Rebel Without A Pause

Is anyone else wondering how it’s possible that we are already approaching March? What happened to the first one-sixth of the year? Have I been hibernating? Have I been travelling at the speed of light? My main running goal for 2014, after all, was to educate myself properly about running speed workouts and to subject myself to them in all their gory glory.

joyofrunning

Before I blast my way through the whole year and straight into 2015, I think it’s about time that I pause for a moment and reflect upon what I have learned about speedwork so far:

  1. It’s perfectly doable. I was the first to admit that prior to this year, I was a speedwork Scrooge. I could handle some hill sprints and the odd fartlek run, but anything beyond that I deemed too complicated or painful for a free spirit such as myself. However, I found that even the toughest of intervals are absolutely doable and strangely satisfying and fun to complete. There, I’ve said it.
  2. Planning is paramount. Incorporating speedwork into my training schedule has taught me the importance of monitoring my runs and planning my workouts carefully. I find that the single most important factor to consider is my recovery time. I’m learning how much time I need to recover from the different workouts. I firmly believe that this is highly individual, but for each individual, there’s a pattern. I’m learning that there are some workouts I bounce back from, virtually ready to tackle the next on the following day if needed. Other workouts, on the other hand, leave me in need of extra recovery. By paying attention to this, I can make sure that I plan my training in a way that ensures that I’m physically in the best form to tackle a particular workout, and give myself enough rest to allow my body to adapt to the demands I’m placing upon it when this is needed the most. I’ve actually found that my training has gotten easier as as result of me learning more about my recovery times and planning my training schedules a lot more carefully.
  3. I’m feeling the paces. By running deliberately in different training zones I’m learning a lot more about what the different paces feel like. I play games on my runs now where I guess my pace before I look at my watch, and I’m getting increasingly more accurate with my guestimates. What is more, by running set distances at a target pace, I’m quickly developing a pretty accurate feel for how long I’m likely to be able to maintain a certain pace. Both are, in my opinion, really useful skills, which allow me to run very evenly paced training runs.
  4. Speed + Endurance = Stamina. I’ve always loved endurance runs and clock quite a high weekly running mileage – I just love to run and running a lot feels natural to me. That volume of running has taken me quite far (no pun intended!) and does, to a degree, translate itself into faster speeds in shorter races. However, I am find that the opposite is also true – since adding some serious speedwork to my training, I’ve noticed a big difference in my physical endurance and strength on longer runs. About two weeks ago I finished a 38km long run feeling perfectly strong and bouncy, surprised to note the curious absence of the “tired bum” syndrome I usually experience after a run of this calibre.
  5. I’m feeling it! Last but absolutely not least, I’ve learned that it’s totally worth it. Be warned, for this is the bit where I shamelessly gloat a little (ok, a lot!). This is where I tell you that I “accidentally” ran my all-time 10km PB during a training run two days ago. Yes, really. I got a little carried away (or hungry) during a tempo run and arrived back on my doorstep (to the smell of honey roasted vegetables in my oven) after 45:23 minutes. Yummy! This tells me that I’m either doing something very right with my training, or I’m doing something very wrong with my racing! Either way, I’m a happy bunny!

What do you think? How do you feel about speedwork? Have you noticed any differences as a result – besides running faster? Have I inspired you lace up your trainers and tackle some intervals? (I’m looking at you – you know who you are!)

Looking Forward… To March

March is without a doubt my favourite month of the year. It’s the month when the spring equinox marks the end of winter and the clocks change back to sanity. It’s the month when I can finally brush the dust (or snow?) off my racing flats and stretch my legs in the first few road races of the season. This year, in addition to all of this I’m excited to clock as many running miles as I can and add them to those of my fellow running bloggers in Kylabee’s Around the World Running Blog Relay. And if all of those cool things aren’t enough to ensure the awesomeness of March, it also happens to be my birthday month. You could call it the icing on the cake. Oh yes, there will be cake!

cambo snowdrops(Winter Spring is coming: snowdrops are lining one of my favourite trails)

I’ve got two big races to look forward to in March: the Inverness Half Marathon, followed by the glorious Rome Marathon.

