Race-specific Training and the 2012 Olympics

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I’ve been a solid proponent of race-specific training for years and here’s an example of just how effective it can be when you have a plan and follow it through.

The men’s 10K final in the 2012 Olympics was an example, not only of two very talented and hard-working runners, but of a very talented and insightful coach, Alberto Salazar. Mo Farah (UK) and Galen Rupp (US) were both trained by Salazar, who was brilliant in his race-specific training strategy for the pair. He knew the race would be won in the last lap, so he designed their training program accordingly. I’ve posted two of their workouts below to illustrate what he was doing.

Knowing that the race was going to be decided in the last 400 meters,  Salazar designed their interval workouts to have slightly slower, but longer, intervals up front. Then he had their interval distances shrinking and the speed increasing as the workout progressed. This trained them to hold a very strong pace up front, knowing that they’d have to have enough conditioning and mental/emotional drive in them to sprint at the end of the race. This runs counter to the way most people run a race, where they run their fastest up front and hang on for as long as they can… usually finishing much slower than they start.

Here’s an example of two of their workouts leading up to the Olympic 10K finals: (I’m paraphrasing from Tim Layden’s great article on SI.com)

Two weeks out from the 10k final, they did 6 x 1,000-meter repeats averaging of 2:38 (longer, slower) with a 500-meter jog between reps, then 3 x 400-meter sprints in 52 seconds each (training them to sprint after doing a lot of work up front!)

Six days before the Games, they ran an inverted ladder of:
3 x 600-meter sprints averaging 1:36 each
Then, 400 meters in 61 seconds
Then, 300 meters in 44 seconds
Then, 200 meters in 27 seconds
Then, a blazing 300 in 37 seconds flat
finishing the workout with an all-out 400 in 51 seconds (just after they’ve run their fastest interval of the day, he asks them to do a longer interval in almost the same speed.)

Both of these workouts offered Farah and Rupp the experience of what it would feel like to be running at a high speed for 6 miles and then have to throw in a 400m sprint to top it off. This type of training has not only an obvious physical benefit but a huge psychological benefit. They knew they could do it, because they’d already put themselves through the mental/emotional challenge beforehand.

In this case of race-specific training it was specific to the nature of this event and the challenges the competitive field would offer. In other events, race-specific training might be designed specific to the terrain challenges. If you’ve ever run the Marine Corps Marathon you know that there’s a 200m steep hill at the finish, so at the end of every LSD training run, you should plan your route so that you end your run at the foot of a very steep hill (which, of course, you run up… smiling).

So, no matter what distance or event you’re training for, do yourself a big favor and make sure you know what to expect and train accordingly.


Posted in Beginners

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