Run­ning De­bate

Run­ners Need to Get More Com­fort­able Be­ing Un­com­fort­able

Canadian Running - - CONTENTS - By John Lofranco

Are you stuck? Man­age to run great in work­outs, but when you get to the three-quar­ter mark of the race, you just fall apart? Can you knock off 400m re­peats much faster than your 5k pace, but can’t keep it up past 3k on race day?

You might think you need to train harder, train more or find some se­cret work­out to push you over the top. What you re­ally need is to change your fo­cus, and learn how to be com­fort­able be­ing un­com­fort­able.

Tra­di­tional work­outs fo­cus on ei­ther phys­i­o­log­i­cal mark­ers, like VO2 max or lac­tate thresh­old, or they in­volve pace work, aim­ing for your goal 5k or 10k or half-marathon pace. Th­ese are ba­si­cally in­ter­change­able ways of look­ing at train­ing: If you do 5k pace work, you are work­ing close to VO2 max (you could go a lit­tle faster but it’s a range), and if you run longer in­ter­vals or a steady set be­tween 10k and half-marathon pace, that’s around your lac­tate thresh­old.

This isn’t the wrong way to train: the phys­i­o­log­i­cal ben­e­fits are good, and pre­par­ing to run at goal race pace is a good plan. But if it were as sim­ple as that you’d just plug in the work­outs and the race re­sult would come. To get over that hump, you need to learn how to be un­com­fort­able.

The work­outs them­selves don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to change. In­stead, re­con­sider your ap­proach in three ways: your at­ti­tude, your fo­cus and your ef­fort.


Is your ap­proach to in­ter­vals and hard train­ing just to get through them? Do you dread the faster ses­sions? If so, take a step back and re­set. Your at­ti­tude to work­outs should be that you love them. The burn in the legs, sear­ing in the lungs, the sweat on your brow: th­ese are signs of dis­com­fort and signs you are do­ing this run­ning thing the right way. Look for­ward to them. Af­ter all, if you don’t love run­ning, why are you do­ing it?


When you set up your work­out by look­ing for­ward to the hard stuff, you have to fol­low through. When you run in­ter­vals, those are the el­e­ments you should fo­cus on. Rather than wor­ry­ing about how much you are hurt­ing, go look­ing for those signs of dis­com­fort. Be­come in­ti­mate with the feel­ing of your legs as they go from peppy to painful. Learn what hap­pens when your breath­ing starts to get heavy. We of­ten try to avoid th­ese signs and push them out of our mind to “help” us get through the in­ter­val. In­stead, face them head on.


Fi­nally, let ef­fort be your guide. Lose the watch. OK, yes, you have a set num­ber of in­ter­vals at a set dis­tance to run, and you want to run them at a cer­tain pace or in a cer­tain range. The re­al­ity is, a swing of two to three sec­onds per lap is not sig­nif­i­cant at all in terms of how “good” the work­out is. Run­ning 10 x 400 m in an av­er­age of 90 sec­onds is not much dif­fer­ent than an av­er­age of 88 or 92. Yes, some are faster and some are slower, but what mat­ters is how hard you are work­ing at that speed. Work­outs are in­puts: you are do­ing work in or­der to be able to per­form later. In­stead of fo­cus­ing on hit­ting ex­actly the right time, fo­cus on your ef­fort. For in­ter­vals at 5k pace or faster, you want to be run­ning pretty hard. For longer in­ter­vals at 10k pace and up, the feel­ing you want to have is con­trolled, but you want to push that con­trol to its limit.

Change your at­ti­tude go­ing in, fo­cus on the feel­ings your body gives you, and run by ef­fort, not by time. If you do this, when you in­evitably start to hurt in a race, you will have ex­pe­ri­enced it all be­fore, and you’ll be com­fort­able be­ing un­com­fort­able. John Lofranco is the head of road run­ning for Ath­let­ics Canada, a coach at Ath­leti­cisme Ville-Marie, and a con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor of Cana­dian Run­ning.

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