The Inverness Half is my first road race this year, where I’ll put my winter training to the test. I have every intention of charging around Inverness with as much bestial vigour as I can muster on the day. My rampage might not result in a half-marathon PB, but it’ll give me a good idea where I’m at and what I’ve got to work with, running wise, for the rest of the glorious warmer months of the year. My target time for the Inverness Half is 1:45 – if the day is right and stars align I might aim for 1:40 instead. If, on the other hand, things start to assume the shape of a pear, I’ll be happy just to finish in under 2 hours.

Now I don’t know about you guys, but there’s a limit to my athletic prowess and I’ve got no ambition to even try and all out race a Half Marathon followed by a Marathon within a fortnight. As such, I don’t see the Rome Marathon as a race. The trip to Rome is my birthday present to myself; a little springtime vacation in the eternal city, a chance to catch some sun as the winter loses its icy grip on my home turf. I always love to run when I’m on holiday, so this particular city break will also involve a marathon length sight-seeing tour on Sunday morning. I have solemnly promised my physiotherapist that I’d run a personal worst in Rome, and might even take a camera on the run. And really, who wouldn’t want to earn a medal for completing and epic long run?

Finally, March is also the month of Kylabee’s Around the World Running Blog Relay (ATWRBR). It’s a fantastic idea, which involves a bunch of running bloggers (or blogging runners?) from all over the world to run together in spirit towards a shared goal. In order to share my contribution to this running extravaganza, I have added a page to my blog where I’ll declare all my runs, for everyone to see/marvel/point and laugh at.

If you are a running blogger, why not join us in our quest to run wild in March? It’s not too late to sign up!

Do You Ever HIIT It?

This week hasn’t exactly been a textbook training week for me. Work has been unexpectedly busy; I stayed in the office later than normal on several nights this week, did some teaching on Saturday and out of the corner of my eye I am haunted by the sight of a mini Everest of essays which are taunting me to start the climb of marking.

I love my work, I really do; but like all things in life, it can sometimes get in the way of other things. As a result, I’ve simply not been able to find the time to fit in some of my scheduled workouts this week.

On Tuesday I returned from work late and hungry and was in no state to tackle the tempo intervals which my training schedule demanded. I opted for a quick, hilly fartlek run instead and mentally postponed the intervals until Thursday, hoping I’d have more time then. Naturally, when Thursday came my workload (and associated mania) had only grown: when I stumbled into my little house on Thursday evening (out of the darkness and the pouring rain), a quick glance at my watch confirmed that provided I ate dinner straight out of the fridge and while standing up, I could spare a whopping 30 minutes for a run before having to resume my ascend of the mountain of marking. (Sadly, the latter does not pass for a hill workout!).

Thankfully, there is one running workout that I can comfortably complete in the space of half an hour, including warm-up and cool-down: the hard-hitting 10x100m sprint repeats. I really don’t like being in a situation where I genuinely can’t complete a certain workout, but I’ll be damned if I don’t go out and do what I can to come home sweaty, stinky and gasping for breath regardless.

How I feel after a sprint workout:

run hard

Although my running efforts are very much geared towards the training for endurance events, I still see much value in a sprint workout: in addition to directly improving leg strength and running form, it also increases the odds of being able to fathom that charmed sprint finish at the end of a marathon.

While it’s hard to pick up a running magazine these days that doesn’t contain at least one reference to the supposed neigh magical qualities of the HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) session, the concept is hardly a new one; in the 1970s the great Seb Coe already ran HIIT sessions.

New is only the fact that a number of recent research studies have reported evidence that HIIT training might be superior to traditional endurance workouts in improving athletic performance – hence all the hype. However, the same research also suggests that there are individual variations in how well athletes respond to this type of training, which may have genetic underpinnings – so even the true deciples of HIIT training acknowledge that it doesn’t seem to work for everyone.

Personally, I believe in the importance of continually working on many aspects of my running fitness; including strength, endurance, stamina, balance and flexibility. For me, sprint sessions are therefore an important, even if occasional part of my training as an endurance athlete. However, just like any other workout, I believe that sprint repeats contribute to improve my running fitness primarily within the context of a well-rounded training system, rather than being a magical quick fix in and by themselves.

