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The Six Factors of Specification Training

Few of us runners are blessed with an over-abundance of time. Whether juggling a full-time job, parenthood or other sports and hobbies, every runner wants to make the best use of their training time.

A great way to do that is through specification of training. Specification as it relates to runners is pretty simple: match your training to the conditions of your goal race.

There are six main factors to consider:

1. Terrain

The Endurance Buzz community is focused on trail races, so maximizing training time on trails is key. But there is a large amount of terrain variance between different trail systems and race courses. From smooth single-track to punishing mountain ascents to technical, rolling trails are all possible. Ideally, you want to train on trails that mimic the specific conditions of the race. If at all possible, run on the actual race course to know exactly what to expect.

Big name races often host training camps allowing their entrants to spend time on the course. If these aren’t available or feasible, a map of the course and a free weekend are all you need to try it for yourself. Pressed for time? Make sure to focus on the tricky or challenging portions of the course, like a big climb or an area with the potential to get lost.

2. Elevation Gain/Change

Every race website should list a detailed elevation profile of the course. Once you know what kind of climbing to expect, your training can be further refined.

Running the Jemez 50M? Time to include some hill training and long runs on mountainous terrain.

Running Rocky Raccoon? Not so much.

Decide what is most important for the race – flatland speed, quickly covering rolling terrain or power-hiking long mountain climbs.

If your goal race does include significant elevation change, it is worth your time to make a detailed training simulation for the climbs you might encounter. Using the Jemez Mountain 50M race as an example again, there is a 7.1 mile section with 2,400′ of elevation gain, which equates to approximately a 6.5% average incline. If you’re fortunate enough to have a similar trail nearby, then great. If not, it is worth it to spend some time on a treadmill with the incline cranked up to simulate the climbs you will be facing come race day.

3. Race Day Conditions

Here in the Southern part of the United States, runners are fairly accustomed to running in the heat. If your race is in Texas in the summer, that heat training will benefit you greatly. Runners training for an all-day Summer race like Western States must log some miles during the hottest times of the day. Not only does it have physiological adaptation benefits, you will be able to practice your hydration and electrolyte replacement strategies.

If a race starts at 4 or 5 AM, try starting some of your weekend long runs in the wee hours of the morning. Running a 100-miler? You’d better prepare yourself for running in the dark as well.

4. Mental Conditions

Every ultrarunner has experienced low points during a race. Knowing your own personal mental and emotional triggers and weaknesses is the first step toward overcoming these low patches. After hours and hours of running, your body and mind will be exhausted. That’s where including some long back to back weekends of training will pay dividends on race day. Going out for a four hour run on tired legs and with low motivation will teach you to overcome your impulse to skip the hard days, which will help you power through sections of a race when dropping out sounds like a great idea.

5. Physical Conditions

What kind of physical conditions do you expect to go through on race day? Plan on training not only the physical sensation of running on tired legs, but how to fuel your body best in those situations. The same food you can snack on during an hour-long run may not work as well many hours later. Knowing your body’s fueling, hydration and salt needs and capabilities is mandatory prior to race day.

6. Gear Considerations

How do you plan to carry your fuel with you on race day? For races with lots of aid stations, maybe only a handheld bottle is necessary. When the gap between aid stations stretches longer than hour, something larger might be necessary. Testing how your gear choices feel on long training runs will help determine whether or not they are suitable for race day. Finding out a hydration pack causes chafing after a few hours is not something you want to discover on race day. If you train with the same type of pack on your long runs, take things a step further and always keep things in the same place – calories in one pocket, electrolyte tabs in another, etc. When your brain stops working toward the end of a long race, you’ll be happy you’ve trained your body to automatically reach to the right spot.

What other kind of specification training considerations do you think about to prepare for a goal race?

– Brett Oblack

About the author

Brett Oblack Brett Oblack found himself unable to run a quarter of a mile without gasping for air. He then trained for races from the 5k to the marathon which solidified an obsession with running. Brett's love of the Southwest landscape led him to trail-running, ultra-running and climbing. For more information on Brett, check out the About page where you can check out his personal blog.

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