Do you spend time every week running the fastest speed you can smoothly? What about working on shorter speed intervals?
I see a lot of runners go straight to threshold and tempo runs when training for a marathon, and long slow runs in the mountains if training for an ultra. Some even only do 800 or mile repeats as ‘speedwork.’ You may end up specifically trained for that event, but what have you lost in overall fitness? No matter your distance, you want to make sure to touch your top-end speed pretty frequently!
Strides in particular are extremely beneficial. By running at your top-end speed (without using sprinting form) for short durations with long recoveries, your neuromuscular system learns that fast does not necessarily mean hard. Over time, this will make your efforts at all paces faster, from your slowest recovery run through your 5k race pace. That means you get faster than if you just kept working on threshold and marathon pace. You also want to integrate some shorter 1-3 minute intervals into workouts!
Similarly, let’s say you’re racing a mountainous ultramarathon. You’d think you’d want to mimic the race terrain as much as possible, right? You could, and you’d be confident on race-day, but you may have lost some important fitness in the meantime. Sure, mental training and confidence is important, and we don’t want to neglect that either. But by being fit AND specifically prepared, you will be even more confident.
Don’t neglect your fitness in search of the small gains of specificity; specific training should build ON TOP of your overall fitness, not in place of it!
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