I’m curious: what do you make of the HIIT-hype? And to the endurance athletes amongst you, do you include such workouts in your training regimes?

Efficient Running (An Alternative)

About half way through my weekly parkrun (a series of timed 5km fun runs that are fun primarily for masochists and manic tempo runs for everyone else) I found myself in need of changing my mental approach to running so fast that it hurts.

Having learned last week that munching a chocolate bar on the start line isn’t at all conducive to fast running, I opted for a chocolate shake this time, which proved to be a superior choice. I ran better and more comfortably and still managed to have chocolate for breakfast – Bridget Jones would be so proud!

Just as I was lamenting if it was possible to turn running stitches into a full-blown hernia and whether or not I was in the process of conducting a personal case study, I was distracted by the first sight of (many) puddles of mud.

Having never been been one to shy away from a bit of dirt, the fact that this was a race – of sorts – was all the excuse I needed to give myself and those running near me a full mud bath by diving right into the middle of the swamp. Splish, splash – as the lumps of mud hit my face, I smiled in the knowledge that my skincare was taken care of for the day.

Towards the bottom of the hill the mud got so deep that I temporarily had to change my running form from mid-foot strike to front crawl. Cross training – check!

And thus I spent my run physically alternating between navigating the hills, bathing in the mud and doggy-paddling towards rare stretches of dry land in between, all while mentally rejoicing at the ever decreasing length of my to-do list.

I suppose this isn’t quite what the experts mean when they talk about efficient running, but it sure works for me!

Demonstrating my multi-tasking skills:

parkrunner2

23:03 minutes of tempo run, skincare, mud-bathing, breakfast, cross-training, scientific experimentation and solving the world’s problems (in my head)

On the Long Run

Oh, Sunday morning – in my world, that means one thing: long run! And what a glorious day it was today; in the midst of the cold, grey Scottish winter the sun managed to melt away the clouds for the morning and even the wind was howling with less vigour that before.

Today, I ran out of my front door and along the Fife Coastal Path for 20 miles. I absolutely loved the feeling of going on a running journey – while circular runs are very convenient, it’s always a bit frustrating to run for three or four hours only to finish where I’ve started. The only downside to the point-to-point run was that I had to catch a bus back home, but it wasn’t all bad – while waiting for the bus, I had time to grab a massive sandwich and a Chai Tea Latte – heaven! The ground conditions on the coastal path were ever changing and ranged from harbour roads and crossing flat, bouncy grass tracks to staggering through deep sand and unrunnable scrambles over slippery rocks on the shore. I took each hurdle as it came and stayed happy and relaxed the whole way, as evidenced by the fact that I kept stopping to take photographs:

Heading to the trail:

20140209_091432

Is it just me, or is this just asking to be run?

20140209_095919

I passed several pretty fishing villages:

20140209_091407

Stopped to admire the views:

20140209_095236

This came out of nowhere – I suspect  that I took a wrong turn somewhere and ran into a fairytale…

20140209_115615

Passing some interesting rock formations on the route:

20140209_094523

This is where the going got tougher, but the end (St. Andrews) was in sight:

20140209_122827

After 32 kilometres the sun was still shining on me:

20140209_110747

When training for a marathon, my long runs involve running up to 35 km (or 22 miles) at a reasonably steady pace. In those runs, the goal is to keep moving forward, to dial into a pace and stick to it for the next 3 hours or so.

However, in preparation for the 88km ultramarathon in June, I’m aware that I’ll have to make some significant changes to my approach to running for a really long time. For a start, my long runs will have to get a lot longer; I’m hoping to clock several long runs of 6 hours and in excess of 50 kilometres before then. Right in this moment, even writing about those kind of distances makes me feel a little queasy! I’m sure that training my body to endure what I’m planning on inflicting upon it will be the relatively doable part – it’s the taming of the craziness that is my mind which leaves me feeling a little twitchy!

I’ll also have to take my long runs onto the trails a lot more often before the ultra. At the moment, I like to alternate my long runs between the roads and flat-ish trails and footpaths, which I find is a good combination to prepare me for a road marathon.

