Posts Tagged ‘Speed Work’

Last week represented my highest volume training week across all three triathlon disciplines to date. 161.10 total miles which were broken down by 96.62 on the bike, 59.90 running and another 4.58 in the pool. We will have a few weeks where our volume is a bit higher before the Kerrville Half-Ironman, but most of those increases will be accounted for by stretching out our bike rides each week to 35 miles on our “short rides” and taking our long ride up to 56 miles.

The key number above to me is my run volume sitting at just a hair under 60 miles for the week. A level that I surpassed just once training for the 2010 Austin Marathon (62.45) and only three times preparing for the New York City marathon in 2011 (65.80, 62.50, 65.00). Both times I set PR’s in the marathon. Volume is important as an endurance athlete, but there are of course a lot of different ways to run 60 miles in a given week. Some are much more helpful to a marathoner than others, just as if I was prepping for a 10K “A” race, I would alter my approach focusing on more speed work and less long, grind-it-out type of runs.

Those of you who have been following along for a while probably realize that while I am very focused and training hard for our debut in the Half-Ironman, we are really just a Marathoner disguised as a Triathlete.

I’m not saying that I am a “fraud” or anything, but the fact remains that if you asked me which of my next two races are more “important” in my eyes, the Kerrville 70.3 or the Houston Marathon in January, I’m sure you all know that my sights are truly set on Houston. It is perhaps our last, best chance at breaking through the only self-imposed running goal we have never achieved – A sub 3 hour marathon.

As the calendar ticks ever-closer to Kerrville, now just 40 days away, I am also very cognizant of the fact that Houston is just around the corner as well – only 144 days off on the horizon. I am being very careful to include some “marathon training” workouts and philosophies to my preparation for Kerrville so that after our recovery week post-race we will be able to literally hit the ground running for Houston. We will be firmly where we would normally be 6-8 weeks or so prior to Marathon Sunday, with actually 13 weeks left of training.  An enviable position to be in for sure.  I want to leave nothing to chance when it comes to Houston.

I remember how it felt to come through the half-way point in New York City in 1:29:45 knowing that we held our marathon hopes right in the palm of our hand on one of the largest stages in the marathon world. The course was going to make running another sub 1:30 half-marathon more or less an impossibility for us, but we had put ourself in position for success. That is all one can ask for on race day and I hope that given the same set of circumstances in Houston this January, the flat course, a more fit and better trained athlete with more race experience is able to run that second sub 1:30 half and reach our pie in the sky goal of 2:59:XX.

To do so, it is not going to be enough to just go through the motions and log slow mile after slow mile and continue to work on our endurance for Kerrville. We need to be diligent in our training to include speed work and hill repeats to make sure our legs are still firing and handling the “speedy stuff” as my friend Steve likes to say despite all the high mileage we have been covering.

Which begs the fundamental question – why does a marathoner need to run speed work? A question that I get asked quite frequently here on the blog and on the Daily Mile site where I log my runs.

There are three reasons why a long-distance runner should incorporate speed work in their training:

1. Shorter, faster repeats improve your running form and economy. Over a long-distance event like the marathon or even a half-marathon, being “efficient” in your stride and form is a key, key weapon. Akin to a car who gets better gas mileage, you are simply able to run farther before you are out of fuel. Improvements in this area take place by running “faster” at a higher cadence and leg turnover.

2. Shorter, faster repeats give me confidence. They help me “remember” that I am able to run much faster than my marathon race goal pace. Running at :30 or :40 seconds faster than those 6:52’s I need to tick off down in Houston on my speed work days during training makes my marathon goal pace miles feel “easy”. If all I have done to that point is run a bunch of miles at 7:30 pace leading up to race day, my body is not going to be able to handle those 6:52’s after the initial endorphin rush wears off. During those long, lonely, late race miles, I want to be able to draw on the fact that I’ve run many, many miles sub 6:15. 6:52’s are well within my capabilities.

