I am entering my Senior year coming off a very sub-par cross-country and track season. I was injured at times during the season, but I could stick with and even beat my teammates in practice who can run sub 2:00 for the 800 and sub 4:30 for the mile. Somehow these training days wouldn't translate to good races. I ended the season at 2:12 and 5:00. How can I translate my training and workouts into better racing performances for this upcoming season?
Mohammed Kamran, 17
Thanks for the question. I need to preface my response by saying that I can only give you my best guess - I wasn't there to witness your practices and races, so I'm going to have to make some assumptions based on my experience as a coach. I say this because if you've not already done so, you need to sit down with your coach and get their opinion as to why you could train with faster runners in practice but be so far behind them come race day.
That said, my first guess is that you may have been racing in practice, going as hard as you could to stay with your teammates...teammates who were running controlled. This is a common mistake for all levels of runners when running in a group. It's so easy to get "pulled" along with the pack, yet if everyone else is running controlled and you're pressing, then the stimulus you're getting is much closer to a race stimulus than a workout stimulus. Again, I wasn't there to see you workout, but had I been able to watch I might have seen you straining (sometimes evident in the neck and shoulders) to run 800m and 1,600m pace workouts whereas your teammates were cruising. And what's difficult about this analysis is that the person least likely to know if this was happening is you. No doubt you’re dying to be a good runner, and therefore you bring that energy to practice - you want to train hard so you can become a faster runner. But that's the problem. There are days in running where you just need to cruise, get the workout in and stay away from that special energetic place that you save for race day.
If my guess is correct, then what it means in terms of race performance is that you were flat while your teammates were fresh. Or you were tapped out and they were sharp. Again, it's a thin line between the two, and if you could hang with them in workouts then there is no doubt that you should be able to run faster than 5:00 and 2:12. How much faster, I don't know.
I hope this is helpful Mohammed. and please know that if you were racing your workouts a bit that most runners have done the same thing at some point. Plus, the fitness you gained this spring will only help you in the upcoming cross country season if you can learn to run controlled, running within yourself.
*Coach Jay's advice is provided as general training information. Use at your own risk. Always consult with your own heath care provider for questions relating to your specific training and nutrition.