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Top Tips for Improving in Long Distance Running: The Principle of Specificity

Specific demands made on the body produce specific results. The principle of specificity is exactly as it sounds. I see many athletes miss the mark when it comes to the principle of specificity though.

If you want to be a better runner, you must go run. The 1st piece of specificity in running improvement is obvious. Considering what the goal(s) is will help put the principle of specificity into full effect though. That’s because body needs different systems to be well-primed for different lengths and intensities of running. The body also needs this to be done in a way that keeps athletes healthy and free of burn-out.

An example: 75%-80% of my recent marathon training time was spent running long, and slow. Running long and slow is about as specific as one can get when training for a marathon. That’s because when doing so you are training your body to become more efficient in gathering energy via use of oxygen. This strengthens the body’s aerobic engine and to run a marathon the body gathers almost all its energy by using oxygen (94%). That’s a system any marathon is going to need to avoid bonking.

Another example can be found when looking at thoughtful 5K-10K training plans and their use of VO2 max runs. VO2 max (anaerobic) workouts help runners maximize the amount of time they can tolerate running at the faster (a relative term) pace used to race 5K-10K races. They are specific to the distance and can take several months to improve upon. I would also like to note that it is crucial that these types of workouts are incorporated in a way that is balanced with all the other puzzle pieces used to make up a great plan.

The moral of the story: Before taking a running workout from “Runner’s World Magazine” or other source that is “guaranteed” to help you become a faster, better runner consider the workout’s specificity. Are you taking an efficient route to reach your goals? Is it specific to where you want to be?

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