RRCA Training: My Takeaways

As a runner, I always love hearing about all the different ways to train.  What works for people, what doesn’t work for people, what science proves, and what science doesn’t prove.  There are so many different ways to train and so many conflicting opinions, it can often be very overwhelming and can make a person go nuts!

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This weekend I attended the RRCA coaching certification course to become a certified running coach with the RRCA.  It was 2 full days jam packed with information all about running, and mainly focusing on endurance events like the half marathon and marathon, but really could be applied to most distances. 

I would highly recommend this course to any runner if you have access or the means to attend one, even if you don’t want to coach.  It’s a great way to learn, listen to the science behind training and open your eyes to some different ways to train that aren’t necessarily the popular way.

I left on Saturday feeling like pretty much everything I thought I knew about marathon training was being challenged.  I was really excited to think about all the information that I just had engulfed, but also was a little nervous and confused on what to do going forward with my own plan.

I am not going to recap the entire course here because that’s what attending the course is for, plus it would take a very long time.  I will talk about a couple of the main things that I took away from it and how they are going to impact my training.  These are only a few of the many things we talked about, but were some of the major things I left thinking about. 

The general course

The course was taught by Patti and Warren Finke who both have countless marathons and ultramarathons under their belts, as well as so many amazing stories.  Patti has a background in exercise physiology, which was definitely shown in day one with all the science behind running.

The first day was all instruction, where Patti talked a lot about the science behind why their training plans work, and also about nutrition, stretching, and anything you can think of related to running!  My brain was bursting at the seems when I left the course on day one.  I was trying hard to absorb as much as I could but they do throw a lot at you.

The second day we got more into methods to actually coach someone and had a sample client that we broke into groups to make a training plan for.  This day was much more interactive and things started clicking and making sense regarding why and how to implement their strategies.  It also was a great way to learn to deal with difficult, challenging clients we will probably be faced with. 

They know their methods are hard for most of us runners to grasp (and I am sure there will be a number of you who won’t agree as well), but they give you a whole lot of support and backing for why they work.  They also start the course by saying “all training works,” it’s just which one works best, keeps you injury free (big factor) and leads to a strong successful marathon that is the key. 

The training methods

Run slow

I have definitely heard about long slow distance running and have even tried it a little bit myself in the past.  I have read articles and running books that are behind it and can understand the scientific reasons behind it as well (teaching your body to use and build glycogen stores and burn fat, as well as many others), but I know putting it to use is the hard part, both physically and mentally. 

Physically it is just hard to force yourself to run slower than you want to run.  We get into the happy pace and it’s a great place to be.  Mentally it’s hard on your confidence and ego to run slower than you want to run.  There is nothing like a boost of your fastest long run ever, but that defeats a lot of the purpose behind long runs according to all their research, and takes a long time to recover from. 

Running your long runs slow also allows for a lot of long runs!  You know I loved seeing multiple 20 milers on consecutive weekends on a training plan.  You know what this also means – lots of miles, which obviously makes this mileage girl very happy!

The “aha” moment was thinking back to my marathons where I definitely bonked, used up my glycogen stores and hit the wall.  It makes sense after looking back on my training runs that I was probably running my long runs much too fast.  They really focus a lot on endurance and making it the top priority of your training.  These long races are endurance events after all.

Specificity

Train at the pace you are going to race.  Which also means do your speed work at the pace you are going to race.  Intervals and pace runs should be done at marathon pace if you are training for a marathon, and at half marathon pace if you are training for a half marathon.

This is also hard for me to put my mind around.  What about speedwork?!?  What about tempo runs?!?  There are no such things as “tempo runs” in their training plans, which they have good reasons for as well.  There is only easy, long and pace (with different ways to incorporate pace work). 

Hard & Easy

The was emphasizing the concept of overloading and recovering in your runs.  I pretty much follow this already, but a hard day should be followed by an easy day and visa versa, I think my easy days just aren’t easy enough. 

Easy days are short (<10% weekly mileage) and slow (>80% of what you could race the distance at).  Hard days are either long (>20% weekly mileage) or fast (>85% of what you could race the distance at).

There wasn’t anything too hard for me to grasp on this concept, but making sure you are recovered is a very big part of training. 

My training

So what am I going to change?  Well I am still working on figuring it out exactly.  It’s kind of hard to implement too many changes since I am pretty far into my training program already, but I am definitely going to change some things.  I wish I would have taken this class 6 weeks ago!

