How often have you reached the second half of a race and watched in despair as runners you were ahead of come streaming past as you slow down? It’s an all too familiar situation, but one that can often be avoided by good discipline and race management.
This good discipline comes from experience and the right training. The number one rule for races is ‘don’t start too fast’. But how do you stop yourself from getting caught in the adrenaline rush at the beginning? How do you prevent burnout in the first 2km of a 5 or 10K race?
Progressive running is a specific type of training which can be a major help in teaching the discipline, patience, and race management techniques required to avoid ‘second half slow down’.
The concept is simple. Start slowly and gradually increase the pace of your run until you are pushing hard at the end.
For example, say you are looking to do 10K in under an hour. Your average race pace should be 6min/km, just under 10min/mile. In training, a 5-10k progressive run may start as slow as 7min/km, then rise to faster than race pace in the last two or three kilometers.
You can think of progressive running as a subset of the tempo run and these sessions can be interchangeable in your training week. In general, a progressive run should be between 3 and 10 miles.
However, there is nothing to prevent you from incorporating speed progression into your long run, and even interval and hill training sessions. As long as you start at a slow pace gradually increase over the course of the session and finish at a faster pace, that is a progressive run.
In many ways the benefits of progressive running are as much mental as physical. There is a real psychological boost that comes from running faster than your race pace at the end of a training session. If you can run this fast in training, you can do it in a race.
You will also start to learn discipline at the beginning of a run. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of going faster than you should early in a race in order to ‘bank miles’ or ‘bank time’. More often than not, this expenditure of energy at the outset leads to increased fatigue and greater slowing towards the end. It feels horrible, both physically and mentally.
Most importantly, progressive running teaches good race management. Learning to start at race pace or slightly slower and maintain the same pace or even speed up slightly towards the end (all while still feeling in control) is the perfect way race.
One of the best things about progressive running is that you are less likely to pick up an injury training in this way. Runners are often eager to get running without properly warming up. Because the progressive run starts slowly, it incorporates a warming up period as part of the run. Your muscles get time to adapt to the harder effort.
Running fast after covering a number of miles is great for stamina, endurance , and cardio function. Like tempo runs, interval training , and long runs, these sessions are all working on similar things in different ways, with the same goal in mind: finishing the race at the same pace you started, while staying in control.
While progressive runs are great in training, the most efficient way to race will always be even splits. That means holding race pace from the first mile to the last, and only speeding up if you feel able to in the final third. Use progressive runs to give you confidence that you don’t need to blast out of the blocks, the stamina to maintain speed throughout, and the knowledge that you will catch the runners ahead when they are spent towards the end.
If you’d like to try progressive running on Zwift, Monday Run Club is the place to be. MRC is almost always a progressive session. Check out the Zwift Companion App and join Group A, B C or D depending on the pace and distance you wish to go and we will see you on Watopia very soon.