"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Thinking like a middle distance runner

A few bad days aren't anything to worry about, I guess. After a few questionable workouts and one very bad one, I was still left wondering why things weren't improving. After yesterday's run - which went well - I realize my mistake was thinking like an ultrarunner (which is fine, if you're running ultramarathons).

I got into the "I need to run x miles in y minutes this week" frame of mind, when that's not terribly important for what I'm planning to do. As an example of this kind of thinking, imagine a runner wanting to do her first marathon, running 40-50 miles per week and with a longest run of 13 miles; how fast do you think she could finish it? Dos your answer change if I mention she recently ran a 31:30 10K? That's what happened with Grete Waitz setting a world record with her first marathon.

I haven't been running many miles and the miles I've done haven't been fast. I'd think of what my weekly average was, calculate what kind of a mile race that corresponds to, then look at the individual workouts to see if they were too hard or too easy. That only works when dealing with races that require a lot of endurance, not the mile.

I'd been doing my hill repeats, letting the Garmin Forerunner measure my miles and record my mile splits, then figure out how fast I must have been going on the up and on the down sections. I wondered if I was getting good numbers. Yesterday, I decided to run repeats, but do them slowly (as I felt I'd been training too hard) and record the actual times of the repeats. I thought I'd been going up in about 5:10-5:15 in the previous week. This time, running easy, I was doing them in 4:40. I was way off!

The hard workouts I've done recently point to a mile in 5:50, rather than the weekly mileage and pace measurements, which are stuck at 6:25. That may not sound like much, but it's like the difference between a marathon in 3:15 and one in 3:35. Improving by almost a minute per mile in a marathon on a few weeks of training would be impressive.

What I'd overlooked was that I only need to be able to run hard for a few minutes, so how far I run in an hour isn't important. My body seems to respond faster to hard fast running than it does to long and slow runs; the endurance takes forever for me to build [I know the opposite is true for almost everyone who reads this], but the short distance speed is coming along nicely. And that's what I'm working on.

The bad days? Well, the weather was bad, I'd been doing things I wasn't used to when not running and I wasn't in the best of moods.

Back to work I go.


Karen said...

I'm glad you're back at it :) Being injured and/or frustrated sucks.

Anonymous said...

I believe you are one of those runners who thrive with low mileage (30-50 miles per week), with most done at a hard intensity. Thinking of Seb Coe, he was putting in 35 mile weeks in his olympic year. Hard 5 milers, 400/800 intervals, a long run of 10 every 9-12 days - that will get you to sub 5, and give you good odds to avoid injury - Do it!

Ben said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben said...

Steve, how do you think weekly mileage and intensity should change when moving from the marathon to the mile. I know a true miler would be doing a lot of speedwork. Personally I don't think I could run more than 50 miles a week a lot of those miles are going to be fast

SteveQ said...

@Anonymous: In my best years, I ran 80-90 miles per week, with a lot of two-a-days, but cut back dramatically when training for short races.

@Ben: I should answer that in upcoming posts. I like to average 75 minutes per day when marathon training, but only 40 for the mile, with long runs of only 60-80 minutes. The actual pace of easy runs becomes variable because easy days end up being recovery, rather than actual training.