As I write this, I’m hearing stories of the northern states having highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s in AUGUST!! We just had an overcast day that didn’t break 80 after several weeks of intimidating heat and humidity. It was so nice!
Well, as I wrote earlier this summer, if you’ve been training in the heat, a 20-degree drop in temperature is going to make a huge difference in how you feel as you run. Now, although it’s FAR too early to not expect at least a few more weeks of heat and humidity (potentially), it is time to start ramping up for fall races.
The cool (ha) thing about fall weather is that if you’re considering the possibility of PR (running a personal record) in a race this fall, now’s the time to start doing some speed work. Don't bite off too big of a chunk, but just start easing into it as the weather right now is ideal for getting started into it. Now, if it gets back into that intense heat (we had several days this week with the heat index over 100), ease off or go early in the morning.
A good way to start getting into speed work without pulling muscles is to simply work some pick-ups into your regular training runs. For example, after running 2 miles, run the next mile 30 seconds on, 60 seconds off. The “on” the first time isn’t full blast, just picking up the pace. The second one, however, try to drop into race pace or just slightly faster. Continue that pace for the rest of your 30 seconds on, and jog your 60 seconds off, until you complete a mile. Then finish up with a mile cool down.
If you are really serious about increasing your speed, after you’ve done a week or two of getting used to intervals (above), I’d recommend doing ladders. After warming up ½ mile or mile, do a small ladder, such as 200-400-600-600-400-200, jogging the same distance in between each distance. These should be done at race pace (what you want your race pace to be). This ladder would be a pretty good 5K ladder, but if you’re looking at long distance, working yourself up to a 400-800-1200-1600-1600-1200-800-400 at race pace. Another idea is to run 800 repeats at pace.
One of the keys to speed training is running a realistic pace that you are comfortable with maintaining. Often times runners overestimate their abilities. A 10-minute mile may be a piece of cake in a 5K or 10K, but when we start looking at half-marathons, 15Ks, 20Ks and full marathons . . . well, the body starts doing weird things as the miles go by . . . things may feel GREAT at mile 10 in a half-marathon, but it could be within that next mile, the wheels fall off . . . and it’s not pretty. : ) For marathoners, many times it’s the 20-mile mark where the wall shows up. So, when determining your race pace, be brutally honest about your condition, your race history, and what kind of work you’re willing to put in the weeks/months prior to the race BEFORE determining what you want your training race pace to be.
What am I saying? If you’re currently an 8-minute miler in the 5K at your best, don’t be running your speedwork at a 6-minute pace. Now, if you’re willing to work, you might be okay with shooting for 7:00 or 7:15 because if you “blow up” in a 5K, it’ll likely be after 2 miles, and even if you jog in from there, you still have a shot at a PR. A long distance race is another story — you overestimate your ability to run and end up blowing up at mile 16 . . . the remaining distance is daunting and it will be filled with all kinds of physical and emotional pain . . . I’m just a ray of sunshine right now, huh? : )
Again, the key is to make sure you set your goals based on what your training sets you up to accomplish. Be realistic. There’s one more reason to be careful about how much time you’re trying to cut: injury. Speedwork comes with a greater risk of injury. So, it’s better to take small bites out of your PR rather than attempt to take a big chunk by demanding more than your body can give. Now, younger runners may have some grace with that as the body is more resilient, but as we all grow older, speedwork has to be approached with respect and with runners being highly sensitive to what our bodies are telling us. I once ignored a silly little twinge in my hamstring during a speed work out. I woke up the next morning and could hardly walk. I was out of running for nearly 2 months.
So, don’t fear speedwork as it’s a great way to get faster and drop your PRs. And with the cooler temps here for at least a little while, now’s a good time to start!
Be careful and have an awesome run today!
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