Turkey Trot Tuneup

All across the country, one of the most popular running events is the Thanksgiving run. With lots of creative names surrounding the holiday theme, these races usually occur in November. The distance of the run can vary, but many are of the 5-mile or 8k variety. This article will offer some tips to help you get tuned up for such an event.

Five miles is a great race distance for most runners. It’s short enough to test your leg speed and aerobic power, but it’s long enough to require good stamina and endurance. It’s relatively easy to train for and recover from (as opposed to longer distances). The characteristic that we are looking for in the 8k runner is a rhythmic, light, quickness. You don’t necessarily need the explosive power required for a shorter event nor must you possess that all-day grinding ability of the more marathonic endeavors.

Any runner with basic fitness can just jump into a turkey trot, slog through the miles, and survive it. But most Lifetime Athletes will say to me “How can I run a faster 8k?” That’s what we’ll break down here. Without getting too technical, the 5-mile distance requires you to have the efficiency to hold speed and the economy to meter energy at a pace near your lactate threshold. This output level roughly correlates with your functional threshold power, anaerobic threshold, or second ventilatory threshold. All these are considered slightly different by definition, but they are close enough for our discussion. Even simpler, 8k pace is like humming along below your redline. It doesn’t stress you out too much to hold it, but it takes real concentration to stay in the groove. You can’t just mindlessly jog along or you’ll fall off the pace.

Any runner capable of running 5 miles between about 6 and 10 minutes per mile will benefit from the suggestions that follow. If you are looking at a pace which is more like 12 minutes per mile (breaking an hour), you probably will benefit from just increasing your overall running mileage and frequency a bit. Likewise, if you can race this distance with your pace in the five’s (minutes per mile) or faster, you’ll want to consider more elaborate training approaches. But the majority of runners, perhaps 80%, will be looking at running their 5-miler between 6 and 10 minutes per mile. Those are the athletes that will get the most out of a few key workouts.

With just a couple of weeks til turkey trot time, we’ve got to throw out two types of workouts…long runs and hard intervals. Long runs of 9 miles and up aren’t that valuable in this short training cycle, and they can make you tired, flat, and slow right now. Hard intervals, such as 5 x 1000m with an emphasis on maximal oxygen uptake, don’t actually hit the specific metabolic target for which we are currently shooting. Plus, most recreational runners shy away from this kind of training anyway. It does have a place, just not right now, so maybe I can convince you to do something like that another time. 

The bread and butter (or turkey and stuffing) of good short-term 8k training involves only three workouts. Let’s look at each one separately.

  • Threshold Intervals: Also known as “cruise intervals,” these are relatively longer intervals performed at the slightly challenging or “comfortably hard” 8k pace. These efforts don’t kill you but you have to focus to maintain that steady effort. As opposed to using distance, my favorite recommendation is to prescribe 3-4 reps of 6-10 minutes @ 8k goal race pace with 1-3 minutes easy walking or jogging between reps. A short warmup jog of 5-10 minutes should precede the session and perhaps a brief cooldown of the same duration can conclude the workout. This type of workout can be done anywhere, such as on the trails or roads. You just cruise along and make those relatively subtle pace shifts. It’s general and approximate in its application, but extremely effective.
  • Short Striders: I like to think of these as “leg fresheners,” and they are absolutely amazing at enhancing your stride mechanics and native leg speed. The workout I usually recommend requires no warmup or cooldown and it must be performed on either a field or a track. The key session is 20-30 x 100 yds/meters with full walkback rests after each rep. The first 5 reps are very light and progressive and the last 5 are “easing out” of the session similarly. The middle 10-20 reps are run at a quick, light, and fast pace that is roughly your 1-mile race pace. It’s not a sprint and it’s not difficult to hold this pace for only a 100. But, it gets you running way faster than distance pace and improves your form and speed amazingly. Trust this workout and don’t try to turn it into a longer, more exhausting run.
  • Recovery Sessions: Here we are looking at short, easy jogs or cross-training (alternative mode aerobic) sessions like cycling and rowing. The preceding two workouts provided the specific short-term training stimulus your turkey trotting body needs. These recovery training episodes are just fillers to complete your weekly target volume. If you are able to run without having overly sore legs or fatigue, just fill in with a few 2-4 milers of “pretty jogging.” Resist the urge to go further and defeat the real purpose here. If running feels like too much, that’s where the cross-training comes in. Use your judgement.

Put these sessions together for a few weeks and you’ll find yourself being more than just a turkey trotter. You’ll be a “poultry jet-pilot” or a “dressing drag-racer!” Here is a sample training week:

  • Monday: Threshold Intervals
  • Tuesday: Recovery Run
  • Wednesday: Resistance Training
  • Thursday: Short Striders
  • Friday: OFF
  • Saturday: Cross-Training
  • Sunday: Recovery Run

You can assemble your training week however it best fits your preferences, schedule, and level of conditioning. 

I hope you give this plan a try. Let me know if you have any questions, if you liked it, or how it worked. I’m always happy to engage with Lifetime Athletes.

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