The main thing I am going to change is I am going to slow myself down.  Specifically on my easy/recovery days and on my long runs.  I really want to focus on endurance more.  I know I have the speed I need for the time being, but I need the endurance to get me through the entire marathon, not just the first 20 miles.  Since I am slowing down, I will most likely up the number of 20 milers I am going to do.  Yay! 

I will still continue to go to track (especially since I lead those workouts), but may change a few things up there as well for myself as needed.  I am also considering switching my tempo runs to marathon pace work now that my half marathon is over, so I can really work on locking in marathon pace for the next 10 weeks.   

My plan already follows the general template that the ones we worked on follow with alternating easy and hard days, so it won’t be hard to incorporate these changes.  I feel like if I am going to coach people to train a certain way, I should also follow training a certain way, or at least have given it a shot.  This won’t be a full complete training cycle like they would write, but I am going to experiment with it a little bit and see how those changes go.

My main goal for Boston is to be able to finish it strong, no matter what the time on the clock is, so I feel like really working on my endurance is the best way for me to achieve that goal.  Having a great time on the clock will be icing on the cake. 

Have you taken the RRCA course?  Did it change your training?

I have to take and pass my test (planning on very soon) and get my CPR/First Aid certification (this weekend) and then I will be a certified running coach! 

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44 Responses to RRCA Training: My Takeaways

  1. katie February 8, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    this is fascinating! the idea of no speed work but instead pace work is very interesting to me. but it makes sense, you want to train your body at race pace, instead of redline pace. i’m interested in seeing how this changes your training!

  2. Emily February 8, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    I can buy into a lot of this- especially the slow long runs…but the specificity? I’m not on board with. I credit much of my improvement over my running career to my speedwork. I also incorporate marathon pace runs, so I can teach my body to hit that speed, but I NEED my track and tempo workouts!

    • Aron February 8, 2011 at 11:52 am #

      This is what I have a hard time putting my brain around too.

      • Jesse N. February 8, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

        I struggle with this idea too, although I know it is a common training method. For me though, I can’t figure out how I’d ever run faster unless I actually ran faster.

        • Aron February 8, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

          Their answer to me was to run more and the speed will come, which obviously is an answer I liked :)

        • kristin January 12, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

          well said!!!! I agree!

  3. Amber from Girl with the Red Hair February 8, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    This is awesome and super informative Aron. Thanks for sharing!

    I think the concept of pace runs totally makes sense. I can see why, if you want to run a distance at a certain pace, you should train for that pace.

    Something that has really helped me slow down my runs is running with other people who are slower than me. I do long runs on the weekends with a local run clinic and we keep the pace around 10:30 – 11:00/miles because we are chatting so much. When I do my longer runs on my own I’m usually 30 seconds to a minute faster than that but running with other people who I’m chatting with really helps me slow down! I will also sometimes incorporate walk breaks into my long runs to make me slow down more and do 9:1 intervals.

    Can’t wait to hear more about your training changes in upcoming weeks :)

  4. Morgan February 8, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    My coach is RRCA certified and has me train like this, so far it hasn’t failed me yet. I do cheat a little and run my hills and pace workouts a little faster than he suggests but I always do my long runs at least 30-60 seconds slower than marathon pace to work on endurance and what not. Glad you enjoyed yourself girl!

  5. TNTCoachKen February 8, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    It does make you loo back at how you train. Just like the old adage, ‘Physician heal thyself’, it’s tough to coach-speak to yourself.

  6. Ana-Maria February 8, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    I heard a lot about this approach from others who took the course. I am a skeptic. There is a lot of science backing up the idea of running faster than pace, and even the elite runners incorporate track for the marathon/half marathon (Kara ran 12 800m before her half a few weeks ago). Matt Fitzgerald and the folks who wrote the Science of Running present evidence that the idea of a wall is very difficult to understand and is not as simple as running too many long miles. Check out competitor.com for a great article by matt, based on a paradigm developed by a mathematician about factors that contribute to hitting the wall. I have a hard time with people presenting just one part of the issue, as opposed to a more objective view that there are more approaches to training that one. I would still suggest you incorporate some faster than MP miles; when you are tired after 20 miler, those 6 MP miles are going to feel harder than MP, and if you are not used to that feeling, you will slow down, no matter how much endurance you have. I have never hit a wall in a marathon and have always done my long runs hard, including at least 20 miles at MP with the last miles faster than MP.
    Sorry to be negative, I just want to point out that the RRCA’s point of view is just one of the many available, one that the elite US runners that I follow do not seem to embrace.

    • Aron February 8, 2011 at 11:51 am #

      Not negative! I knew you in particular would have a great viewpoint from the other side of the fence and am happy you put it all out there. Exactly why I am kind of taking the middle ground approach to it all, rather than jumping all in at once. I appreciate all feedback and opinions!

