So you’re training for a big goal race in four months. You probably have an idea of what your goals are. Week after week, you put in the miles, run the workouts, and slowly but surely inch your way closer to your goal fitness. How do you measure your fitness gains as your training progresses? One of the best ways is to enter some races, and measure your gains by how much time you drop. But races can get expensive, and what if there aren’t any races that work with your schedule, or the weather is inclement and you have a poor result?
This is where indicator, or staple, workouts come in. I like to run a few workouts several times throughout my training period so I can monitor my progression and know what needs some work. By doing the exact same workouts, on the exact same courses, several times, you obtain many data points on which to base your fitness assessment. This means that if you do perform poorly on one or two, you can dismiss them as outliers because you have other results to work with.
I have three main indicator workouts that I use frequently, and each one highlights a different section of fitness. By doing each workout two or three times over the course of a season, I can easily see where I am improving the most, and what I need to focus on a little more. These, coupled with a few races, provides me with a pretty clear picture of how my training is working along with A) what my weaknesses are, and B) what I can reasonably except come goal race day. My three favorite workouts are:
1) 2x 3 miles at tempo pace. I like this because it gives you a solid chunk of tempo work, but splits it up so you can run closer to the “true” tempo pace as described by Jack Daniels; the pace you could hold for a race lasting about an hour. Usually, I can run this workout around 6:00 pace any day of the year. When I am just starting to get into shape, I can usually average 5:50 pace. If I ever get down to 5:40 pace, I know I’m in really great shape and should expect to run a PR.
2) 5-6x 1000m at 5K pace. This workout provides one of the greatest training stimuli for me. I find that long intervals are crucial for me to be able to run well, and 1000s are the perfect distance. When not in any sort of race fitness, I can typically average 5:30 pace for this workout. After a month or so of training, I should be able to dip under 5:20 pace. When I am in peak fitness, I can sneak down to 5:10 pace.
3) 3x 400-600-400-200 at mile race pace. I could just as easily run 400s for this indicator, but I like switching up the distance, and getting a feel for my speed over 200m as well as my speed endurance for 600m. We did this workout at Brockport a fair amount, and I always liked it for a confidence booster, or learning tool. It’s not the most fun workout (running 600m faster than 5K pace always hurts for a slow twitch guy like me), but it will get you in shape, and more importantly, demonstrate if you need to work on your speed. Again, on any given day out of season, I should be able to run this a little over 5:00 pace. When I’m getting in shape, it is possible to run under 5-flat. If I ever run 4:50 pace or faster, watch out, old PRs!
Of course, it is important to use workouts of varying speeds and distances so you aren’t doing the same thing week after week, but having these three staples allows me to gauge with pretty good accuracy where I am in my training. Choose a handful of workouts that you know and love, and use them for yourself in the future. You might just find that your indicator workouts help you in your training as well.