Great Summer Speed Workout

Posted: June 5, 2012 in Training
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Today was a great opportunity to run one of my favorite workouts to get some quality speed work in on a hot, humid Austin morning.  72 degrees at 5:00 a.m. with humidity at 86%. 

In just under two weeks we have back to back races on Saturday and Sunday – The Holland, TX Corn Festival 5K on Saturday – followed by the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon on Sunday.  Two events where speed will be at a premium over strength and endurance – although those two factors are also going to play a role on race day performance.  Especially late in the Triathlon racing on Sunday.

This week represents the last chance to really push it hard before we dial things back a bit and peak for next weekend.

One of the topics that was discussed on the flight to Dallas two weeks ago with my new runner friend was the notion of “favorite” workouts.  Not necessarily workouts that we know are good for us, or help us improve as runners and athletes, but the notion of a workout that while beneficial it also has an element of “fun” to it.  One that can push us to new levels, but also reward us mentally and remind us what it is we like about running.

A workout that I know is good for me and is perhaps the most responsible for my improvement in race day performance has been my Hill Repeat regimen.  It is a “hard day”, usually on Thursdays, as my third straight run day before my Friday rest day.

I leave the house for a 3-mile warm-up.  jog to the bottom of the 3/10 of a mile long hill in the adjacent neighborhood, turn at the bottom and sprint to the top of the hill at 5K effort.  I reach the top, recovery jog to the bottom and repeat.  10 times when I am at my peak for that workout.  I then recover quickly after the final repeat (2/10 of a mile) and then run at 6:50-7:00 min./mile pace back to the house for a final mile to wrap things up.

It is a great workout.  I also dread it.

There is very little to like about it truth be told.  During the easy warm-up, all that is on your mind is the many, many painful repeats that are waiting for you in a few miles.  Each repeat takes more and more out of you as you try to hang on.  Instead of counting them off in my head I simply run them in sets of three.  First, middle, last.  First, middle last.  First, middle last.  Last.

This mental game allows me to focus on one repeat at a time and not worry about the fact that after just 4 repeats my breathing is off the charts, my legs are burning and I am drenched in sweat.  6 repeats are left.  I am not even halfway done yet.  Why do I continue to do it?  Two reasons really:

1.  These hill repeats are like a multi-vitamin.  One workout, but it basically enhances every aspect of my running.  It helps build endurance, stamina and raw speed.  It improves my form, makes me stronger on hills and lengthens my stride.  It builds confidence when it comes to racing hills and breaks down my body allowing it to rebuild itself stronger with a rest day to follow on Friday.

2.  Very few of the competitors I will face during a local race do this workout.  One of my favorite sayings is that “somewhere out there a runner is training while you are not.  When you race him, he will beat you”.  I think of that passage during every hill repeat session and say to myself, today you are that runner.  You are going to be very tough to beat the next time you race.

That said, would I consider Hill Repeats a favorite workout of mine?  No.  Not a bit.

Today however, it was time for a favorite workout of mine, the One Off – One On Tempo Workout.

With temperatures in the mid 70’s – it is very difficult to go out this time of year and run a medium to long tempo run.  Which for my ability level means a 6-8 mile run with splits in the 6:30-6:35 range or even a bit faster on a cool day.

The workout can be run, but the recovery from it that is necessary to stay healthy and keep pushing other aspects of training is very long.  Perhaps as many as two easy days and an off day before it would be time to push hard again.  With bike rides, hill work and long runs needed to stay on course this summer, that is not very realistic.  If I try to cut corners and not recover properly, then injury is not an abstract entity to fear – it is a likelihood.

Instead, the One Off, One On workout is a great compromise – allowing you to push hard in a controlled workout, giving you one recovery mile for every “hard mile” you run.

The Workout:

1.  Off Mile 1:  Warm-up with a mile at recovery pace.  (For me 8:20-8:30)

2.  On Mile 1:  At the end of mile one (or the sound of your watch marking mile 1), increase pace gradually building to tempo pace (For me 6:30-6:35).  Because you are just getting the juices flowing, this should be your slowest “ON” Mile.  You are not “at pace” until the final 1/2 mile.

3.  Off Mile 2:  Slow back to your recovery pace for one mile.

4:  On Mile 2:  At the end of the mile drop the hammer and fall back into tempo pace.  You should arrive at this pace quicker than your first “ON” mile, perhaps within 1/10 to 2/10 of a mile.  This should be your second slowest “ON” mile.

5.  Off Mile 3:  Slow back to your recovery pace for one mile.

6:  On Mile 3:  At the end of the mile drop the hammer again and fall back into tempo pace.  You should arrive at this pace even quicker than your first “ON” mile, within 1/10 of a mile.  This should be your third slowest “ON” mile.

7.  Off Mile 4:  Slow back to your recovery pace for one mile.

8:  On Mile 4:  At the end of the mile drop the hammer a final time and fall back into tempo pace.  You should hit this pace almost immediately, within just a handful of strides.  This should be your fastest “ON” mile.

9.  Slow back to your recovery pace and run your cooldown back home 1/2 mile is a good distance to recover.

Total workout 8.5 miles.  4.5 miles at an easy, recovery pace.  4 miles at or below tempo pace.

Tuesday’s Workout:

It had been awhile since I had run this workout back in April just prior to the Boston Marathon.  The conditions were perfect for it, so I decided to run over the hill route to keep things a bit interesting.  The workout can be done at a track – which many would refer to as mile repeats – but since I do not race on a track and need to condition my body to asphalt surfaces and undulating terrain, I prefer to run this workout on a rolling hill street course.

