Thursday, October 24, 2013

Three Things Thursday: Speed it up

It could be the change in temperature or the accumulation of fatigue over a marathon training cycle but, regardless, my body has been tired this week. I have had to fight myself not only to get out of bed but to do all the things required (going to the bathroom, get dressed, drink water) to run. And, most importantly, actually run.

I'd like to say that once I'm out there that I am magically a unicorn and embrace the miles ... except I can't. I feel tired and slow. Not the tired and slow where you are surprised that you knocked out a goal pace run that felt like a long one but the kind where you just stop looking at your watch to prevent a wave of frustration and depression.

At this point in the training, when the work is basically done, it's easy to succumb to the lethargy and run at a snail's pace. It's the miles that count, after all. However, I can't do it. Just can't.

And so I decided to fight back - with a little speed play.

I've been to the track all of once and that was more than three years ago but I still run some kind of harder effort on a semi-regular basis. Here are some of my favorite ways to increase the pace without running in a circle.

1. Landmark runs. These have been my go-to lately while I try to add some intensity as I simultaneously recover from my hip flexor strain and stare down the marathon taper. They are easy, require no fancy gadgets - not even a stop watch - and can be adjusted based on a person's rate of perceived exertion.

After performing a warm-up of at least 10 minutes, designate a landmark such as a light or telephone pole or intersection. Pick up the pace, whatever feels like a strong effort, and run to that point. Take down the intensity for at least an equal distance for an active recovery and repeat.

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Roads with ample lighting help facilitate this run but I did a version of this Wednesday morning. As I snaked my way through the neighborhood, I would run hard down the east-west blocks and recover on the north-south blocks.

Other options include running hard for one song on your playlist and recovering for two songs or using parked cars. 

2. Time after time. Intervals using a watch, rather than a distance, are a lot of fun. One of my favorite workouts is a ladder of 1-3-5-3-1 where you run hard for 1 minute, active recovery for 1 minute, run hard for 3 minutes, recover for 3 minutes, etc. And while it seems a bit manageable, especially when you have that 5-minute recovery to look forward to, but it will kick your butt.

If you are new to speedwork, consider using a 1:3 ratio where you work hard for a set time and the recovery is three times longer. It can be straightforward - 1 minute hard, 3 minutes easy - or you can play with the times such as 30 seconds on, 90 seconds off. I would start with no more than four intervals, fewer if you go longer than a minute, and increase the work time by no more than 10 percent a week. Training safely isn't just about the miles but the time spent at intensity as well.

3. Hills. I had to say it. Running up inclines strengthens the hamstrings but more importantly the glutes, which help provide power. Power can sometimes equal speed.

It's hard for me to find a hill adequate for repeats so my M.O. is to pick the hilliest route I can find. Begin with a 10-minute warmup and pick up the pace, maybe a bit slower than tempo or 10K, as you tackle the hills. Focus on running strong - not sprinting - and take advantage of the downhills.

I probably should edit the beginning of this post because hills most definitely are not a favorite but they do make me feel a bit like a badass when I'm done. And that's what speedwork is all about.

How do you incorporate speedwork? Do you hit the track?

Disclaimer: While I am an ACE certified personal trainer, you should consult a physician before starting any exercise program. If you choose to do any of the workouts featured in this post, you do so at your own risk.


  1. Some day I will do speed work. Maybe.

    You SHOULD be tired at this point. That means you did your training right. Rest up! Marathon day is almost here!

    1. Also, I realized this morning that Miles has not slept through the night in a few weeks. Because, apparently, it is not a far-fetched request to go downstairs and get something to eat at 2 a.m.

    2. Leo hasn't either. SERIOUSLY, TODDLERS. You're killing us.

    3. Darn demanding toddlers. Lotta nerve!

  2. I normally only do speedwork in the winter, when I'm on the treadmill. Otherwise I might try to do my route faster than normal, but I'm not very good at adding speedwork. I should.

  3. I don't do the track but I love speed work with intervals. I tend to do the time speed work and it can be so much fun.