Elite Level Workouts: should you attempt?

Elite Level Workouts: should you attempt?

I recently received an inquiry from someone using a plan of ours. His question was in regards to when he should do the infamous “Simulator” workout. For those who aren’t familiar with this workout, it’s essentially a 26.2 kilometer effort at race pace. With warmup and cool down, it would total about 22 miles for the morning. Over the last few years it’s become our big test effort to see if we were ready for our actual attempt in a few weeks. In any case, his question got me to asking my own questions. One, how many people read about a monster workout they read about in a blog or magazine article and just decided to rock it without truly knowing the ins and outs of the workout? Second, is it ok (I mean in a non segment sabotaging way) for the average to competitive runner to attempt these monster workouts?

It’s only fair to speak to the big Hanson workouts and I realize that many of you have no idea what I am talking about. With that, let me start with explaining these workouts.

2×6 Miles

This is the OG of Hanson’s workouts. When I came to the program in August of 2004, the 2×6 was the one I was warned about, the one everybody had marked on their calendars! Here’s a quick breakdown of what we would do:

3 mile warm up
6 miles @ goal MP minus 5-10 seconds
10 minutes (most of us jogged or prayed)
6 miles faster than the first attempt
3 miles cool down
Spend the rest of the day crying to your mama.

Total of 19 miles

This is a very tough workout, but it would certainly tell you if you were fit.

Now for the specifics. We would do this workout about 3 weeks out from the race. If you weren’t sure, this is a marathon segment workout. This would be our primary litmus test in a marathon segment. Going into this workout, there wouldn’t be a bunch of extra rest- maybe an extra day of recovery. We would typically only have an extra day of recovery afterwards, too. I have lost track, but I have done this workout close to 20 times since the fall of 2004. It never has gotten easier and as the Miles rack up, it seems to get harder every time.

So, should you do it? Well… it depends. For most people it does not make sense and I’ll explain why. The main reason is that essentially the 2×6 mile is an extended version of a workout that we give everyone in our classic programs- the 2×3 miles. This workout is the toughest of the strength workouts and is placed late in the training plan. In perspective, they are the same workout for different groups. The elites are running 120-140 miles, while the plans are about 50-60 miles at peak. So, percentage wise, the work is about the same. Personally, I don’t prescribe the 2×3 for most people more than twice and that’s only if they are really fit and a seasoned vet. Now, if a person is running more mileage, it’s a fair to adjust the 2×3 mile up a tick. Let’s say if you run 70-85 miles per week, that you are just fine to try a 2×4 mile. If at 85-100 a 2×5 mile workout and then anything over 100 miles per week you can give the 2×6 mile a shot.

The Simulator

2-3 mile warm up
26.2 kilometers at goal pace. Hopefully on a course you can simulate the race course on.
2-3 mile cool down

22-23 miles total.

A little history as to why we even do The Simulator. I know this because I took part in the first one. We did it before we sent a big crew of guys out to Boston in 2006. In northern Oakland County we have lots of hills and dirt roads. We had a stable full of fast runners, so we certainly didn’t need to look very far to find competition. So, Kevin and Keith designed a course that gave us a great look at how the course would feel and was 26.2 kilometers so that we could visualize each mile (except it was a K). It really was a situation where we could get a race feel and go through our routine without big travel or looking for a competition. We had 10 of the fastest guys in the country right there. Aso, it probably kept us under control. We all have a itch to dial the pace up a notch when actually in a race. This was a way to pull the reigns in a bit.

So, should you do it? To be honest, this is why I do say to run a half marathon 3-4 weeks out from your goal race BUT to not race it all out. I tell athletes to warm up, start the race at marathon pace and only pick it up after 10k. We also don’t have the athlete taper much. Maybe only a few miles because the day f the race will be more mileage than usual. We’ll also do an extra day easy before and after the race, but mileage will stay constant.

The pros of traveling to a race include allowing you to go through the entire routine of traveling and getting into an actual race situation. However, if you know you won’t be able to execute your race plan, it might be best to stay home. The other consideration is this, with our plans you are doing regular long tempo runs anyway. In the ODP we do a ton of marathon pace workouts, but aren’t doing 10 mile tempo runs every week. Throughout the course of the year we do, which allows us to spread them out more than we would for recreational runners. My point being, you get tons of practice at running 8, 9, 10 straight miles at your goal pace. You might not need to throw in an even longer one just to say you did it.

Deciding Factors

When doing these big workouts, there are two big factors that dictate if you should take into play when considering these big marquee workouts. The first is that you have to be able to do these workouts without taking a big dip in training. Adding an extra easy day, or two, at the same mileage you always run is fine. However, if you essentially have to have a mini taper to even attempt, I don’t think it makes sense. At the end of the day, a string of consistent workouts is going to yield much better results than crushing one workout. The second is how you can recover from this big workout. Some of this might just be experimenting because you might just not know until you try. However, if you try it and it completely wipes you out for the next three days, it might not be a good idea to try to keep doing that. My advice when doing these big workouts are to focus on the basics- rehydrate and refuel. After that, if you have to go right into work, wear good compression garments. Full tights would be best, half tights and socks would be fine. Here’s where an ice bath or a cryotherapy session might do wonders. At this point of the program, the majority of your fitness is there and we created a lot of extra damage that may warrant desperate measures. Another simple measure might be a big dose of antioxidants or tart cherry juice, BUT NOT anti inflammatories. You don’t want to be popping Advil to get through the next 3-5 days of discomfort. I am also ok with giving yourself an extra easy day, but at the same mileage your typically run.

At the end of the day, I think most people believe our schedules are hard enough. The need to do an elite level workout might be tempting, but consider the big picture. If it jeopardizes your ultimate goal then workout bragging rights isn’t worth it. Besides, in our case it’s the workouts that are in your programs that inspired the elite level workouts.

  • Paul Berry

    As a beginner with a target MP of 8:45 for a flat marathon, I ran a 18 mile race at 8:22 pace on a hilly course in the buildup. I don’t think either workout would be a problem for a 4 hour marathoner based on my own experience.