The January/February issue of Running Times had an article that I really enjoyed by Steve Magness regarding using uncertainty in workouts. You can read that article here. I follow a fair amount of professional runner blogs and coaching blogs along with staying pretty up-to-date on modern coaching trends in running, and this article spoke to something I had been thinking for a while: as coaches, we often train runners for the perfect race with the perfect preparation and assume the perfect conditions on race day (okay, so this is a bit of an exaggeration but still relatively descriptive of how coaching typically works).
In practice, this looks like lots of work at just the right pace we are shooting for and using certain routes to simulate the hills you will face and when you will face them. It is used when we come up with a great “race plan” for runners, and on and on and on. In spite of all of this, race day usually does not go perfectly! Whether you are a high school runner competing in a championship or an adult marathoner shooting for a PR, there are usually at least a few things that do not go according to plan.
Enter workout uncertainty. I was very excited to read about college coaches using uncertainty in workouts and feel this is beginning to happen more and more all across coaching ranks (yay!). When you are coaching a group, putting uncertainty into workouts is pretty easy. The article above mentions a few ways of doing this, and there are many others. But how do you add uncertainty into your own workouts if you are a “loner” instead of in a group???
My favorite way: Roulette training (at least that’s my term for it!)
So, first I will give you the set up for this type of training, and then I will give three ways (there are many more) that you might be able to use it in your training. It is ideal if you have a watch or phone with GPS so you can track your current pacing. Otherwise, no other equipment is needed for you to trick yourself! Hang in there through this explanation. At first it might sound complicated, but it is really quite easy :)
Assign the first digit in the “second” section of time to a specific task – i.e.:
5:04 = workout A, 5:14 = workout B, 5:24 = workout C, 5:34 = workout D, 5:44 = workout E, 5:54 = workout F
During your warm up, you pick a random time to look down at your watch and look at the first number in the “second” section. Then you know what workout that number corresponds with. Let’s say you see the time 13:57 – the number you look at is “5”. Then you know that 5 = a specific pre-assigned workout. Now, here are 3 ways you might use this … again there are many others:
Race Pace practice (this is an example of a workout I did today):
I have a current goal of maintaining a certain race pace for an upcoming 10k race. I wanted to get about 15 mins of race pace work in for this training run, but I didn’t want it to be too taxing (which meant not doing it all together) and wanted to work on uncertainty (which meant I needed to trick myself). So, I assigned the first digit of the “second” section of time as described above: 0 = 2 mins at pace, 1 = 3 mins at pace, 2 = 4 mins at pace, 3 = 2 mins at pace, 4 = 3 mins at pace, 5 = 4 mins at pace. I completed my warm up and looked down at a random time to see a “5” – of course!!! So, I ran 4 mins at race pace and then had an equal recovery of 4 mins at “settling pace” (what I naturally settled into after that run) before the next set. At another random time during recovery, I looked down and saw “2” … darn the luck, another 4 min run at race pace!
In the end I ended up running 4, 4, 3, 3, and 4 mins for a total of 18 mins of work at race pace. It ended up being 5 hard segments, but if I kept hitting “0” or “3” I would have run 8 hard segments all in smaller chunks.
Sprint/Hard effort add-ons in run:
Same set up as above for assigning workouts. For this one you assign a distance or time frame to each number as shown. Here’s an example: 0=1 min, 1=2 mins, 2=3 mins, 3=4 mins, etc. Before your workout, you determine how many hard effort segments you want to complete. For this example, let’s say you choose 5 hard segments. That means you could run as little as 5 mins hard or as much as 30 mins hard, and you could do it in any different time frames as assigned.
The goal is to work at 90-95% effort for each individual segment not knowing what is coming next – will it be a 1 min effort or a 6 min effort??? This can help make up for a common happening in training where we “save some in the tank” because we know we have so many reps to do or a certain section of a workout coming up.
Workout options in run:
Again, we have a similar set up. This one might require a written paper to reference if you can’t remember the specific workout segments. An example set up would be: 0 or 3 = 4x400m w 200m recovery, 1 or 4 = 2x800m w 400m recovery, 2 or 5 = 1x1600m. Before your workout, you determine how many hard effort segments you want to complete. Let’s again say you go with 3 efforts. You could get all 400s or all 1600s or any mix. In this case, you would end up with 3 miles of work regardless of the combination.
And countless other options …
Those were just three options of many. After you try it 1 or 2 times, you will have it down and can start to play around with how to set it up. You basically have as many as 6 options at your fingertips for any workout.
I have found much benefit in adding uncertainty to my program and to those of my clients. It allows us to run more freely due to not having the constraints of a very specific workout. I’ve also found that this is one of the best ways to work on mental toughness in preparation for races. Even if you are not a super-competitive runner, these workouts can be a nice way to spice things up!
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