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Have you ever looked at a training plan and gotten terrified by the gruesome mileage of your long run of the week? Let’s talk about how to make the number less scary by using something called “chunking.”
Even the Great Wall was built brick by brick. Chunking is a mental technique that involves breaking up your runs into pieces (you know, chunks) to make them more liftable, as opposed to one long distance or time.
Here are a few tried-and-true ways to utilize the chunking technique during your run ahead.
Chunking Trick #1: Split the Overall Mileage Into Distances You’ve Run Before
When I first heard my coach say we would run “10-10-10,” my 5 a.m. brain could not compute. I even asked the person next to me, “Hey, does he know that this adds up to 30 miles?” Then I learned that it actually means 10 miles, 10 miles, and 10K.
Pinpointing 26.2 miles from your home location on a map can put you in an entirely different city, so chunking it as 10-10-10 instead puts the marathon distance in a perspective that may be easier to wrap your head around. As you take on the miles on race day, focus on those distances that you completed more times than the number of toes on your feet.
Ten miles became a workout distance at a marathon pace at some point during your training. Ten miles may have even been the distance of your first long run during your training plan. A 10K may have been an early season tuneup or the distance within your fartlek workout. The point is that you have done this many times.
Now repeat the cycle twice: Focus on the first 10, deep breaths, second 10, and draw your shoulders back and go into the final 10K with a steady mind and posture, knowing that you’ve done this before.
Chunking Trick #2: Break Up Your Run With Podcasts, Playlists, and E-Books
Use the chunking technique to separate your mileage by time, and focus on the length of an episode, a playlist, or a number of chapters. Chunk two chapters without stopping during your next long run. Chunk three newly added songs to your playlist, and don’t take a rest break unless needed.
Each of these methods serves as a great distraction. If your 10-miler consists of two 5-mile chunks, think about the length of time it will take you to run 5 miles, and match it with words read or songs to make it all feel as though it has gone by even faster. The latest issue of Runner’s World explores the benefits of running with music. Take a look.
Chunking Trick #3: Plan Pit Stops With Rewards
If you have a training run for which you have to plan the route yourself, use Google Maps to pinpoint various fueling points and rest stops along the way. For example, while an out-and-back route may not always be the most fun choice, consider dropping your fuel and hydration at the turnaround point: Doing this means you don’t have to carry your own fuel.
I’ve done this many times—leaving my gels and sports hydration underneath a tree, behind a sign, or out of sight—to be able to run free of anything on my waist or in my hand. While this does require planning and having to make a pit stop to drop items off, if you’re like me and want to run free of any extra weight, chunking will allow you to split your run in half with a reward of gels and nibbles at the halfway point.
Chunking Trick #4: Chunk for Time
Ten-mile run ahead? Fuel every 45 minutes until you complete the distance. Are you racing a 10K? Focus on consistent negative splits toward the finish. While chunking is most often broken into equal portions over a set distance, in this case, what is equal are your 10- to 15-second drops in pace. Your six chunks are the mileage distance minus 10 to 15 seconds.
Chunking is a great strategy to break the monotony and repetitiveness of running, so as you take to the roads, keep these ideas in mind and figure out what works best for you. Change it up if the strategy feels forced or doesn’t work.
It’s okay if your music chunking strategy falls apart on a race day—maybe you put your playlist on shuffle instead of allowing it to play in order, letting songs find their way into the first part of your race instead of the last sprint as planned. Perhaps you pivot and shift to milestone running for the remainder of the distance to evenly divide your mileage. Above all else, remember to have fun.
RW+ Coach A frequenter of many community running groups and leader of his own community group in his home of Austin, Texas, PJ is an RRCA and UESCA certified running coach.
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