I believe a typical training week should contain a variety of runs. Speed runs, long runs, steady state runs, tempo runs, and easy runs all have targeted objectives that require solid understanding before baking into a holistic plan. More and more I see runners increasing their engagement in the value of varying their runs. I see it in the form of asking questions, sharing results, interpreting data, and challenging my advice. One common conversation I often find myself in compares the value of speed runs to steady state runs.
Speed runs are exciting, exhilarating, and challenging. They have a large span of options from traditional sets to creative modifications. Speed runs may involve intervals, cut-downs, pyramids, hill surges, or more. They can put runners into realistic conditions while providing valuable data and presenting mental hurdles to overcome. When I coach speed runs I pay special attention to the change in running form at different speeds and effort levels. I flag runners over-striding, losing control of their arms, or swinging their hips. I also look for form breakdown at slower speeds! I push for good form even on recovery in between efforts. If you join one of my runs you will hear me say, “trade speed for form”, when form is crumbling. These hard efforts provide cardiovascular benefits, mental toughness, and self-awareness, and I believe are a critical component to your training week.
When training for marathons or half marathons I do plenty of steady state runs as well. I also coach them frequently to test runners who have time goals for races. I like to target marathon race pace (average) for my steady state runs. I find a route that I can run continuously for an extended period of time. The duration of steady state runs depends on the individual, but for me I aim for an hour or more. These runs are most typically longer than tempo runs and give me a sense of how I hold up at an intended pace. We all know how hard it is to run an entire marathon at the same exact pace. Hills, turns, and your race strategy require multiple paces. This is why speed runs are essential. However, steady state runs give us valuable heart rate data, provide a chance to recognize a fade (if pacing is too aggressive), and demand that we stay focused with good form for an extended period of time. They encourage mental stamina and when executed successfully they boost our confidence. When I run my steady state runs I often ask myself the question, “How is my breathing? Can I hold this for a few hours in race conditions? Is my form consistent? Is my heart rate steady?”
Running for sport is more sophisticated than running fast and running slow. I do believe our running community has rapidly developed a culture of being informed, being curious, and being engaged. Consider adding steady state runs to your training schedule as appropriate.