Race Specificity | 80/20 Endurance

Race Specificity

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    I enjoy doing mountain/trail racing, particularly on courses that involve a lot of climbing (and descending). The Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent for example, where the course gains 8000 feet in about 13 miles.

    These race courses are often simply too steep to “run” so you’re forced to powerhike often instead. As a result I’ve always trained for these events by supplementing with uphill treadmill walking and also treadclimber (the gym machines that resemble escalator steps). Thinking more is better I have double downed on doing more and more of that cross training but to be honest my race times were better when I focused on road running speed workouts with just a sprinkling of uphill treadmill workouts added in.

    This doesn’t make sense to me as it seems like the principle of race specificity would indicate I should do ALL of my training in this way, or at least the majority of it. Nevermind the fact the boredom of this would be unbearable but I’m thinking theoretically here.

    So in the 7-8 years of doing these races I’ve always wondered if I got the recipe right.

    I’m actually a pretty good power-hiker, when courses get really steep and pace is reduced to 20min/mile or slower I tend to excel relative to my competition. Similarly, I can do steep uphill treadmill hiking (14-15%) at 4-4.5+ mph while keeping effort fairly easy. Since any faster means I’m running instead of hiking, I’m not sure what more I can gain there?

    So this year I was thinking since this is a skill/strength that maybe the best approach is to maintain that skill/strength with “some” crosstraining but really focus on where my weaknesses are (general speed – vo2max work, tempo runs, etc – so road speedwork) instead.

    So with all that said, are there any suggestions for getting this recipe just right?

    Matt Fitzgerald

    The principle of specificity says that if you’re training for one-mile track races, you should run an all-out track mile every day to prepare for it! 😂

    In other words, specificity isn’t the only principle at play in training. Your experience is very much the norm. You give up more than you gain by focusing too much on terrain-specific preparation.


    Thanks Matt. Any suggestions on what a good mix would be for the recipe I have in mind? 20% of training time in this area? More? Less?

    Matt Fitzgerald

    One session per week is a good baseline.

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