Finally, I’ll have to slow things down a lot. At the very least, there will be several pit stops on race day. Although the plan is to run the whole 88km, the reality is that there will of course be stretches that I’ll walk: necessitated, for instance, by particularly steep climbs, eating dinner on the go, giving sore muscles a stretch or break, or even the temporary surrender to fatigue. The idea of walking on long runs is new to me, and while I won’t have to practice the walking itself (duh!), I need to get used to the transition back to running as soon as possible. And I have no doubt that this will get increasingly harder with every passing mile!

20140209_093246

What have you been up to this weekend? Did anyone else get to enjoy the surprisingly fantastic weather?

The Good, the Bad and the Downright Funny

It never ceases to amaze (not to mention entertain) me that some runs are rotten while others turn out to be brilliant for no apparent reason. This week I’ve had my fair share of both types of runs and you know what? I wouldn’t change it for the world.

If nothing else, this week has taught me that running, just like life, is full of ups and downs. If it’s good, it’s wonderful and if it’s bad, it’s experience!

On Tuesday, I took my scheduled 90 minutes easy run to the fells. I always find it hard to run for over an hour in the evening after work, as I usually spend the majority of this time fantasising about dinner. I had hoped that beautiful scenery would offer some distraction, and was not disappointed:

NormansLaw

Wednesday saw the worst run of the year for me so far. I know we’re only just at the start of February and I fully expect worse to come; however, this doesn’t change the fact that my so called speed intervals were a calamity. It was a proper British wintery day; grey, rainy, cold, miserable and very, very windy. My legs were feeling the fell run of the previous day and were refusing to shift through the gears. To make matters worse, I had forgotten my gloves, which not only left me feeling even more cold and miserable, but also rendered my fingers useless to operate my sportswatch. Also, in case anyone is wondering, I can confirm that dropping both keys and phone into a puddle isn’t at all conducive to running an interval session.

I admit that at first I felt quite deflated after finishing the session, but that feeling didn’t last. Once I was sat down at home (in warm, dry clothes and sipping on a steaming cup of peppermint tea) I had a chance to review the random jumble of gibberish that my watch had recorded on the run; a testimony to my frantic attempts to operate the stopwatch with frozen fingers in the middle of an icy storm. I laughed at the special kind of idiot (aka me) it took to go out and try to run an interval session in those conditions in the first place… but intervals I did run, six times 1.5km (more or less). Who cares how fast or slow they were? I was running straight into the middle of a northern winter storm; and if that isn’t a good workout, I don’t know what is!

Friday morning saw me find my early morning running mojo on a pre-work run along the coastal paths. I didn’t expect to be capable of much power at such an unearthly hour, but once I was warmed up I was positively bouncing. Perhaps the rest day had worked it’s magic, or perhaps the stars were aligned for me. I don’t mind either way; the run was beautiful.

On Saturday morning I managed yet another early start and thanks to utilising the time otherwise reserved for breakfast, I was able to take part in my local parkrun. In a spontaneous act of lunacy, I inhaled a chocolate bar while standing on the start line, hoping that it would give me energy. Instead, it gave me stitches about half way around the five kilometre course. This seriously dampened my engine and I resigned myself to simply making it to the finish line. You can imagine my surprise when I crossed the finish line and realised that I had just taken a few seconds off my pervious parkrun record. I only hope that this won’t encourage me to repeat my narcoleptic nutrition strategy at future races.

Sunday is the day of the long run, and although today’s run wasn’t all that long by my standards, it got progressively faster in pace. Just for added entertainment value, every single one of the 22km of the run was complicated by a rather mischievous west wind. Every outdoor runner in Scotland is familiar with the sensation of running as hard as they can, but not moving forward at all, thanks to the wind. This made for a frustrating and very slow first five kilometres of my run. Then I changed direction, at which point the wind also changed its strategy of interference, in that it was now actively trying to kill me. Rather than just stopping me from going forward, it was now picking me up mid-stride and randomly dropping me at a point that was previously somewhere to my right. Twice I took off in a straight stride along the sidewalk and landed in the middle of the road (and thereby in traffic) instead. Clearly, this was yet another problem that could only be solved by eating more chocolate (it soothes my nerves, gives me energy to lean into the wind and it makes me fat, thereby complicating the wind’s endeavours to transport me elsewhere, I reasoned). Despite the turbulence, I ran the last five kilometres of the run at a solid half-marathon pace, hence finishing my running week with a metaphorical rude gesture at the west wind.

