Saturday, March 8, 2014

Run Training Phase 3 - This One Might Hurt a Little

Wow, where did the time go. I sit here writing and growing my beard as we are finishing week 2 of the Phase 3 of the run training program. That means we are 14 weeks into the 24 weeks. Luckily my running is so much better than my beard.

So what does Phase 3 mean and why would it hurt a little? Well so far we have established our base, we have built our endurance and we have pushed our aerobic engine a little bit. This means our bodies are primed for learning how to deal with a little bit of speed. This means intervals and repetitions.

Phase 3 adds to our key workouts. So far we have had two key workouts a week, the long run and the threshold run. Our third key workout is intervals pushing us to 3 hard sessions a week. Ouch. Of course due to their more intense nature, interval workouts also mean that our overall weekly mileage does drop at first, then builds back up to the end of this 6 week period.

Intervals or speed work are a great way of working on your anaerobic engine. This is burning fuel without using oxygen and is generally associated with sprinting, but for distance runners can be very useful as well. Not all sessions need to be anaerobic either, by doing intervals at the maximum edge of your aerobic running boundary, you get to prepare your body for the speeds you may wish to achieve during races. And by doing these session as intervals with rests, you get the benefits of the hard run while limiting the stress and potential injury of just trying to do a fast long run. Sure, we will likely push ourselves during a race to hold these paces for a longer duration, but during training our goal is to get to the next training session injury free and well rested. After a race we can afford to take some time to recuperate and rest.

So yeah, speed work is great in that it can help make us actually faster, with a goal of limiting injury, but there is an even greater reason to do it. If you run within your limits you will generally find that you run correctly. It is very hard to run fast for any distance and run incorrectly. What does this mean? It means you will start to recruit the muscles fibers you need for economical running. Doing frequent repetitions of these runs will be like your body forming a proper running habit. Habits / nerve pathways / muscles take 3-6 weeks to become part of you, thus this 6 week phase.

As each week passes the intervals will change, sometimes getting longer, sometimes faster. Generally the longer an interval is (say up to 1 km or 1 mile) the slower you will go (ideally you run an interval at a consistent pace) while the short intervals (1 min or 200 m or so) are about as fast as you can go without sprinting. Always though, there will be a decent level of recovery between each interval that will allow the next interval to be run at a similar or slightly faster pace.

There are some great ways to figure out exactly what pace you should be doing these intervals, otherwise you can go by heart rate and try to stay within your Zone 5 (maybe high Zone 4 for longer runs). If neither of these ways are interesting or you don't have a fancy running watch, then intervals can be a bit of trial and error. As I said, try to run at a pace that is sustainable but hard for the duration of the run.

The specifics of this phase are hard to deal with in a small blog post. Entire books get written about interval training. Having a coach or seasoned runner with good knowledge helping you out is a good way to avoid injuries.

So this Phase is likely to be the hardest. We are still quite far from the goal race and can afford to push the key workouts. Allowing for decent rest is a must, throwing in some cross training won't hurt. I also suggest seeing your physio for an assessment at the beginning of this phase as an little issues are sure to show up here, but you will have plenty of time to deal with them prior to Phase 4.

I am excited as my athlete is showing some great progress already compared to last season. We are adjusting some aspects of her running and I am eagerly awaiting Phase 4 for her.

By the way this is a great phase to throw in some early season races, especially shorter ones like 5 km races. These will generally replace a speed session (threshold or interval) or if long enough (10K or over) a long run.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Back to Basics 8 Miler 2014

So my first real running test of the season happened Sunday out in Goffs, the Back to Basics 8 Miler. Yes, I had already done 2 other races this year, but the first 5km race I did was during my base training and the Tri the Oval winter triathlon was a multi sport event, not really allowing me to see how my run was progressing.

The Back to Basics is a nice out and back road race which is 8 miles long. The entry cost is super low and there is pretty much no bling associated with it. But there is a ton of food for hungry runners, including hot soup, when you are done. This is the perfect kind of race in my opinion.

