Saturday, April 16, 2011

Running slow to run fast

I had a mindblowing experience today.

So I was reading the May issue of Running Times (if you are not aware, a FAR superior publication to Runners World, catering much more to competitive runners/racers with lots of interesting articles on elites and training/racing type articles that go way beyond couch to 5K...I highly recommend.).  I had initially bought the mag at Whole Foods because my alma mater track club, the WTC, had a big old 2 page feature in it, which is pretty sweet.  But the main training article was on being "racing fit" all year round while still adding in periods of 'peaking' intensity for an A race.  The concept is nothing new to me and it's always something I've generally tried to subscribe to (not so much this winter, but let's not talk about that) so that wasn't the crazy part - the mindblower was when I looked at the paces that were suggested for the various types of workouts (easy/maintainance/long, tempo, aerobic threshold, and intervals)

Using 6:30 as my approximate 5K pace, here's what I got:
anaerobic threshold (ie, short tempo): 85-95% of 5K pace, for me, 6:50-7:38
aerobic threshold (steady state runs, long tempos, the later minutes of progression runs): 75-85% 5K, for me 7:38-8:40
intervals: 1500-5K pace, 5:45ish-6:30
easy/recovery/long: 65-75% of 5K pace, for me, 8:40-10:00

Now we all know I'm pretty much incapable of running easy. Ever.  But when I looked at these paces and realized that I'm running at the low end of aerobic threshold or faster every. single. day. it was like....whoa.  Might I be actually hurting myself rather than helping myself by running like an idiot day after day? The answer, I'm pretty sure, is yes...but actually seeing concrete paces kind of helped put things in perspective a bit.  Granted, my 5K probably should be faster than it is (although interestingly, according to McMillan, my 5K PR is actually quite a bit faster than my marathon would suggest, it's the 10K/half times that I 'should' be running that I haven't hit yet) and I think 10 minute miles are a little excessively slow, but even so, there are a fairly significant number of days in my week when I SHOULD be running 8+ minute pace.  Why is this so difficult for me to comprehend? I ran the best race of my life after training hard, but logging plenty of slower miles, you would think that would be enough to get it through my head.

This is especially interesting to me in light of the fact that a) I've felt stale as stale can be for...well...pretty much since Baystate. And I suppose, after 3 consecutive hard marathon training cycles, "overtrained" is a word that could possibly have been used to describe me, especially taking into account the 'I can't run easy' business.  And b) I've been riding the vague & nagging injury bus since November, with the latest exacerbation being a weird hip thingy that left me unable to run for the past week and a half.  Things finally seem to be resolving themselves after some time spend with the elliptical and the pool, and thank god because a fem neck stress fracture was on my differential diagnosis list for awhile, but it has gotten me thinking about whether I just go at it too damn hard day after day, and it's bringing me down both mentally and physically.  When running is hard every single day a lot of the fun goes out of it, and when you're injured a lot of the fun goes out of it. new plan. I've pretty much realized that my A race for the next year is Boston 2012.  The marathon is what I care about, training for it is what I love, and quite frankly, while I think maybe I have a 19:30 5K in me, I think the longer distances are where I belong. Yes I'm planning on racing cross, and summer races (assuming I can get back into shape after this damn injury), but THE goal is a PR at Boston next year.  And to really be ready to go where I've never gone before in my peak training for that race, I need to be consistent in my miles and my workouts, but not get burnt out.  And...ta da...that's where running easy comes in.  It's going to be hard, but I feel like it's become clear to me that I need to change something in my training if I want to improve, and I think in my case it means running easy enough on the easy days to really be able to run the hard days hard..and to WANT to run the hard days hard.  I see people on DM who are FAST - sub-19 5K fast - who run like 8:45-9:00 on their easy runs...and I'm like, they're faster than me, why on earth am I running my easy runs so much harder than them? This makes no sense. It's going to be a challenge for my mind to tell my legs to slow the eff down, but damn, I'm going to try.

On that note, today I ran my longest run in a week and a half, 6.75 out on the Boston course.  My first mile I ran in 8:40...success!  Except then I ended up with an 8:00 average...which is still progress...come on people, I'm learning here.

Also...I would be lying if I said I was not just a *little* bit jealous of everyone running Boston on Monday.  You know how it goes.  HOWEVER...Marathon Monday marks my first every opportunity to spectate a road race. Ever. I'm always the one racing them, duh. And, it also just so happens that Marathon Monday involves starting to drink somewhere in the vicinity of 7 am, a la 11am Badger games in undergrad.  And you know what's better than a runner who knows what people want to hear at mile 23? A drunken runner who knows what people want to hear at mile 23 ;)   I'm sure I'll have an epic spectating report up sooon.

And to anyone reading this is racing on Monday - you are ready to kill it, DON'T STOP BELIEVIN! I'll be the crazy girl screaming at mile 23 :)


Rachel Wasserman said...

I struggle with this too...all my runs want to cluster within about 30 seconds of one another in terms of pace...its hard to wrap my head around running slower making me faster, and yet, when I race not much faster than I train its clear I should listen.

Boston 2012 will be huge for you!

I also always camp at mile 23, maybe I'll see you there...

Running 365 said...

I hadn't ever thought about it, but I guess I've never really just watched a race either. I agree that "A drunken runner who knows what people want to hear at mile 23 ;)" is definitely the key!

J said...

Awesome post! I totally agree that it is hard to slow down but right now in this training cycle I am finally realizing the benefits! Its amazing how you actually get better by doing those slow recovery runs!

lindsay said...

Yeah this is a hard concept to abide by, but I do "believe" in it.

You were at 23?! I was at 22!!!