If there’s a moral to be found in all of this, then let it be that some creativity and a sense of humour help in almost all running situations. Failing that, I personally recommend chocolate.

My Accidental Marathon

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh the places we go

I would like to propose another item to add to the infamous “death and taxes” list: the dreaded car service. But while the first two really are entirely dreadful and predictable, I have come to discover that there can be interesting and unintended consequences to the latter…

I had to take a day off work only to be stranded for the better part of that day in a town which I don’t like and wait for a certain car dealership to charge me a minor fortune before reuniting me with my vehicle. Sounds like a hoot, doesn’t it? Well actually, it was.

Rather than twiddling my thumbs all day over a good book and a series of lattes, I instead opted to go for a run. I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that running has the power to make everything a lot more fun – even dull cities and waiting to be robbed blind by a corporate giant. I hadn’t planned the run in any way; I decided this morning that I’ll go for a run and just grabbed my trainers, hydration pack, £5 and some good tunes.

I dropped off the car and then I ran. And ran. And ran some more. I meandered my way around the city, following a vague path from green space to green space, hoping to find some trails in the urban jungle. After I had passed the imaginary 20 kilometre marker, I felt worthy of a reward and briefly dashed into the next bakery, bought some cake and nibbled away at this over the course of the next kilometre or so. Eating a slice of carrot cake on a long run was a novel experiment in running nutrition and as such had the potential to go very wrong indeed. However, although it wasn’t the most practical thing to eat while moving, it proved to be great fuel for even more running. But after another 45 minutes had passed I felt renewed prangs of hunger, and briefly contemplated more cake. A bout of soul (or rather, stomach) searching, however, revealed that what I really craved was something savoury, so I made a beeline for the nearest supermarket and acquired a bag of crisps – the second experiment in running nutrition, with results comparable to the carrot cake case study. I also picked up a tried-and-tested chocolate bar to avoid the need for further pit stops.

With no news on the car and my body willing and able, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and continued my quest as a seeker of green spaces in a grey city. When the call finally came to inform me that my car was ready I had run 45km. By Pheidippides!

marathon thoughts

Okay, I admit that I just love the fact that I accidentally ran a marathon and a bit. However, once the sheepish schoolgirl giggles calmed down, there are a few important lessons which I have learned from this particular run:

1)      Long runs are all about having fun and staying comfortable. Ok, this isn’t exactly an epiphany, but this particular run brought these truths home to me like never before. Long runs are most enjoyable when the pace is being kept to something that feels like a doddle and much time is spent simply enjoying the scenery. I just went for it and took care of my physical needs and – lo and behold – it turns out I continued to run strong for a very long time. I should add that I felt that I could have gone on for much longer and only stopped because it was time to get my car. And it’s a good thing too that I stopped before I did something seriously silly, as I still need my legs to handle the demands of an intensive half-marathon training schedule!

2)      I’m amazed that my body let me get away with eating cake and crisps on a run. It appears that I have been unnecessarily cautious with running nutrition in the past. While I’ve always believed that there’s no right or wrong when it comes to running nutrition, I’m realising now that I haven’t been as open-minded about it as I could and perhaps should have been. The bottom line is that on long runs, we need calories; and we need to get them in whatever form we can tolerate. Giving in to my silly cravings (aka listening to my body!) worked wonderfully for me; it turns out that my body can be bribed to go on forever as long as I keep feeding it calorific comfort food… I expect to get a lot more adventurous in future!

3)      I learned to not worry about long runs. Yes, they are hard, and when things go wrong, they easily have the potential to go very, very wrong. However, it’s not the end of the world.  Long runs are our chance to enjoy our hobby in all its glory; to see a lot of the world and reap the rewards of our hard-earned fitness. They are also a good opportunity to try new stuff.

