How To PR Your Next Race By Training Less

This article is for all you long distance marathon and Ironman athletes out there who are logging endless miles. I am going to tell you how you can actually get faster by training less.

Before we get into how we are going to make you faster by training less, we need to talk about why we slowdown in the first place. So, let me ask you – why do you slow down in an event? Are you slowing down because of you’re out of breath, because you’re lacking cardio conditioning, or are you slowing down because your muscles are fatigued, tired, and sore?

I would bet the majority of you are slowing down because your muscles are fatigued. Keep reading to learn about the four areas you need to address in your training to become faster, by training less.

Are you doing a lot long runs or long bike rides? Volume will not make you faster – intensity will make you faster. Intensity is the key to a fast race. If you want to race fast, at any distance, you need to train fast.

Focus on Four Types of Training to get Faster

1) Shorter High Intensity Training
2) Strength Training
3) Strength Sessions Combined With Endurance Training
4) Speed Work Combined With Endurance Training

Shorter High Intensity Training sessions need to be intense and they need to be hard. I will be honest, they are going to suck. But as they say in the military, “Embrace the Suck!”

The major advantage to these intense training sessions is time – these sessions are intense, but they are short. When you do intensity training, you focus on intensity, not elapsed time. When you are training with high intensity, the training volume is reduced to allow your body to recover, which allows you to train hard again. When you add intensity into your training, you can avoid “junk” miles. Quality over quantity will make you a faster athlete.

Strength training can be further categorized into specific and non-specific strength training.

Specific strength training is strength training while you are doing your sport. It is done while you are swimming, cycling or running. Although your muscles are tired while you are doing these sessions, you will still get a good cardio workout.

Here are two examples of strength specific workouts:

  • Cycling in your big gear for 5 min at 50 RPMs at 65-75% max effort; followed by 3 min of over speed recovery at 100 + RPM. Repeating this workout 5-7 times.
  • Swimming with paddles or a pull buoy, keeping good form.

Non specific strength training is strength training not specific to your sport. This training includes strength programs such as  CrossFit, P90X, Olympic Lifts or tire flips.

Strength Sessions Combined With Endurance Training, Strength Endurance, builds your resistance to muscle fatigue, which is critical for your success at any distance, but extremely important for longer races. As I mentioned earlier, most people don’t slow down because they are out of breath, they slow down because their muscles are fatigued.

One of the best ways to increase your muscle resistance to fatigue is to do sport specific strength training combined with tempo training. This type of workout involves a lot of cardio and sport specific strength training. A strength endurance workout includes hard race pace, or above race pace intensities, with short recovery times. Adding these types of workouts into your training will pay off big time. You will get more “bang for your buck” doing this type of training than any other type of training. An hour of strength endurance training on your bike will provide more benefit than an three to four hour ride.

Here is an example of a strength endurance workout:

Bike or run hill repeats at high intensity, race pace or above (Zone 4 or 5) with a short recovery between set the intervals. Do a 1:1.5 work to rest ratio, such as 8 min work to 12 min rest. Do 5-8 total hill climbs.

The key to these sessions is intensity. Each session needs to be an all out effort, at race pace or above. The goal is to maintain the same pace through all of the intervals; the first interval should be as fast as the last interval. You know you did a strength endurance workout correctly when you’re toast at the end of the session. If you can’t do another repeat, you did it right!

When you first start strength endurance workouts, your last intervals are likely to be much slower than your first intervals. However, as you continue these training sessions, you will be able to maintain the same pace through all the intervals. This means you are building your body’s resistance to muscular fatigue.

Speed Work Combined With Endurance Training or Speed Endurance is very similar to strength endurance training, but the difference is recovery time. Speed endurance workouts require speed efforts at faster than race pace, with short recovery times – you do not allow your body to fully recover between sets. A typical speed endurance workout can be completed in 1 ½ hours or less. Don’t be fooled, you can really produce a lot of fatigue in that short amount of time.

Here is a sample speed endurance workout: Running 800m above race pace, close to your VO2 max, with short recovery, 1:30 min for sets 1,2, 3 and a 3 min recovery between set 4 and 5, then back to 1:30 min recovery for the final sets.

If you want to PR your next race, stop thinking about volume and start thinking about intensity.

If you train slow and steady, you will race slow and steady. Most people don’t train anywhere near their race intensity. I mentioned this before but it is worth mentioning it again – when you are racing in a long endurance event, why do you slow down? You slow down because of muscle fatigue. Give these shorter high intensity sessions a try, then come back here and post your race results in the comment section below, I would love to hear how you did.