Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Coach's Corner: The Third Lap!

Have a question?  Let us know at coach@vcrunning.com

Q: I always seem to struggle the third lap, is there a workout I can do to help me not slow down so much?

Anyone who has been to a high school track meet will at some point hear a coach yell at their runner to "push the third lap."  For one reason or another, most high school runners are going to slow down a little the third lap, it is the thorn in the coach's side... so you are not alone.    However, if you are slowing down too much you might want to look at your pacing and how fast you are running the first lap.  It has been famously said, "the mile is not won in the first lap," and for good reason: inexperienced runners often run the first lap too hard.  Blasting off the first lap does not give you a cushion but rather puts you in oxygen debt.  It's ok to be a little under pace but if you are shooting for a 5:00 mile you have no business going out in under 70 seconds.  It will come back cost you dearly the third and fourth lap.

Take a look at the World Record Splits run by Hicham El Guerrouj:
55.4, 1:51.5, 2:47.1, 3:43.13.

That is about as even as you can be.  It is important to note that while the splits are even the effort to maintain that time each lap increases.  You need to spend more energy each lap to maintain the same pace as you fatigue.  So next time you run the mile, your first lap should not only be used to get in a good racing position but also be your easiest of the four. Try pushing harder progressively each lap of the race.

But you asked about a workout...  Here is one we do to try and simulate the fatigue and focus you will need to get through that first lap.  By the end of the workout you are going to really need to gut it out!

Recovery Cut-downs: 200’s

24 x 200 @ Mile Goal Pace (Sets of 6)
Set 1 (Reps 1-6):
Recovery = 60 seconds
Set 2 (Reps 7-12):
Recovery = 45 seconds
Set 3 (Reps 13-18):
Recovery = 30 seconds
Set 4 (Reps 19-24):
Recovery = 15 seconds

This workout can really be done for any distance and with any recovery.  For the high school athlete I have found that 200’s is short enough that the quality of each repetition can be maintained throughout the entire session.  The goal of the workout is to teach pacing, patience and how to push the body late in the race when you are fatigued.  By the 4th set athletes will cover 1200 meters @ goal mile pace with just 15 seconds to get back to the starting line before the start of the next interval.  The recovery that felt too long the first set now leaves them hustling back just to make the start of the next one.  I overheard one of my athletes as we were about to start of the final set say, “this feels like the third lap,” which is the point of the workout entirely. 

This is a short, intense workout that only takes about 25-30 minutes including recovery.  I generally have my athletes jog recoveries at a pretty good clip for most of our intervals but this is one I have them stick around once they finish.  The recovery seems long for the first set but by the start of the second set things are starting to quicken.  The volume of the workout is fairly low (about 5k) so longer distance runners that concentrate on race in the 3k-5k range will want to do a longer warm-up and cool down run of about 20-30 minutes before and after to add some mileage.

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