Should I be pacing myself or going all out when I’m training?

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Great article from Alex Hutchinson, from sweatscience.com. The concept applies to much more than running …

Developing a feel for your speed is key to efficient running, Canadian athletes learn

Alex Hutchinson
From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

The question

Should I be pacing myself or going all out when I’m training?

The answer

Last winter, gold medalist Simon Whitfield led a squad of triathletes from the Canadian national team on a trip to Nike headquarters in Portland, Ore., for a 10-day training camp. Their goal: to elevate their running game by learning from the elite crew of distance runners and highly sought after coaches based there.

One of the key lessons they picked up was the importance of finding the right pace – that, at least in training, going faster isn’t always better. It may sound obvious, but sports psychologists believe that learning to monitor and adjust to feedback during training is a powerful tool for developing expertise – even in apparently simple activities such as running and biking.

The group Mr. Whitfield trained with in Portland included Simon Bairu of Regina, who earlier this month smashed the Canadian record for 10,000 metres by 13 seconds at a race in Palo Alto, Calif., running 27:23.63. Chris Solinsky, another member of the group, broke the U.S. record in the same race, and a third member of the Portland group also dipped below the old U.S. record.

“They’re so precise about their pacing,” Mr. Whitfield says. “We came home with the message that when a tempo run is supposed to be, let’s say, 3:05 [per kilometre] pace, then 3:03 pace is not a success. That’s a fail.”

Such precision may be daunting, but it’s a hallmark of “deliberate practice,” a concept advanced by Florida State University cognitive psychologist Anders Ericsson and popularized in recent books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. The best way to master an activity is not simply to repeat it mindlessly over and over again, Dr. Ericsson argues, but to set specific goals and monitor how well you meet them.

The theory is most commonly applied to highly technical activities such as tennis or violin; for simpler activities such as running, “practice” usually involves simply heading out the door and doing it. But in a study of the training practices of elite runners by University of Ottawa researchers Bradley Young and John Salmela, what separated the highest-performing group from their less accomplished peers was how much they incorporated elements such as interval training, tempo runs and time trials, all of which require ongoing attention to pace and other feedback.

Read more.

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