Being 8 miles long I had to decide what sort of pace to run it at. Also I had to take into account the fact that it was on the road, the route was rolling hills, and the weather was sloppy. I mean I have been doing most of my running for the past few weeks indoors, including long runs, so this was going to shock the system. Eight miles is 12.8km so too long for 10km pace but short for half marathon pace. But in the end I decided to go with a half marathon pace to see how things would go in a couple of months at the Bluenose. I was aiming for a 4 min kilometer average, far faster than last years 4:09 pace at this race (which ended up being my Bluenose Half marathon pace as well!).

I arrived early for registration (a mere $10) with temperatures at the zero mark (so quite balmy compared to the last few days) and moderately dry roads. The dry roads quickly disappeared though, as a light but steady snow shower started up.

I registered, finalized my running attire (long sleeves, light glove liners, yellow tinted glasses, tights, and head band), and set about chatting with folks. I then headed out for a brief 2 kilometer recon of the course / warm up.

Soon it was race time, and we all lined up for the start.

And like that we were off!

As usual I took off far too fast, staying with Matthew White. That was never going to work. But I quickly started the slowing down process, so that I would sky rocket my heart rate for too long. At this point 2 runners passed me, and that was fine as I was still running too fast. Eventually I got it down to the 4 min/km pace I was hoping for and I was passed by one more runner. He didn't take off on me though and kept just slightly ahead.

As we ran by the first mile marker, someone was standing there yelling out mile splits, which was rather nice to hear. I hit the first mile at 5:58.  And I wasn't hurting.

Slightly before mile 2, I looked and my pace had slipped. This section was a little up hill and I as I glanced at my watch I was running about a 4:09 pace. That wouldn't do, so I pushed a little bit, passed the runner in front of me and held that pace. This would show up later in my data as the slowest kilometer split I ran.

The road was now very wet, including some puddles. As well the snow was starting to creep from the edge, making a slick slide to the road, and there were times I could feel my feet slide about. I aimed for the less saturated sections of pavement as much as possible, but it was inevitable that the water started to seep into my shoes.

At the turn around I was still in 4th place, which was great as I was hoping for another top 10. I grabbed for a water at the water table, but sadly dropped it. I continued on, not too heart broken but I hoped I didn't spill it on the volunteer.

At this point you finally get to see everyone who is behind you and they all look so menacingly close that it almost forces you to pick up the pace. But I held strong in my desire to maintain a solid pace and not burn out before the end of the race.

I did have one more secret desire in this race. I really wanted to get a proper fast 10km split in here. I wanted to beat my last 10km best time of 39:54 which I set 2 years ago. Last year I really never raced a 10km so I didn't know how well I could do over that distance. As I approached 10km I held my pace and rolled through at 39:18. This does of course, now want to make me find a flat 10km race where I can head out and try to break 39 minutes. But that will be another story.

I continued on in the driving snow, slightly downhill, steady pace. I was finally willing to peer behind myself and saw Ray was a decent distance behind me. Ahead of me I was making no change in the gap to Lawrence. All seemed good. Except my feet were wet, oh so wet. Blah.

Soon I came across my 1 km to go mark, which I had established during my warm up run. It was still too far to really pick up the pace, and as I was never going to catch 3rd place, and didn't seem to be in danger of loosing 4th place, I just made sure to stay as steady as I could pacewise, especially with the finish being uphill.

All along I kept reminding myself, run tall. I would drift to a slightly bent posture occasionally, but did my best to keep that core strong, the cadence high and the form good. I did receive a few comments about that from other runners, so that was nice. Still some work to do there for the long runs.

The finish line loomed. I picked up the pace, gave a few thumbs up to the volunteers guiding me to the end and crossed the finish line in 4th overall with a time of 50:05, better than last years 52:52 and an average pace well below the 4 minute mark I had hoped for with a 3:55 min/km. Wow, that was great. And judging by my Garmin output looks like I can keep a steady pace quite well:

Also my average heart rate was in mid Zone 4, just where I would want to be for a half marathon. So with more than 2 months to go to the Bluenose Half, I still have plenty of time to find the endurance I need to go with this speed. And who knows a little more speed might still be in there as well.

I'll post about the next phase of my training soon. The heart rate stuff and keeping the majority of your runs easy really can help to get you fast.

Next up, Moose Run? We'll see.