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October 21, 2005

Yasso This!

Reading about Jeff's track workout got me to thinking...

I'm beginning to dislike Bart Yasso.

He's the Runners' World contributor who came up with the smarty-pants theory of predicting marathon times based on 800-meter interval track workouts.

The theory is this: during the course of your marathon training, include a weekly track session of 800m repeats. Build up the number of repeats until you do a workout of 10 repeats, with a rest break equal to the interval time between each one.

Whatever time you can run consistently for ten repeats corresponds to your marathon time, by changing the units. For example, 3-and-a-half minutes equals a 3:30 marathon. If you run them all in 2 minutes, 50 seconds, you're in shape to run a 2:50 marathon.

Sounds simple, right? And according to the RW website, this formula was tested on hundreds of runners, and holds true all the way up and down the line, from 2:10 marathoners to those who need over 5 hours.

The problem is, I have tried this particular strategy several times, and have never even come close to my predicted marathon time. The closest numbers I have ever put together were a 3:03 marathon at Napa after running ten repeats of 2:49 to 2:53.

I have also used this formula in preparation for marathons at Humboldt, Los Angeles, Big Sur, and San Francisco, with similar disappointing results. The rest of my training included all of the usual recommendations- long runs, hill training, easy days, tempo runs, etc.

So...am I the exception to the rule, consistent over six different courses? Or is there something more complicated than meets the eye? And how can you predict uncertainty, anyway?

The Yasso formula had me so screwed up that sometimes after a marathon I was unsure whether I should feel good about it, or be discouraged.

I typically use a heart rate monitor to pace myself in marathons, and I typically run withing a few minutes of even splits nearly every time. So even if I run an evenly paced 3:09, and kept a solid effort throughout the race, Yasso's formula tells me I should have been at least 10 minutes faster.

That's a tough thought to contemplate on a long drive home after the race.

What I've decided is that there is absolutely no reliable way to predict what anyone's time will be on any given day, especially for a marathon.

Have you ever played team sports? f you were lucky enough to play on a good team, there were always some games where you could "take it easy", knowing you could probably win even without playing your best. A team's win-loss record can be deceptive, based on the quality of the opponents they had played - just look how screwed up the college football polls get every year.

Luckily, there are no such illusions with running. It is a brutally honest sport, both in training and on race day. I can't run fast without training hard. And even if I do all of the arduous work to prepare for a race, I have to produce an exceptional effort during the race to achieve a PR.

When I do attain a PR or any other particular goal, I know that it was hard earned and well deserved. I know there's no reliable way to predict a race performance, and no way to fake it. And I wouldn't have it any other way.


Downhillnut 10/21/05, 4:27 PM  

One of my friends has met Mr. Yasso and even he asserts that the 800 predicting formula is not a hard and fast rule. You are an experiment of one, and it looks like you're finding out what works for you. Don't hate Bart, eh ;)

jeff 10/24/05, 8:17 AM  

i'm definately not a yasso trainer, but i look at the yasso predictor as just another tool to give you an idea of progression. just like the parrot predictor, i don't expect to run that exact time, but it gives me a good indication of whether or not i'm moving towards my goals.

my track workouts vary greatly, and i only do 800 repeats about once a month. this week's track workout is three mile intervals, which i think is much more appropriate for marathon training, but mixing it up with different interval distances keeps things fresh.

that's my .02, ymmv, etc.

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