Running a Faster Long Course Marathon, Part II: Running Faster

Let’s begin by breaking the topic down into two major components: Running Potential and Running Success.

  • Running Potential: “What CAN I run on race day, given current fitness, training, etc?” The best predictor of Running Potential on race day is your VDot score.
  • Running Success: “Given my running potential, what WILL I run on race day.” The best predictor of Running Success on race day is race execution skills.

So you show up to T2 with a VDot score and race execution skills. Which is most important?

Race Execution Skills!!!!!!!

All the running potential in the world can’t help you if you don’t know how to execute a 26.2 mile run at the end of a 140 mile day. And the Ironman® run course is littered with the shattered bodies and broken dreams of very fit boys and girls…who don’t know how to race. I’ll cover race execution in Part IV of this series, but I just wanted to begin this discussion about how to run faster by driving home the central point of everything I do as the coach of a Team of Ironman® athletes: execution, execution, execution.

Jack Daniels Running Formula and VDot
Back in the day, before heart rate monitors, Dr. Maffetone, and 220-age quackery, runners trained by pace. Jack Daniels created a training with pace system, described in his book, the Jack Daniels Running Formula. I HIGHLY recommend you purchase and read his book. The method is simple:

  1. Perform a test or race on a known distance, flat course. 5k, 10k, half marathon, etc. This test is the functional expression of my fitness. “However fit I think I might be, whatever my body is doing/can do inside, the functional expression of that fitness is my current ability to run a 5k in 21:30.” This is a hard, objective, non-fuzzy data point.
  2. Use his tables (or an online calculator) to extract a VDot, based on your test above. We also extract a Lactate Threshold Heart Rate number from this test and calculate heart rate training zones.
  3. From this VDot, extract training paces. These paces are integrated with heart rate training zones. The net is that our athletes train all year with pace as the primary intensity measurement, heart rate as the secondary, and the combination of the two gives them very powerful insight into their bodies.
  4. Create a training plan that applies these training paces to achieve your fitness goals.
  5. Retest to reassess/reset VDot and establish new training paces, based on your improving fitness.
  6. Apply these new paces to your training plan.

With the ever more affordable availability of running GPS units, what’s old is now new again. For nearly three years we have applied the Jack Daniels principles to our Team of over 400 long course triathletes. That’s a LOT of data and this is what we have learned:

Lesson #1: Ironman® Running Potential = E-Pace
Timmy trains and trains and trains. About 3-4wks out from Ironman® Wisconsin he tests and his final VDot is 52, yielding an E-pace of 8:16/mile. We have three years of data that says his potential Ironman® marathon time is 3:36. Timmy then executes his race, based on this demonstrated fitness, his VDot, not hopes, dreams, and “guts.” What you do on race day is a function of what you actually CAN do, not hope/think/wish you could do. Given his running potential, Timmy’s success on race day is a function of:

  1. Race execution skills, by far.
  2. Running durability, created through running frequency, consistency, and volume, but…

Lesson #2: Running volume is NOT the best predictor
If you want to run fast on race day you need to make yourself a faster runner by…running fast. This is largely counter to the culture of the sport, which preaches becoming a better or stronger (whatever that means) runner by focusing on volume performed at Heart Rate Zone X. There are several fundamental flaws with this volume focus:

  1. As you’ve heard us say so many times, if volume is your only solution to a problem (as it is for traditional Ironman® training), what happens when you run out of the ability to do more volume? In our experience, the run volume of 90% of Ironman® athletes is about 30-35 miles per week. Maybe the occasional 40+ mile week, 50+ are VERY rare. This is just where the volume of most AG’ers sorts itself out, given the need to integrate this with running with swimming and cycling. In short, there are significant get-faster-thru-volume limitations within the context of AG’er Ironman® training, ie, you can only do so much volume before your body starts to break down or that volume seriously impacts other workouts.
  2. Does not yield very useful race day guidance. After training with volume and heart rate, I still enter the run course on race day without very clear pacing guidance. I’ve run x miles per week…but what does that mean in terms of what I should actually DO on race day? I’ve been training at heart rate X…but what does that mean within the context of the Ironman® run, where my heart rate can be significantly different than in training?  Our solution is to combine training and racing into one coherent system: by training with pace I finish the preparation phase of my training with a test yielding objective data — “this is what I can DO with my current fitness.” This data is then plugged into a system that’s been proven across hundreds of athletes.

Lesson #3: Build Fast, then Far
As you know, we preach that if you want to be faster you need to actually MAKE yourself faster. The most effective and time efficient manner to go faster is to spend time…going fast. However, as an Ironman® athlete, we also need to build your ability to go Far. Our solution is separate the need to make you faster from the requirement to make you “farther,” by making you faster in our OutSeason, months and months away from your higher volume training. We train all of our athletes to be faster 5k runners in the OutSeason. Yep, I said it. Our Ironman® athletes are training like 5k runners for 5mo per year. These athletes then apply this significantly increased running speed to PR’s at the half and full Ironman® distance after they build Far on top of this Fast. Please review the testimonials of our athletes.

Lesson #4: Intense Running isn’t as Scary as You Think
Traditional Ironman® training says that you’ll instantly implode on your first tempo run if you haven’t first earned the right to run faster by having punched the high volume clock…a lot. Our experience says otherwise:

  1. We work within a system (Jack Daniels) that has been proven through the results of literally millions of runners. In short, you always run at a pace that’s appropriate for you, as determined by an actually run test or race. In other words, what you do is function of what you have demonstrated you CAN do. Not a guess, not a SWAG, not hope…but an actual test.
  2. It doesn’t take a ton of get-faster training to make you faster. For perspective, as little as 2-4 miles/wk, total, at Tempo pace, can significantly boost your running speed.
  3. We’ve learned to how to integrate this get-faster run training within a triathlon schedule. Most notably:
  • Our “FAST then FAR” jazz above. This is huge.
  • We have figured out and added a “Half Marathon Pace” to the Daniel’s pacing tables. This has been a very useful training pace for us.
  • 5k’s as running tests, as they are most repeatable and easy to integrate into an Ironman® training schedule.

Rich Strauss
Endurance Nation

Need a half or full Ironman® training plan? Ours are in their seventh generation of improvement, used by thousands of long course finishers, age group winners and Kona qualifiers! Use discount code EN10 to save 10%! Interested in learning more about training with pace? Please download our Training with Pace ebook.

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