How much should you emulate the elites?

His marathon is a completely different race than yours

Last week, in discussing strength training, I pointed out why I think most runners should probably not do what the elites are doing. I wanted to expand on that thought some this week because, while it’s good to look at them to get an idea of what works, it can be risky for several reasons to simply replicate what they do.

Elites are running different races than we are running

The marathon is the marathon, right? Well, not really. For elite men, it’s just over 2 hours. For elite women, it’s still around or under 2:20. For the average runner, it’s 4+ hours, twice as long as the elites. Even for a 3 hour marathoner, the marathon is a different race than it is for the elites.

Fuel requirements are different (the elites are much less likely to run out of glycogen). Energy system use is different (the elites are running incredibly close to lactate threshold). Even something as basic as time on your feet matters. The elites are wearing down their legs for far less time than you or I are.

Maybe it would be worthwhile for a 2 hour half marathoner to consider some of the things a 2 hour marathoner is doing but be careful to extrapolate what they are doing to prepare for a 2 hour race and apply it to preparing for a race that, for you, will be 3 or 4 hours or even longer.

The same applies at a different scale to any race distance.

Elites can make a different level of commitment than we can

Consider an elite runner’s workout day. It most likely consists of:

  • 2 or more hours at the track for a workout (warmup, workout and cooldown can easily add up to 2 hours for an elite runner).
  • A second run of 30-60 minutes.
  • A trip to the weight room that, for some, can add up to 1-2 hours.

That’s up to 5 hours working out in a single day. Even an easy day with two runs can add up to 1.5-2.5 hours.

All of this is before you count in time with a physical therapist, a massage therapist, time for some extra sleep and other restorative work to support all the physical demands of the training listed above. There’s a reason not many elites hold a full time job. Running is their full time job.

Elites have different motivations and commitments

Of course, like the rest of us, elites run for many reasons. However, when they are training, their motivation and commitment boils down to one simple thing: becoming the best/fastest runner they can be.

While many of us have that motivation and make that commitment, we are balancing other commitments (work, family, etc.) differently than the elites. Yes, I hope every runner places family at the top of the priority list but running may be number two for the elites, while it probably falls farther down the list, at best number 3 behind work, for the rest of us.

This means they can commit more fully than we can.

There is nothing wrong with either what the elites are doing or what we are doing. However, they are very different things. To expect yourself to live up to what the elites can do is unrealistic and most likely counter productive.

By all means, look at what they are doing and take ideas and inspiration from them. However, be careful about how far you go in emulating them. Realize there are differences between what they are doing and what you are doing and account for those differences when taking ideas from their training.

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