Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Crack the Track

This week I'm feeling the motivation and drive return. After a good 20 last weekend and a fairly easy recovery, I feel on-target again for the marathon (Nov. 18). I've been running the miles, but babying it in fear of re-injuring the toe.  Today I said, "Enough!" and got myself back on the track for some speedwork.

Speed intervals may sound complicated, but they're not. It's a simple process of alternating spurts of high-intensity runs, followed by a few minutes of recovery. First, you stress your cardio system and build up lactic acid in the muscles (which boost body fuel, strength and stamina), and then let yourself rest and prepare for the next interval. Research has shown that interval training improves how well your body converts oxygen to energy. The more oxygen your body can process, the stronger and faster you can become. Intervals are also a great exercise for weight loss or at least that's what I tell myself.

I first started practicing intervals last year and it made a big difference on my race times. The first training cycle that I included speedwork on a weekly basis... I finally got my sub-2 half marathon. The proof is in the PR.

Running speedwork, however, isn't easy. It takes an inner strength to push yourself (or a track buddy by your side). To be honest, I have been a little slack with my speedwork since spring training. Today it was deadly obvious. My heart rate was skyrocketing as I raced the stopwatch.  Here's how today went for me...

1.65 mile warmup jog (17:19)
I ran a nice big loop through Parkside Cemetery. The fall colors are so pretty right now and this environment is quite serene and peaceful away from the flow of traffic.

2x400 with a 400 recovery
I crossed the street over to the old track at Shea Stadium. When I kicked in the first 400, I thought, "Oh-dear, I really don't want to do this." The pace felt difficult and I could hardly catch my breathe (especially when I hit the wind). One lap felt like forever. Lap 1: 2:02  I always use a 400 to recover (one lap on a track). During this time, I take a drink, walk, jog or whatever it takes to catch my breathe again.  Lap 2: 2:01  My legs are starting to remember what intervals are all about...
4x800 with a 400 recovery
I hate running 800's (2 laps on the track), but they are so impactful on my training results. I try to keep the pace as uncomfortable as the 400 but push it twice as long. I'm always hurting at the end and need at least a 100 to walk it out before I jog again. Intervals: 4:06, 4:04, 4:09, 4:10  I'm okay with these splits. They are slightly slower from this past spring when I was squeaking in under 4:00, but it's to be expected. Room to grow...
2x400 with a 400 recovery
By time I completed the 800's, I was elated to finish up with a couple shorties. I like mixing up the distances of my intervals; it keeps my mind on something other than the throbbing in my chest. As expected, I nailed them faster than in the beginning... 1:57, 1:57. That's a wrap... and I didn't die.

1.15 mile cooldown (12:00)
My favorite part of speedwork is the cooldown. I allow myself to go whatever pace I want...usually slower is better. Today however, despite the tough intervals, I felt good and cruised along without much distress. I crossed the road again to head into the cemetery for another short loop... and who do I run into... my fast friend Anna, who is out doing intervals of her own (4x1600's... ouch!). Perfect timing, we get to run our cooldown together.
Total: 7.8 miles in 1:15

Remember, you don't need a track or stopwatch to do intervals and work on your speed. As a beginner, I felt awkward at the track, like I didn't belong. So I used a secluded road where no one could watch me die, where I sprinted one way to the end of the street, then jogged back, and repeat as many times as I could handle. It can be just that simple. I then added a stopwatch and (for fun) tried to beat my time each sprint.

Do you practice speedwork? How often?
Have you noticed an impact in your race times?


  1. I really love interval training and its true that it makes such a difference in my run time. I especially like doing Fartleks, where I sprint on the straights and jog on the curves.

  2. I plan on getting some more speedwork in this fall & winter because I will be taking my workout to the TM & I like to do speedwork on the TM.

  3. Did intervals today at the track! 1 mile run warm-up and then did 100m sprints (x5) then alternated high knee, butt kicks or side shuffles for 50m and 50m recovery walk. Felt really good!

  4. For almost a year I did weekly intervals with a group at a track and I just loved it. I improved dramatically during that time, but I definitely burned out (and it cost a lot to work with the coach). Now I am running intervals on my own without a track. I just run something like 8x2 min intervals with a 2 min recovery (that is what I did today). Or I do 3x5 min intervals, or whatever. Once I figured out I could intervals by time and not distance, and without a track, it was like a whole new world of running opened up to me!

  5. I KNOW I need to do speed intervals, but just can't bring myself to add them in. :)I'm about to start training for my 1st half marathon (Disney Princess Half in Feb) so I guess I should add these into my training?


  6. That is one of my goals for the next half I train for...that is, to learn how to do speed work. I am not even sure if I know how to sprint. Sounds stupid, eh?

  7. Thanks for th etips on speedwork. I will have to look into adding that when I finish my program.

  8. I did my Cupcake 5k doing intervals. It shaved off 4 minutes from the first time I ever ran a 5k. (My first ever race was a half marathon, so now I'm doing ALL 5k, 10k races for speed!) It does work and I finish better after intervals.

  9. I haven't tried speedwork yet. Although I AM looking to improve my times. I am definitely going to give it a try soon.

  10. Ok really stupid question. Did you use an indoor track or an outdoor track. Im following the training guide for Disney princess half marathon and i know speed work is coming up. Is 400 like once around a track at a high school where the football field is inside?


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