After an easy, uphill warm-up mile I heard the sound of the watch beep marking my first mile and increased my leg turnover to approach tempo pace.  The first 1/4 mile felt a bit clunky at 5:15 a.m. as I was searching for my rhythm, but as I reached the 1/2 mile point I was running smooth and tall.

I hit the second mile, dropped back into my recovery pace and was solidly in the workout.

Each “On” mile came and went as planned, gradually tightening my pace to tempo effort and as I reached the final “On” mile, I immediately stepped on the gas and pushed hard from start to finish.

My splits this morning:

Off Miles:  8:24, 8:15, 8:20, 8:20

On Miles:  6:52, 6:39, 6:30, 6:13

Cool down 1/2 mile – 7:54 pace.

The entire workout came in at 1:03:56 for 8.5 miles or 7:31 pace.

Pace for our “Off/On” Workout

Overall pace right at our “medium” effort – but the true story of the workout is that we were able to run a progressive 4-miler finishing at just over 10K race pace in 70+ degree temperatures and high humidity.  Quality workout all the way around – and truly a favorite of mine.

The workout goes much “faster” than a traditional 8.5 miler as you are able to “stay in the mile” for each segment.  You are able to concentrate during the “ON” miles without too much difficulty as you get a physical and mental “break” after every mile, lasting a solid 8-8 1/2 minutes.

Lastly, it is speed work – which is always “fun”.  It is just a matter of doing it in a controlled, smart environment so that you are able to minimize any injury risks and get back to training hard again after one easy or rest day.

After a relaxed 10 miler tomorrow we will find ourselves a the bottom of our hill again Thursday morning for another set of hill repeats.

I can’t say I’m necessarily looking forward to that workout – but I do know we’ll be ready for it.

Run on people.

  1. Patrick says:

    Hey Joe, I am wondering your thoughts on yesterday’s study that came out from the Mayo Clinic stating there are potential adverse cardiovascular effects from excessive endurance exercise. Definately makes us relook at our training, or not. (There is a link on my blog or just google it)

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Patrick! Thanks for the message. I did indeed see the article, and like most generalized summaries – it all comes back down to moderation in my view. The passage from the article states:

      “When you’re stressing it at a cardiovascular level, it’s being pushed past normal everyday life, it’s forced to become stronger, become efficient, become bigger in some cases. And if it’s not given enough time to recover, you run the risk of the heart physically growing in size, physically creating scarring tissue, things like that that can cause long term problems down the road.”

      Additional evidence for this study lies in the death of Micah True, a legendary ultra-marathoner. True died suddenly while on a routine 12-mile training run, but he was known to run as far as 100 miles a day. Doctors suspect his lethal arrhythmia may have been a result of Phidippides cardiomyopathy, which is caused by chronic excessive endurance exercise.

      Despite this, O’Keefe stresses that physical exercise is still incredibly important. Extreme exercise can be dangerous, but 30 to 60 minutes per day is healthy for most people.

      I think that there is risk in everything – running or not running is a choice as is pushing our bodies and their capabilities beyond a reasonable level is of course a big risk. Citing Micah True (Caballo blanco) as an example I think is a bit off the charts. There are probably less than 50 people on the planet that ran the type of mileage that he did in the conditions that he ran them. I won’t say it was irresponsible, but it definitely is using a pretty significant outlier to make a more mainstream point.

      As more and more recreational athletes take on bigger and bigger challenges (Iron Man, Marathons etc.) – the risks and unfortunately the incidents of cardiovascular failure will probably continue to rise. But if you train, recover and prepare properly and wisely – I think the endurance athlete lifestyle is 100% a better choice than the alternative. I will be preparing for more than 6 months for a half-ironman in October – to make certain that I am ready for the challenge. For an Iron Man? If I ever complete one, it will be after a year of preparation minimum.

      It is the only way I know to reduce the risks and make sure that I am not jumping into something I am not ready for. Not everyone is as cautious – but I think there is a line there we all need to be conscious of.

  2. Joseph Hayes says:

    Joe, any chance you could post a marathon/half marathon training schedule/guide?

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Joe! I have a couple of great half-marathon training schedules I put together for some runners that I coach. How many weeks ago was the marathon and how many weeks until the 1/2 marathon are you working with?

      • Joseph Hayes says:

        I’m training for my first marathon which is CIM (California International Marathon). It isn’t until Dec. 2nd but I’ve got half marathon super elevation climbing (usually around 2000 ft) trail runs throughout the summer. Some of these halves will be serious, others will be training (that’s what I tell myself anyways).

        I was just thinking of a general half marathon or marathon schedule like you see all over the net but with your personal touch; what you would recommend.

        The internet ones are fine but I would like your take on a schedule because 1: I know your results and have proof that your method works at least on some level and 2: I’m in your pace range or at least I can be with some training. I’m working on making my own schedule but I will be experimenting with different methods.

        Background: I started running consistantly in January after completing 2 5K races. I’ve run 3 “flat” halves with a PR of 01:29:55 and I’ve done a bunch of 5K’s many of which are very hilly so it’s hard to put a PR on it. I’ve logged about 315 miles this year. I rarely run for the heck of it, I see every run as training but that’s what I enjoy.

        I really appreciate your blog, it really is excellent.

      • joerunfordom says:

        Joe – great information and you’ve picked a great debut race at CIM. Flat course with a net downhill grade and fast 2nd half of the race. Many a PR is set there.

        The first one is tough. Very tough, but you are preparing right for it.

        E-mail me at and I will send along a plan and tracker that I have used to your email address.

        Thanks again Joe for all the support and kind words!

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