4)      This particular long run has demystified the marathon, which is a great breakthrough after my meltdown in Athens. Running a marathon doesn’t have to be painful. It doesn’t even have to be particularly hard. Sure, when running to smash that PB, pushing the pace for such a long distance will always require a hefty dose of masochism. However, there’s a different way to run a marathon: it can also be run leisurely and genuinely enjoyed all the way. My whole escapade saw me out and about for 4 hours and 50 minutes, was a fair bit longer than a marathon and included two pit stops at the shops (really, you’ve got to laugh). Sure, it’s slow, but still far from embarrassingly slow. More importantly, it was so much fun that it’s left me wanting to do it all again. And after all, isn’t that one of the most important – but often overlooked – aspect of our training?

Vive le Parkrun!

On this fine Saturday morning I finally managed to drag myself out of bed early enough to line up – albeit still half asleep – at the start of my local Parkrun.

parkrun

For those of you who don’t know (it started out as a UK thing), parkruns are free, timed 5km fun runs that are held every Saturday morning in parks all over the country and beyond. It’s such a great idea that it’s catching on quickly, and there are now parkrun events popping up in other European countries as well as across the great pond.

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been inexcusably late in jumping on the parkrun wagon. I’ve been meaning to take part for ages and I kept hearing great things about the wonderful organisation, relaxed and inclusive atmosphere and soaring fun-factor of these events. I first registered on the website and printed out my barcode more months ago than I care to admit (the barcode is all you need to get individually timed). All that I had to do now was to show up at an event and run.

But week after wintry week, my best intentions were defeated by the siren call of my warm bed, which beckoned me to stay just a little longer. “I’ll just go next week,” I kept telling myself again and again and… well, you get the idea.

So what is this ungodly start time for which I repeatedly failed to disengage myself from my bed? It’s 9:30am… Before you point and laugh at my unquestionable pansieness, please remember that I live a country life, meaning that I have a dog to walk and a horse to take care off before I even think about my own breakfast. Also, when I say “my local parkrun”, I mean that I can get there by driving only 30 minutes. (Now you can point and laugh, it’s ok…).

Another factor which might have dampened my motivation somewhat – and I hate to admit this – is the fact that I have never liked racing the 5km distance. Some people seem to think that just because I can run for hours and hours on end, a mere 5km should be the running equivalent of a piece of cake for me, right? Wrong; very, very wrong (although I love the running and cake idea)! Running for hours merely shows that I possess some means of dealing with fatigue (and possibly a pathologically stubborn character). Racing 5km, on the other hand, requires staying in a physically uncomfortable state for a shorter period of time, but the truth is that while battling cramps and stitches and gasping for breath, every step feels like an eternity. So having established that I am a comfort-loving-pansie, do you really think that the girl who can’t get out of bed in the morning is any good at convincing herself to stay in a zone of “controlled discomfort” for any length of time? I don’t think so either.

And because this particular pansie is also exceptionally good at avoidant coping, the last time I actually subjected myself to a 5km race is ages ago. Think years. Maybe even a decade.

What tipped me over the edge – or rather, out of bed this morning – was my speedy running goal for 2014. After all, what is a 5km race for an endurance runner, if not an excellent tempo run? What is more, with over 100 witnesses to the deed, it’s one which even I would be highly unlikely to whimp out of. Even the distance has been measured for me – win!

So there I was this morning, just happy to have made it for once. I even arrived with a few minutes to spare, which I used for a little warm-up run around the very pretty park and a manic attempt to figure out the course. Any nerves, however, were soothed by the very friendly and totally laid-back atmosphere of the event. All you really have to do is to make it to the startline at 9:30 am, wait for the gun and run your socks off! Once over the finish line you get a position chip, which gets scanned together with that barcode you printed off months ago. That’s it! Go home, eat an almond butter sandwich, drink a celebratory hot chocolate and check the website for the results.

This morning’s run made me appreciate one of the awesome aspects of this distance: it really is for everyone. There were some serious club runners who left me choking on their dust after a mere 50 yards. There were veteran runners who use the event to stay sharp. There were those like me, who see the run as a speed workout. There were also families running together and runners who took their dogs for a spin around the park. There were those who aimed to simply complete the distance. All in all, there were over 100 runners from all walks of life, all enjoying the timed 5km run together, but for their own personal reasons.