3. Break up the monotony of training. If I ran the same workout every single day for the last 6 years I would have given up marathoning a long time ago. Instead I am able to mix up my workouts from day-to-day and week to week which keeps me striving to improve, add new workouts to my training and allow me to continue to ascend as a runner even after my 45th birthday. Varying your pace and effort levels each week allow your body to be taxed, recover, adapt and grow stronger/faster. Speed work plays a key role in this training process.

Of course getting injured can put a damper on any runner’s marathon training. Just ask Desiree Davilla and Ryan Hall about that.

Speed work can be a bit “dangerous” in this regard as it is far more taxing on the systems than just “running easy”. For me I make sure that the day before and the day after my speed work or hill repeat sessions are very, very easy days or rest days. It allows me to push hard on my hard days, recover, reload and then get ready to push again. I frankly do not know any other way for me to avoid the injury bug.

One of my favorite speed workouts is the “One Off, One On Workout” – where you alternate an Off Mile or Recovery Mile with an On Mile or Speed Mile.

I started out with an 8-mile Off and On workout initially, 4 miles easy, 4 miles hard which I have now stretched out to 10.6 miles with 5 off miles, 5 on miles followed by a 6/10 of a mile cool down back to the house.

Your cool down can be any distance that you prefer, I have found that my route lends itself to a little over a half-mile to let my body recover fully from my final “On” mile before I wrap the workout up. I will be stretching this workout out to 12.6 miles total at the height of Houston training, going no farther than that as I want to be able to run that last “On” mile as hard and fast as the first.

For an example of how this workout would look my splits on Tuesday this week were:

Out the door at 4:45 a.m.

Mile 1: Off Mile – 9:14 (warm-up)

Mile 2: On Mile – 6:10

Mile 3: Off Mile – 8:37

Mile 4: On Mile – 5:51

Mile 5: Off Mile – 8:39

Mile 6: On Mile 5:54

Mile 7: Off Mile – 8:35

Mile 8: On Mile – 6:01

Mile 9: Off Mile – 8:46

Mile 10: On Mile – 6:07

Cool Down – 6/10 Mile 8:38 pace

When you are starting out these intervals could be 1/2 mile or even just 400 meters as mile repeats can be a bit long if you are not used to a long, sustained run at/near 5K pace.

Gradually building up the number of repeats is also great strategy, where starting out with just 2 “On” miles and 2 “Off” miles could make this a great 4.5-5 mile workout including your cool down. Much more beneficial than just going out and grinding out a steady paced 5 mile run.

In fact my overall “pace” for this 10.6 mile run was just 7:35 min./mile. If I had just ticked over 10 consecutive 7:30’s after a 6/10 of a mile warm up at 8:00 minute pace I would have essentially just logged an “easy” day of training. Instead I taxed my sytems, ran 5 miles at 6:10 pace or better and took a big step toward being able to feel comfortable racing at 6:52 pace in January.

Sometimes it is tough getting out of your comfort zone and trying something different, but if you want results and you want things to “change” with respect to the goals you are chasing, it is just part of the deal. There are no magic potions that I know of that will get you there. If I want to take 8 minutes off of my marathon time from New York City down in Houston, I am going to have to continue to run some uncomfortable miles each and every week.

One of my favorite quotes from Austin’s own Lance Armstrong is from his book – It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life (2000) on page 113 he says:

“Anything is possible. You can be told you have a 90-percent chance or a 50-percent chance or a 1-percent chance, but you have to believe, and you have to fight.”

Damn skippy.


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.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately from fellow marathoners, runners, family and friends as to why we’ve been doing so much racing lately.

Is it some sort of new “running psychosis”?  Am I going through a turning 43 years old on Saturday crisis?  Could it be a manifestation of New Dad nervousness?

None of the above.

At least I don’t think that the first one is a problem, but it is pretty amazing what classifies as “normal” behavior as a marathoner.

The fact of the matter is that all of this racing has been part of what I consider to be a solid “plan”.