  7. Joanne February 8, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    You are right – it was a really good course. It got soooo technical though. But you learn a tremendous amount and it really doesn’t stop after those two days. To thoroughly absorb it, I found I had to go over, and over the material.
    Congrats! You’ll do great on the test – don’t over think the questions. :)

  8. Matt February 8, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Thanks for taking the time to post this…It’s easy (for me at least) to get overwhelmed with all the different types of training plans available. I’m like most in the fact that I think speedwork helps my training, and I’m afraid to “waste” a marathon by training in a different way even though it might help improve my running.

    That said, I’d love to take the course one day just for the education aspect of it. Good luck on the test!

  9. Michelle February 8, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Great post!

    I do think all running training is trial and error — what works for some, doesn’t work for others (and it can be such a mental game!), so I love hearing about different training plans/approaches.

    I have to think that this is a great training approach for people (like me) who are training to run their first marathon. Right now, my goal is basically to run it and not die, so endurance is key. Maybe it is applicable to seasoned marathon runners too – but in my mind I can’t see how you would increase your speed/pace/overall performance without pushing yourself to be the fastest that you can be during training. Leaving that out is almost like missing a key to the puzzle, no? It’s great that you can incorporate this training into your training schedule now – especially the long runs.

  10. Nelly February 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    Great post! I was really curious what you thought about the class that you took.

    There are so many theories out there about how to train for a race, and I always try to take bits and pieces from what everyone says to try to construct what the best plan is for you.

    I do like how the RRCA plan is very easy in terms of pace – sounds like there are only 3 paces that you do your runs at (easy, long, and pace). So no more trying to figure out what is tempo, what is 5K etc, what is 10K pace, etc. I do like this aspect.

    And I also like how they suggest to do your long runs easy, since like you say you might be able to incorporate more of them. This also agrees with the Run Faster philosophy that the more long runs you do, the better since your body is then used to running long distances just like in the race.

    Like others have said above, not sure if I agree with getting rid of tempo runs (faster than marathon pace). Seems like those kind of runs help improve your speed a lot, because your body is pulled out its comfort zone and told to go faster than its used to.

    And for speedwork – I always thought that depending on the length of the interval determines somewhat how fast you should run the interval. So if you’re running 400s, run them at 1:20, if you’re running mile repeats, run them at 7:00, etc.

    I just finished reading Advanced Marathoning, and have started reading Run Faster. Both of these books seem to be preaching different philosophies than what the RRCA said. But like anything, try to grab the good things from it, and see what else you can learn from it.

    • Aron February 8, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

      Most of the marathon training plans I have used that have speedwork (BAA and Pfitz for example) have intervals prescribed at 5k or 10k pace, not necessarily your max that you can run at that distance. So even though the distance changes, its the 5k or 10k pace you are trying to maintain/hit to achieve the benefits from the speedwork. There are definitely different opinions and theories on that one as well.

  11. Jesse February 8, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    thanks for sharing this info! i think its awesome that you are going to be a certified running coach :)

  12. Marlene February 8, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    Wow, I think I would have a VERY hard time grasping/swallowing the “specificity” concept. So you just run along either really slow or at MRP all the time? I’m sure there’s more to it and would be interested to learn.

    I do like the idea of swapping out tempo work for MRP now that your half is done – I may actually do that myself after my HM in early March.

    Are you going to keep up your interval/speed work?

  13. Jill Will Run February 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    I loved the RRCA course when I took it (Wow, it’s been almost 2 years now!). I had running coaches with groups who always harped on me to run slower for the long runs, but after this course it helped me feel a lot more comfortable with that practice. And still, I’ve bonked several times since this course because I’ve run too fast in long training runs. It definitely takes discipline.

    Patti and Warren are great, they balance each other out so well!

  14. nicole February 8, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    Very interesting!!

    I’ve really been thinking about doing this!!

    Do you know if the same class is offered everywhere?

  15. Sarah K. @ The Pajama Chef February 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    huh, these are very intersting things to think about…

  16. Katie February 8, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    I have been seriously considering taking this course myself. I utilized some AMAZING RRCA coaches in Dallas and miss them every day. They rocked and it was the healthiest I have EVER ran. And they were not easy plans! Glad you liked it I always wondered if it was simply restating what we runners already know!

  17. Rachel February 8, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    this sounds SO interesting, but also so different from what i’m used to! i’ve thought about doing the certification, and after reading your experience i’ll have to look into it more. looking forward to seeing what you implement into your own training!

