Thursday, August 06, 2009

On speed work and exceeding expectations

Hello everyone! Matt here, coming at you from the middle of August 2009, in the hot and humid district known as our nation's capital. To what do we owe the pleasure of my reappearance today? The answer is known to runners everywhere as the dreaded and yet exhilarating "speed work."

Speed work is where you work on running fast. This does all sorts of fancy technical things like work your fast twitch muscle fibers, help build your quads for explosive movements, help burn tons of calories, and generally just help you run at a faster speed even when you are not consciously trying to run at a faster speed. Basically, it speeds you up. And we all know I need speeding up.

I traditionally run my easy days at a very slow pace. A typical easy run, for me, has me jogging between 4 and 4.5 mph. This equates to a mile pace of about 14:17/mile, which is fairly comically slow for anyone else. but for me, it helps me build my endurance. Now, normally I am running through the neighborhood, which is very hilly, and so my slow pace reflects that. Today, however, I went to the place where speed work is traditionally done: the track.

Now, I have not been to a track in several years. The last time I was at a track was probably sometime in 2001, when I was trying to get in shape doing Body for Life. Since then, I have had no Need to go to a track. Until today. You see, I have spent several months building up a base of endurance -- the ability to traverse a large distance at a slow pace. But I really want to work on my speed. So to the track I went, with running buddy Dawn.

Now, when I talk about my increased endurance, you should know that that is relative. I have absolutely no endurance compared to someone who is actually in shape and a runner, like Ian of defunct blog "Short Man Running" fame. To me, the word "endurance" means that I can go a couple of miles without collapsing in a heap of sunstroke induced unconsciousness.

But I still cannot run four times around the track without stopping. At least, I think I can't. I haven't tried it in several years. I probably could, but it would be at the slow pace that I discussed above. And, as I also said, my goal is to get faster. To that end, my speed work tool of the day was interval training!

Interval training, for the uninitiated, is where you go fast and slow and fast and slow, repeating it until you collapse into a pile of semiconscious drool. I am proud to tell you that this is what happened to me today. First, Dawn and I walked around the track a couple of times to warm up. (I have found that simply walking for a half-mile is a very effective way for me to limber up my muscles and not get cramps.) Then, I wanted to jog around the track once at a moderately easy pace and see how long it took me. I walked around the track once more, and then jogged it once at a slightly faster pace. I repeated this twice more, walked around once more to cool down, and called it a day.

Here were my results:

  • Running lap one: 3:05 (12:20 minutes/mile pace, ~4.86 mph)
  • Running lap two: 2:30 (10:00 minutes/mile pace, ~6.00 mph)
  • Running lap three: 2:05 (8:20 minutes/mile pace, ~7.2 mph)
  • Running lap four: 1:49 (7:16 minutes/mile pace, ~8.26 mph)

Folks, this might not seem like a lot to you, but I'm pretty damn impressed with how I did today. I have not tried to maintain over an 8 mph pace for a quarter-mile in years! It was hard as hell, and my pulse got up to 186 at least, but I did it. And I did it in 85° heat at 60% humidity! Wearing a plain old cotton T-shirt! None of these technical wicking fibers for me. Oh no. I will wear my Cherry Blossom technical running shirt to the bagel store, but give me sweltering summer heat and humidity, and I am old school, man. (Okay, I forgot to wear it.)

A few more observations: the first lap was very easy. True, I only went around once before walking, and I'm sure had I continued trying to run, it would not have been that easy anymore. But for one lap, it was easy. The second lap wasn't quite as easy, but it was still nothing too difficult. Unfortunately, I wasn't wearing my heart rate monitor, so I have to go with my amorphous perceived rate of exertion, which is subjective and faulty at best, but I would say my heart rate did not get much over 160 for that lap. Not exactly a heart rate that I want to maintain on my easy days -- I prefer to keep things in the low 150s on easy days -- but it was still doable.

Running lap number three was pretty damn hard. I would give it an eight or nine out of 10 on the perceived exertion scale. And the final lap was a nine out of 10 up until the last hundred meters, at which point I was running close to full out. I wasn't sprinting like this was the final hundred meters of a marathon and this last bout of exertion meant the difference between gold and silver, or even like this was the end of the 5K that I wanted to set a personal record on, but... come to think of it, I suppose I wasn't running a level 10. Probably a level 9.5. But still pretty damn hard.

After all was said and done, I walked 1.5 miles and ran 1 mile at a pretty quick pace. Not an Olympic feat, by any means, but still pretty fun and pretty damn good for me. And now that I have found this excellent track just one mile from my house, I can say without hesitation that I'll be using it frequently. I can easily foresee an easy one mile walk/jog to the track, a one or 2 mile jog at a moderate pace on the track, and a 1 mile cooldown walk/jog home.

The only downside about this day, fitness wise, is that I bought a pizza to help me through the So You Think You Can Dance finale and voting marathon. (Go Evan!) But my weight is still down from where it has been, and reaching 200 is looking less like a possibility and more like a certainty.

Woo track running! Woo speed work! Woo Evan!