram extra bales of training into an already packed barn just before race day.

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In fact, science reinforces Coach James's wisdom. Recent studies have found that a reduction in volume, coupled with high-intensity work the week before competition, yields the best results on race day. Tapering allows athletes to go into competition feeling rested, while injecting some speed into this period means you'll be ready when you're called upon to run fast in your event.I run sharpening workouts early in the week, running the harder session on Monday, the less taxing one on Wednesday. Racers prepping for a 5K, 10K, or half-marathon should run their final quality workout faster than race pace so that race pace feels more comfortable. For marathoners, the last quality session should be at marathon pace; this will reinforce a sense of pacing and help counter the urge to go out too fast. This schedule provides enough training stimulus for the week, while still allowing plenty of recovery time—all bales considered.

More: Keys to a Successful Marathon Journey

Speed Racer Prep for any race distance

5K TUNE-UP

Monday: Run 2 x 800 meters at your 5-K race pace. Jog for 2:30, then run 1 x 800 meters at mile race pace.
Wednesday: 3 to 4 x 400 meters at mile race pace. Jog two minutes between repeats.

10K TUNE-UP

Monday: 6 x 800 meters at 5-K race pace. Jog for 2:30 between repeats.
Wednesday: 1 x 1200 meters at 10-K race pace. Jog three minutes. Follow with 1 x 800 meters at 5-K race pace. Jog for 2:30, then run 1 x 400 meters at less than mile race pace.

HALF-MARATHON TUNE-UP

Monday: Two-mile tempo run at half-marathon race pace
Wednesday: 2 x 800 meters at 10-K pace

MARATHON TUNE-UP

Monday: Run a mile at 10-K pace. Recover for five minutes, then run 1200 meters at two seconds faster per 400 than 10-K pace. Recover for four minutes, then run 800 meters at four seconds per 400 faster than 10-K pace. Recover for three minutes, then run 400 meters at six seconds faster than 10-K pace per 400.
Wednesday: Two-mile marathon-pace run

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About the Author

Ed Eyestone is a two-time Olympic marathoner and long distance runner. In 1986, Eyestone won the San Francisco Bay to Breakers 12KM race, defeating an estimated 110,000 competitors in what the Guinness Book of Records considers the world's largest footrace.

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