As for little old me, I complete the course in 23 minutes and 20 seconds. I was the fourth female finisher and second for my age group. I’m absolutely delighted with that, especially since I was mostly just trying to a) stay awake and b) not get lost. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve never been so chuffed to place a tick against the tempo run in my training diary.

I strongly suspect that it will no longer be a rare sight to see me rolling out of my beloved bed and straight into my running shoes at stupid o’clock on Saturday mornings. After all, there will always be tempo runs to be run.  And who knows, could it be that my next 5km PB is lurking in my local park?

I’d encourage every runner to find their local parkrun and to just give it a shot. It’s free, it’s easy, it’s fun, it’s relaxed, and you can bring your better half/friend/dog/toddler/goat/ironing board – in short: it really is for everyone.

My Kind of Tribe

Tribe

It’s far from my nature (and the spirit of this blog) to get hung up on running gear, but there’s one particularly novel company which I believe deserves a big shout-out.

Nothing reflects the community spirit of this fledgling company more so than the fact that it got off the ground by one of the most successful fashion campaigns in Kickstarter history. That’s right, people from all walks of life invested a lot of money to get yet another manufacturer of sports clothing on the market.

But why would anyone do such a thing, you ask? To put it simply, people believed in Tribesports because the athletes themselves (that is, you and me) are at the heart of this company. Tribesports does things very differently, you see.

All the big names in sports apparel (bless them!) develop new gear with a small team of experts and then spend heaps of dosh trying to convince you and me why we really need this particular gear. Sometimes they get it right, and sometimes, well – let’s just say not so much. And then there are the middle men, the retailers that all take their slice of the profits.

The clever people behind Tribesports, on the other hand, start by asking thousands of people what they really want. And then they go and make it. It’s as simple as that.

The result is some really wicked, technical gear (just think: the gear you have always wanted!). The icing on the cake is that Tribesports apparel actually retails for significantly less money than that of their big name competitors, because they don’t spend the money on advertising, middlemen or getting it wrong. It’s just you and them. And the tribe.

This wild runner is proud to be part of the tribe.

Tribe Logo

Finding Speed

“If you want to be a successful runner, you have to consider everything. It’s no good just thinking about endurance and not to develop fine speed.”

–          Arthur Lydiard

Sometimes, when I’m apprehensive about doing something, I find that I have engaged my worryingly extensive repertoire of avoidant coping skills long before I can ask myself why I don’t want to get down to business in the first place. In those cases, I often realise that my trepidation is not so much due to a lack of will or determination, but more down to a lack of the required knowledge and confidence to believe that I am actually capable of what must be done.

I’m beginning to suspect that this might also be the reason why I’ve kept telling myself that I dislike speedwork in my running training for the best part of 10 years.

In the past, my speedwork boiled down to simply heading out the door and running a bit faster than normal, regardless of whether my training plan called for a 5km Tempo Run or 10x1km Cruise Intervals with 200m jog recovery. I put my moderately fast speed in races down to the fact that I tend to clock some crazy miles when I’m actually in training (Arthur Lydiard would be so proud!). But recently, my approach has changed gears drastically, no pun intended (ok, maybe a little). After reading some good books by various Olympic level trainers, I am now happily blasting my way through a plethora of speed workouts. I’m finding that these sessions are not only surprisingly doable, but they are also shockingly good fun! And who knows, if they do what it says on the tin, 2014 might just turn out to be my fastest year yet.

I suspect that I might not be the only numpty to be confused by all the different speed workouts. Therefore, I thought that perhaps a quick summary might inspire other speed-averse runners pick up the pace a little here and there. If, however, the thought of running faster makes you yawn, I suggest that you stop reading here, as this post is about to get a little technical.

Before I’ll do my best to describe the how and why for each of the speed workouts I’ve been tackling so far, as part of my own current half-marathon training.  To put this into context, I run five times a week for a total of around 60-70km, made up of one long run, two easy runs and two workouts from the list below – never on consecutive days or immediate before or after the long run. All of the workouts below require a warm-up; 2-5km of easy running, followed by some form drills and 2-3 strides (which means progressive acceleration over 100m or so until flat out speed is reached).

