Sandwich runs

Tomorrow I have what I’ve started calling a “sandwich run.” This is a workout that consists of a respectable number of miles to start with (at aerobic pace), followed by a race, then finished off with another chunk of miles immediately post-race.

In these runs, you’re not meant to race all out. Instead, the aim is to get in some aerobic miles so you go in tired. Next, you run the race at some predetermined goal pace that is slower than you could actually race it (for example, marathon pace, marathon+10%, etc.). And finally, you force yourself to run some more miles at a respectable pace once the race is finished and everyone else is off enjoying their bagels and hot chocolate.

I was first introduced to this concept back in November, where I saw that my coach had scheduled two miles on either side of a 10K race. I was told to really run these miles, not jog them. In fact, if I could manage it, it would be even better to work up to my intended racing speed at the end of the pre-race segment.

At the time, I thought this was a nutty idea. But that day I learned the value of running a mile or so hard before a short race; for the first time, I felt truly warmed up before a 10K, and I ran fast (considering the conditions) that day.

I’ve since had one other sandwich run: a planned 18 miler with 4.5 each on either side of the Ted Corbitt 15K in Central Park. It was very wet and cold that day, so I cut the two “bread” runs short (3.5 and 4.0), but nevertheless raced the whole 9.3 miles of “meat” in the middle.

That run was over three months ago. Tomorrow is the biggest sandwich run yet: the Colon Cancer Challenge 15K, with two full loops of the park (6.2 miles) tacked on either side, bringing the total distance to around 22 miles. I’m planning to do the first segment on the low end of the aerobic range, or around 72% max heart rate. Then I’m aiming for an average pace of 7:15 for the race. For the final miles, I’m taking the attitude that I’ll do what I can do, although I hope to again maintain an effort that is at least in the low 70s% mhr (recognizing that cardiac creep may push it higher anyway).

I find these workouts both intriguing and satisfying. In the satisfaction department, it takes the pressure off of racing. I know I can’t race all out, and so I don’t have to feel bad when I don’t. It’s also amusing when I’m running the course after the race and an astute volunteer says, “Hey, you’re on your third loop!” or something else that indicates they’re onto me (or they think I’m mentally challenged).

These runs are also a great exercise mentally, as the last thing you want to do after crossing the finish line is to go run six more miles. But that’s kind of how I feel every time I reach mile 20 of a marathon: I’m done. I don’t want to run fast anymore. But I have to. So I do. But, boy, does it take a mental effort to race those last six miles. The intrigue lies in whether a regular dose of sandwich runs helps with that particular aspect of marathon racing, which I have always suspected is as much mental as it is physiological in nature.