Friday, October 12, 2012

Speedy Miles

What are the components of a half marathon training plan? Training plans authored by various endurance training experts – coaches, athletes, scientists – are all built around:

1.  Long runs – your focus is distance
2.  Speed runs (intervals, fartleks, tempos, progressions) – your focus is pace
3.  Easy runs – your focus is recovery
4.  Rest days – your focus is staying off of your feet

Of course there are variations. Some add hills, weights, flexibility, cross training. Recommended paces and distances are also variables. But these are the common denominators – the collective wisdom of the experts.

I am all over the long runs, easy runs, and rest days. No problemo.

The most challenging workout for me is speed – especially intervals above goal race pace. In times past, I haven’t been able to handle speed workouts week after week. I’ve developed niggles – nothing serious, but enough to make me take precautions – half a week of rest here, no speed for a few weeks there. Result: by the end of the training cycle, I’m way behind in speedy miles.

But with my current training plan, I’ve broken the speed-niggle cycle. How? My hypothesis, it’s a combination of two factors:

1.  I'm stronger.

I’ve been running 20-40 miles a week consistently for about a year. My bones, joints, and ligaments are stronger. They can take more pounding. And I spent the summer developing leg muscle strength with heavy duty leg workouts – weights and plyo. So my muscles are stronger too.

2.  I’m running my speed intervals on the treadmill.

I live in San Diego, among the best weather spots in the world, so the treadmill has never been part of my repertoire. That all changed in August, when our three month heat wave began. It’s just too hot to run in paces beginning with “6” when it is 80, 90 outside. Sweat Diego.

But how does the treadmill compare to the road for speed workouts?
  • On the treadmill, there is no wind resistance, no hills. It's easier. I set the treadmill at “1” slope to somewhat make up for this factor.
  • Fast paces on the treadmill feel easier on my joints. The treadmill is soft compared to the roads, and its surface is even, predictable, and smooth.
  • Running intervals on the road with a GPS watch is hard. The watch give you an average pace over some distance. It's not an instantaneous reading. And since I don't have a good feel for paces, I often run my intervals too fast. The treadmill guarantees a precise pace over a precise distance. (I don't know why I never go to a track.)
  • I don’t think treadmill speed workout is great for mental toughness. When I run fast on the roads or in races, I feel an overwhelming temptation to slow down. And it is so easy to lay off a little bit, even unconsciously. On the treadmill, laying off involves the affirmative act of slowing down the belt . . . hitting the down arrows on the speed buttons. It's a totally different game.
  • But the most important factor, the treadmill is working for me. Not only am I actually getting through the speed workouts week after week, I am building on the intervals, running more of them each time. 
I am hoping for a break in the weather so that I can get to the track and see how my treadmill speed stacks up to the roads.

Doenertier82 via Wikimedia Commons

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