Steady State Run:

How? This is a continuous, medium paced run, which is somewhat slower and longer than the more widely known tempo run, but still faster than an easy run. This means that the pace for a steady state run is about 10-15 seconds per kilometre slower than my 10km race pace. During my half-marathon training, a steady state run would be around 12km.

Why? This is a great run for developing a solid base fitness – not quite as taxing as a tempo run, but it still teaches the runner to push the pace a little over a considerable distance.

Tempo Run:

How? This is the famous moderate-paced continuous run, which is run at about a 10km race pace. It’s therefore faster than the Steady State Run. During my half-marathon training, a tempo run would be between 5 and 10 km, getting longer as the training progresses.

Why? Apart from training the runner to maintain a taxing pace for a long time (the sensation of a tempo run has sometimes been described as “controlled discomfort”), a tempo run also improves the runner’s lactate threshold, meaning that one can run faster for longer as a result. This is one of the staple workouts of all endurance runners.

Tempo Intervals:

How? Tempo Intervals are moderate paced repetitions with short recovery intervals. The intervals are slightly faster than tempo runs, or a 10km race pace. During half-marathon training, a tempo interval session would involve 4-5 reps or 2km with a 400m jog recovery in between.

Why? Tempo Intervals essentially train the runner to be able to push the pace on tempo runs. They are somewhat faster, and therefore include a short recovery jog in-between repetitions.

Cruise Intervals:

How? Cruise Intervals are the fastest of the stamina-building workouts – the repetitions are faster, but shorter than those of a tempo interval, and the recovery jogs are also very short. A Cruise Interval session during my half marathon training would involve 8-10 repetitions of 1km ran at roughly my 5km race pace with 200m jog recovery in between. It’s easy to run these too fast though, so it’s important to be careful to get the pace right.

Why? Again, they boost stamina and teach the runner to run faster. The short recoveries mean that the repetitions get harder over time. It’s also a great workout to learn to pay attention to good pacing for races, as cruise intervals are quite fast, but not so fast that the pace can’t be maintained for all repetitions.

Progression Run:

How? A progression run starts easy, but finishes fast. A typical progression run during my half marathon training would be about 10km in length, of which the first 8km are ran easy and the last two are ran much faster. Similarly, I also do progression long runs: running 22-25km, with the last 3-5km at target race pace.

Why? These are tough runs, but they teach the runner to work a bit harder on already tired legs, a skill which is invaluable during races.

Fartlek Run:

How? Funny name = fun run! I suspect that everyone knows by now that fartlek is Swedish for “speed play”, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a giggle or two at the mention of the name, right? It really is just playing with speed: keep running but mix things up in terms of pace. Run fast to the next tree, then even faster to the bench, then jog until you can breathe again, then target the lantern… you get the idea. The only rule is to not settle into any particular pace for long. As part of my half-marathon training, a fartlek run would last between 30 and 60 minutes.

Why? Fartlek runs train the runner to tolerate pace changes and to push the pace whenever needed. They are also great fun!

Hill Repeats:

How? There are various variations of this workout, including different length hills and whether or not the descent is run fast (in which case it’s a continuous run), or used as a jog recovery (in which case it’s an interval run). For intervals, it’s best to find a steep hill that takes about 45-60 seconds to run up. Then sprint up the hill 10 times, with each ascend followed by a descend at a slow recovery jog pace.

Why? It’s often said that hill runs are speedwork in disguise. Apart from training our muscles to cope with the demands placed upon them by running up and down steep hills (duh!), hill reps are also a great leg strength workout and will make subsequent runs on the flat seem a lot easier.

Sprints:

How? This is by far the fastest running I ever do and the only time I try to run truly flat-out. I usually do 10x100m sprints with about a 1 min recovery jog in between, which is enough to leave my legs burning.

Why? These are basically a strength workout for the legs. Sprinting also trains the body to better remove lactic acid from the muscles and help develop a strong running form. Therefore, even though I never race a distance shorter than 5km, this is still a very useful workout for an endurance runner.

 Happy, speedy running everyone!

Speed