Friday, March 21, 2008

My Father Was Right

'Do wind sprints', he advised one day a few summers ago as I was telling him about my then goal to run a certain time for the NYC marathon. My father was an 800 meter runner in Brooklyn in the '50s, and has told me that there was a back page Daily News photo of him beating two guys named Lipschitz and Rosenblatt (who knew there were so many good Jewish runners?) My father is very intelligent and competitive, making him a ruthless Trivial Pursuit opponent. And though I believe he was a fast sprinter five decades ago, I didn't really think his training advise was going to benefit a marathoner. Physiologically, the most important system for a long distance runner to develop is their aerobic capacity. Sprints were anaerobic. The very idea of running a faster than mile pace sprint made my already tired leg muscles spasm. So I continued following the training plan I carved out for myself, ran personal records in the 10k, 1/2 marathon, and did pretty well for my first marathon. But I still had not broken 20 minutes for the 5k. That's something I've been trying to do for the past eight years. A 6:26 pace for 3.1 miles. I came within 30 seconds of it in 2001, and in 2005 within 32 seconds. There's a delicate balance between fanaticism and passion that you have to juggle to keep these goals alive and exciting. My method has been a tactical one of stark patience and determination, combined with some extremely challenging workouts. I believe I am on the path to breaking 20 minutes, and each year of training I'm slightly closer. I've incorporated all the major types of training needed to reach my goal- working on both my aerobic and anaerobic systems, keeping a long run in my weekly workouts, eating a balanced diet, etc. This week I found an article in Running Times magazine about leg speed by Greg McMillan. He said that by doing short intervals of 90% of your top speed with a long enough recovery to clear any lactic acid from your muscles, you will, quite simply, get faster. After reading the article, and the science behind the reasoning, I felt confident that this workout was going to be the possible missing link to my training. I went out the next day to execute my first leg speed workout. Three mile warm up, then 10 x 20-second intervals at nearly all-out sprint pace. Short enough to not fatigue my legs, and therefore maintain form and get muscle memory for fast leg turnover. A 20-second interval feels a little like a joke to me. Just the other day I had struggled with my one mile repeats, hating every labored step of the last three minutes. This appetizer was over before the waiter came back to ask if I'd enjoyed it. And yes, I had. To me, running at a slow pace is healthful, a good habit, sociable- but not beautiful. Running fast is a thing of great beauty. By the time I was done with my final interval, I couldn't believe I'd already knocked off six miles. I had planned on running an additional four miles to bring my days' mileage up to ten. My breathing felt even and smooth as I went through the first of the four miles. My normal running pace when I'm not doing a special workout is around 9 minutes per mile. I glanced at my watch to check what pace I had done that mile in. 7:52! How was that possible? Now, I've run enough years to know that it takes a few weeks at least to witness the training effects of a new workout. But this was astonishing! How could I have run that mile in under an 8 minute pace without my breathing changing? The next three miles were the same result, all under 8. So maybe it was a fluke (there are none in running; you get exactly what you put into it).
I have a good feeling about this year.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tamar: Enjoyed reading about the 10 x 20 second intervals. I've never tried them, but Greg McMillan is a good source for workouts and if you're looking for a 5K PR it seems that this workout will help.

Is there a specific 5K or time frame that you're targeting to try and attain the sub 20 5K?

I rarely do 5K's. I did a couple in 2002 and 2005 and every time I do one I say never again since I'm better at endurance and don't like the intensity involved in the 5K since you have no margin for error. At this point I'll be switching to shorter distances since the marathon isn't an option at this point.

I think if you stick to the goal of a sub 20 5K you'll be successful. Would be interested to hear as to how your progress goes.

Kevin

TeeJay said...

I think 7:52 in training is the new 6:26 (or let's say 6:25 for good measure) in the 5K. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Tried the 20 second repeats (actually about 23 seconds) on the final part of each lap around the track on the 2x2 miles I run. Did this the last couple of workouts and it worked out ok. Will see if it helps. The 2x2's are at tempo pace so picking it up is easy.

Kevin

Jon said...

Sounds impressive. Makes me wish I was a runner

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Mike said...

So funny to come across this workout today, Tamar. A few days ago I intended to do a 90 second X 6 hill workout. Rather than going to Central Park, I thought I'd try the East 10th Street Overpass on the East River Drive as it's much closer to my house. I often run it on my way to the 6th Street track. I imagined it would take me roughly 90 seconds to get to its highest point.

What was I thinking?!?! It took 24 seconds! So I ran it hard 18 times to compensate for the much shorter than intended distance.

I thought the workout was a fiasco, but now I find it is merely a variation of what your father suggested. So let's BOTH hope that your father was right!!

Welcome to Manhattan, by the way.

Regards, Mike

tamar said...

hi mike! this is funny- I always respond to those who comment. And now I see that for this one post, I have not responded to anyone! I guess that sprint mentality kicked in :-)
So did you like the short speed workout you did that day? Quite a change, huh? I like the East river track. Thanks for the welcome!

Mike said...

Don't worry, Tamar. It's good not to be 100% consistent...it raises too many expectations!

I didn't love the workout as I had to slow and change directions too many times as I ran up the ramp. If I do it again I'd much rather do it on a nice, flat, straight surface!For sprinting I've liked 200 meter repeats which takes me about twice the time you're doing in this workout.

How's your racing been? And what do you have coming up?