Adventures in Running Fast(er? ish?)

Running fast? On a track? What is this? I’m a plodder, not a sprinter!

When I made my training plan for Miami, I decided it was time for real speedwork. I tried a track workout once over the summer, when I first thought my sub-2:00 half attempt would be in August, and it left my shins screaming. I ran a couple of interval sessions after that, both at the track and on the treadmill, but I was mostly terrified of getting hurt and didn’t really commit. (Then, of course, I did get hurt and more or less punted on that August race anyway. Of course.)

Meanwhile, one of my friends was training with a running group and reporting back with stories of intervals and Yasso 800s, and she went on to shave 25 minutes off her half-marathon time and get a sub-2 of her own. Her message to me: speedwork works.

Between August and the Nike half in October, I mostly focused on getting my weekly mileage back on track and being able to run consistently without pain. But after Nike, when I decided I had one more half in me for the year, the time seemed right for speed. I didn’t have mileage to build, just maintain, and I had a time and pace goal in mind. I didn’t have a ton of time — six weeks — and I knew that if anything started to go sideways, I could back off.

My original plan (condensed like nuts from this Hal Higdon plan) assumed I’d run the 2 miles to the track as a warm-up, do 400 repeats (starting around 5, ending around 8), then take the train home so I could keep the total mileage between 4 and 6. This is the third speed week, and I have not for even one second stuck to that plan. The first week, I drove to the track with friends, and we did 4×800 and a couple of 400s at the end. The next week, I ran both to and from the track and squeezed in 4×400 as the speed session. This week, I borrowed and basically halved a workout from a blog (whose blog? I have no idea, but if this is your workout, thank you!), running to and from the track with a set of a 400, an 800, a 1200, a 200m recovery/walk, and one more 400 making up the speed portion.

Is it working? I have no idea. But I’m enjoying it, looking forward to it. I have never, ever, ever been a sprinter. When my junior high gym teacher tried to talk me into joining cross-country, it wasn’t because my laps were fast — it’s because they were consistent. My Nike+ pace graphs are practically a straight line. I can lock in a pace and hold it forEVer.

(That is my pace chart from a half-marathon with two walk breaks. Bet you can’t find the breaks! Heh.)

But that means I have a really rough time speeding up — and in a race where the first mile is likely to be slow and crowded, and where I really don’t want to get into the psychological train wreck of knowing I’m not at my target pace, I need to know I can speed up.

My times for this speedwork experiment have been all over the place — in my little superset today, my 1200 pace was faster than the 800 I ran immediately before it, and my first and last 400s were both 2:01, which I think was cool? I dunno; I’ve never analyzed my running numbers this way before, and I’m not going to lie and pretend like I know what’s going on. The takeaways for me are: I’m doing this. I like it. It’s fun! I’ve felt stronger on the track every session. I’m finishing strong.

And my 2 miles home (which, granted, are a slight downhill) are always easily 30 or 45 seconds a mile faster than my warmup run to the track, and they feel effortless. Those are probably my two favorite miles every week. That can’t be a bad thing.

If you didn’t run competitively before, how did you get started doing speedwork? How do you choose your workouts? Have you seen results?

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