  18. Jay B (jbone66) February 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    Congrats on completing the course A! It has been on my todo list for a couple of years now. It appears that it will be on my list another year (since the classes this year are all sold out). Best of luck on the exam and thanks for the summary on what was covered…

  19. Kristen February 8, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    Very cool! Sounds like a very good course to attend just learn.

    The very first time I did an organized training they wanted us to do our long runs at a minute to two slower than our planned marathon pace. Personally I couldn’t really hold this pace as it got uncomfortable but I do see the benefit in doing the long run slow. However, I personally feel like I need speedwork/tempo runs. It wasn’t til I started doing them I actually noticed I was getting faster. Although, I have no loyalty to any training program – I am really open to try new things – heck, I even tried run/walk and have to say I really think it has its place too. My plans usually combine a whole host of different plans into one.

  20. Demi (Rio) February 8, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    Ack! So confusing! Sounds like an interesting course, though.

  21. Marathon Training Scott February 8, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    I have to say that speed work (not necessarily red line) run quicker than race pace will make race pace far more comfortable.

  22. Kristin February 8, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    I think at some point I’d like to take the USATF Level 1 certification class- can you comment on why you chose to do the RRCA program as opposed to that? I have to admit, I didn’t realize that the RRCA class focused so heavily on one specific method of training… and I don’t necessarily believe that a coach and an athlete, or any two athletes, have to train in the same way to both be successful. Do you know whether the training method presented is consistent across all the RRCA seminars, or does it depend on who you get as your course leaders?

    • Aron February 8, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

      I also want to take the USATF class, but I know the level one class doesn’t get into endurance sports much and goes through all the track and field events. I think the level two class (from what I have heard) gets more into some longer events, but still are more track and field based. It’s definitely something I am looking into in the future, this one just fit into my schedule better for this point in time.

      They do preface their training with “all training works” they just focus on one method for the class which is the method they believe works. I am pretty sure that most RRCA courses all follow the same training methods regardless of the instructor.

  23. Laura February 8, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    Great post Aron! I’m definitely interested in taking that course at some point even if (like you mentioned) I don’t become a running coach. Reading about all the different theories is so fascinating. I plan on training for a full marathon (gulp) at some point this year and plan to follow basically the opposite of his plan. Ha! But at some point I’d like to try something like this (on the total opposite end of the spectrum) just to see for myself what works better.

  24. Jess February 9, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    This is a great post. I like the idea of doing speedwork at goal marathon pace. I really hate the all-out intervals.

  25. Vava February 9, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    Very interesting and informative post. Thanks! I’ve been wondering about whether or not I’ve been running my long runs at too fast a pace. What exactly did they recommend in your post? I’ve read anything from 30s/mile slower than PMP, 30-60s/mile slower than PMP, or up to 90s/mile slower than PMP. What’s your take?

    • Aron February 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

      They recommended going at 80% of what you could race a certain distance at… so it’s MUCH slower than goal pace, 90+ sec.

      • Vava February 17, 2011 at 7:15 am #

        Wow! Thank you so much for replying and answering my question. I really really need to slow down then…

  26. Karyn February 9, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    what a really good post to read! i don’t know if the specificity is something i 100% buy into. i’ve been training @ tempo and intervals paces and THEN switching to goal paces during the last 3-4 weeks. hopefully this lets me finish boston strong too!

  27. Susan - Nurse on the Run February 9, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    I can never wrap my head around the run slow idea, although I know so many people recommend it. Making myself run that much below pace is HARD and I rarely do it, if ever. One of these days I’ll actually try it and see if it works…I understand the concept but putting it into practice is a very different thing!

    I feel like speedwork really helps with racing, and it gives me more confidence to run at race pace when I know I can go faster…..definitely an interesting training method.

    Thanks for sharing, I would love to go to one of these courses!

  28. Tara February 10, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    lots of info! I am definitely on board with the running slow part…hehe

    glad you enjoyed the class and shared some of the info with us! :)

  29. Adam February 10, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    Very cool. I would LOVE to do this, I just need to find a class that is close!

  30. Tina (MightyMite Runner) February 12, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    Did I not reply to this yet? Wow… So much info! I’m excited and nervous. I can’t wait to hear how you feel the “test” goes! I’m sure you rocked the class and the test will be fine.

  31. Denise February 14, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    having used a coach and being surrounded by coaches in my running circle, i was wondering what you would think of this course. i used to try to talk a lot about what i learned through them re: paces but gave up because no one wants to believe it. it will be hard but you’re right, coaches need to practice what the preach. i’m learning the same thing w/ personal training.

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