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.

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