Speedwork: always heard about it from other runners but never considered applying it to my own training. For the past year I have been content with simply running. Mainly focused on running for as long as I possibly can and then very slowly creeping up my pace to a 10:20ish range for half marathons. I’ve been stuck in this range for the past year.
Since I ran the More/Fitness Magazine Half Marathon about 4 weeks ago (average pace of 10:36) I decided it was about damn time I focused on speedwork and basically hauled some ass. The pace group I kept finding myself in included Interval Pacers, a person that speed walks for a minute or two and then runs for a minute or two and then walks, then runs, for an entire race. I find running near Interval Pacers to be very distracting and confusing on the mind. One minute you’re passing someone, two minutes later they are jogging along side you and then they drop back again and then there they are at your side. I find it motivating to have runners around me bouncing their heads and pumping their elbows in sync with me. Toss a handful of Interval Pacers into the flow and my mind loses focus.
I became curious to experience the race world from another level of speed – the 9 minute pacers! For the past 3 weeks I’ve been focused on speed not distance. I looked to the treadmill, a machine I typically loathe, as though it was a fun game. Interval Speed Training became my new best friend at the gym. Here is the training plan:
* Run a quarter-mile at a very fast pace (around 8:20)
* Recover for about a minute or two running at 10:15 pace (this is a fairly comfortable level for me).
I did this routine 4x times, on Tuesday morning, over the past 3 weeks.
Felt like so little but in actuality it was quite significant. The impact of the training lied in the quality of the work, not the quantity.
Other days I ran 3-6 miles at a faster pace. I had to keep reminding myself it’s not about the distance. It’s the quality of the short run. During those runs my average pace was approximately 9:40.
Another technique I introduced into my training was improving the rate of my cadence. In other words, how often my feet touched the ground within a minute. Repeat after me: CADENCE. It’s like the secret sauce to cooking up a great runner.
By necessity from morning runs with my slow-paced Dad, who is recovering from foot surgery, I’ve focused on increasing the rate at which my feet touch the ground to be around the recommended 85 -90 steps per minute (180 BPMs Beats per Minute). This doesn’t mean I have a wide stride. Just means I tap the ground with my feet quicker even if it’s in small, quick steps. It kind of feels like I’m running fast in one place. This quick-step motion has given me improved elasticity in my muscles and trained my legs to be comfortable at moving them quickly. (I like to imagine I’m moving like Jennifer Beals’ character in the movie Flashdance when she
runs in place really, really fast dances to “She’s A Maniac”. Check it out here for those that don’t know this 1980’s movie reference or want a refresher and a good chuckle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NjbGr2nk2c
Flashdance moves aside, this link gives a good video demonstration for the cadence technique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVM6vy83Vy4&feature=related
The true test on whether the training was having any impact was when I ran the NYRR Race As One (4mile) on Sunday, April 28. Travelling into Manhattan from Staten Island for a 4 mile race is not appealing to me. I would have preferred to stay home and enjoy a long run with my comfortable technique of pitter-pattering all around my neighborhood, occasionally throwing in a sprint but for the most part lumbering along for miles. With my new attitude about speedwork and some encouragement from my husband, I decided a 4 mile race would be a great way to push my training and check-in with my progress.
As it turns out, I PR’d (Personal Record) with an average pace of 9:07! And most exciting was to see my splits.
Mile 1: 9:12
Mile 2: 8:51
Mile 3: 9:36 (damn hills)
Mile 4: 8:53
What a great sense of satisfaction and motivation to see and feel the benefits of my training after what felt like such a minimal amount of time and effort. Remember: Quality over quantity pays off in the end.
Being in this new race group of 9 minute pacers I noticed some changes to my environment and overall energy. There were way more runners around me. I felt like I was being carried by a wave. Even if I started to slow down a little it was still at a faster pace than my previous races. As we came out of the Harlem Hills around mile 3 I felt everyone digging in hard and picking up that pace. Few were complaining, more were pounding the pavement and grunting. Few were stopping to walk, more were picking up the speed. And I was right there, able to keep up. Perhaps the biggest difference I noticed being in this faster race group was that everyone was breathing a lot louder and harder.
As we came down the west side heading towards the last mile of the race everyone around me was charging hard for that finish line. I did the same. I bolted across that finish line feeling my legs were flying, not just pitter-pattering down the trail. Onwards and upwards I go, with a focus on achieving a solid 180 bpm cadence!