GO HARD, THEN GO HOME
It sounds crazy, but all-out sessions build physical and mental grit for race day
The first time I tried an all-out session I threw up when I was finished. It’s a workout that violates everything you know about pacing: instead of controlling your effort to maintain a pace for a certain distance, you take off at a sprint and fight your way through the inevitable desire to fade. I endured it in a physiology lab, where researchers used it to push runners past their supposed Vo2-max limits – that’s how hard it is. That said, you
can harness its power to become a stronger runner.
WHY IT WORKS
In 2015, researchers published the results of a study in which cyclists did a workout with three three-minute all-out reps, with three minutes of rest between each one. They were told to sprint as hard as they could and to try to sustain 100 per cent effort in each rep. Unsurprisingly, the cyclists found this workout much harder than the next: 3 x 3-min evenly paced reps, using the pace they had averaged in the all-out reps. But they got more benefit from the first workout, spending a greater length of time in the physiological ‘red zone’ that triggers the greatest gains. Starting at a sprint forces your body to ramp up its delivery of oxygen to your muscles more quickly than it otherwise would.
The psychology of the fade at the end of such a workout is important, too. In an all-out session, you’re pushing against your limits the entire time – an ability that improves with practice. Being able to push hard and hang on will be a valuable weapon in your racing arsenal.
HOW TO DO IT
Try running one or two all-out workouts in the months before a major race. Make sure you do a thorough warm-up first and then start the session with a few more usual intervals, such as 4 x 400m at 5K to 10K race pace. Then keep the main part of the workout relatively short and include ample rest periods: try 3 x 3 mins with 3 mins’ rest, or 4 x 2 mins with 3 mins’ rest. Give your full effort at all times during the reps. Expect to suffer.
While the all-out session is a great test, you should still spend most of your workout time developing the ability to pace yourself evenly – that, after all, is the most efficient way to race. Do two all-out workouts per training cycle, at most. They will leave you as drained as a race would, so plan enough recovery before your next hard run. Alex Hutchinson is a former elite athlete and the author of Whichcomesfirst, cardio orweights? ( William Morrow)