Summer Race Bibs

One of the lessons I learned in preparing for my first attempt at qualifying for Boston was that there are no magic qualities that just automatically show-up on marathon morning.

Most training programs have you run your long runs of 18, 19, 20 miles anywhere between: 15 and: 30 seconds slower than your marathon goal pace.  If your goal is to “finish” the marathon, that is absolutely the way to go.

You learn how to stay on your feet for 3-4 hours, deal with fatigue, build mental toughness of pushing through a run on tired legs and can work on your hydration and nutrition plans for race day.

If your goal however is to truly “race” that marathon and chase either a personal best time that you have set or a Boston Qualifying time – for me that means a sub 3:20:00 marathon – I firmly believe you have to “train fast to race fast”.

It seems to me that if you are going to ask something specific of your body, say running 26.2 miles at 7:37 pace, but have never even run 20 miles at that pace during your training period – it is not going to “Magically” happen on race day.

In my opinion, this is the primary reason that so many runners chasing a Boston time fall short on race day.  They run at Marathon pace only for their 6-12 mile workouts, but not much longer.  The runners are simply not conditioning their bodies to hold that marathon goal pace for the entire 26 mile 385 yard event.

The taper-period leading up to race day is important to ensure a top performance, but it is not a “magic potion”.

Don’t get me wrong it is very true that too much training at an intense pace makes recovery time in between workouts stretch longer, making your subsequent workouts much more difficult.  This is also when injury risk is highest, so it is important to train not only “hard” but “smart”.  To race your best at the marathon distance it is critical to make it to the starting line “fully trained”, but also “fully healthy”.

Mixing your hard days with rest and easy or recovery days is critical to making sure you do not suffer a training injury.

For me as those birthdays continue to tick along like miles on my GPS, it became clear after the Boston/Pittsburgh marathon double this spring that if I wanted to make it back to Boston comfortably, I needed to improve my speed.

If I could improve my leg turnover and my ability to “run faster” this summer – when Austin Marathon training begins on October 18th, I would be in a much better position to train at a faster pace than I was one year ago.

Every: 05 seconds per mile improvement equates to a little more than 2 minutes off of a marathon performance.  Back in 2009 at Pittsburgh I was able to run at 7:31 pace on my way to a 3:17:43 qualifying time.  If that 7:31 marathon pace becomes 7:26 at Austin we will be on track to break the 3:15 mark at 3:14:45.

PR’s are great and everything, but at the end of the day it is all about earning my ticket back to Boston.  If I can build in more than 5:00 minutes of “wiggle room” I feel confident that if wind, temperatures, hills or “lady luck” conspire against me – that Boston time will still be well within my grasp.

So – off to the races we’ve gone this summer toeing the line at 7 events over the past 10 weeks.

There was the Congress Avenue Mile, The Holland, TX 5K, three different 5K Races in the Summer Sunstroke Stampede series, the Honor our Heroes 10K and last Saturday evening’s Cougar Country Classic.

We accumulated four age group victories, one overall race win, three top-10 finishes and 3 top 5’s.  We’ve added some cool medals, ribbons a highball glass and a corn cob trophy to the collection …. But more importantly I have been able to carve a significant amount of time off of last year’s 5K PR.

Summer Hardware Won

In May of 2009 our 5K Personal Best sat at a respectable 19:43.  14 months later after Saturday’s effort that time is now 18:12 (5:50/mile pace).

There is one more push left leading up to the final day before Marathon training begins when we will take on the IBM Uptown Classic 10K on October 17th.  The goal for that race is simple – go sub 40:00 or go home.

Win, lose or draw at the IBM I will be very happy with our summer race season this year.  It is nice to set out a plan, work hard and see results. 

Confidence is a very valuable weapon for a marathoner as that event can really test your courage and determination. 

I look forward to lacing up the trainers on October 18th and take my first steps back on the road to Boston. 

Lady Marathon isn’t going to know what hit her on February 20th.