Monday, September 17, 2012

Train hard to run hard

I read last week that if you are going to train, train hard.  Don’t just train moderately. Train like you mean it.  The article mentioned that most of us will think that we are going out for a “hard” run, but when we start to get fatigued, we back off – I know that I’ve been there.  Ok, we’re still getting our exercise in, and yes, we are probably doing more than the majority of the population, but if you are training, make it count.  And when it’s “hard” is when its beginning to count.

So I did yesterday’s 4M run with the intent of running hard, but smart, and with the goal of doing the last mile as consistently fast as I could.  What would I experience, what line would I cross – if any…

it was an interesting experience for me – so much so that I’m going to try to articulate it here.

At a minimum, I was curious as to what would happen and how I would feel.  My goal was to start as I always do, slow and steady to get loosened up and in a groove, then move it up to a nice cruising pace, and then finish the last mile as hard as I could, with the emphasis on not giving up during that last mile.  I was thinking that I would do my first mile at a 10m/m pace, miles 2 & 3 at around a 9m/m pace, and then my last mile would be somewhere around 8-something.   I wound up doing 9:58, 9:12, 8:05, 7:11.

The temperature and weather were perfect for having a good run – mid 50’s, slight breeze, and sunny.  A beautiful morning.  For fuel prior to the run I had some peanut butter on toast with a coffee chaser.  I took the time to stretch and loosen up.   Music queued up.

The first mile was nice and easy.  The first half mile was at something like an 11m/m pace, pretty typical for me, and by the next half I was up to a 9m/m pace – averages out nicely to a 10m/m pace.  I know that my first half mile will always be slow – it just is; my body is just not ready to flow and it takes 5 minutes or so to get my juices going.

The second mile has a few small hills, nothing significant, but enough to throw me off a steady pace, but I tried to remain consistent.  Netting out a 9:12m/m pace was very satisfactory to me.  I had been thinking that I would do something more along the lines of 9:30.  Around mile 1.5 I noticed that I was feeling a sugar low, so I sucked down a goo, knowing that it would not hit until after mile 2-2.5.

Mile 3 is ever so slightly downhill.  There is probably, maybe, a 10 foot drop in the entire mile, but the net result is that it makes for easier running.  I even lucked out at a major crossroads and barely had to break my pace to get across the intersection.   I had a good pace going and I knew it.  My half mile split was indicating that I was running an 8-something pace.  By now the goo was kicking in and I was concentrating on my form and posture.  As soon as I crossed the street and was back on the trail I know that I subconsciously was turning on the juice – it’s that “we’ve turned the corner and I can see home from here” thing…  I was pretty amped when I saw that my mile 3 split was an 8:05 !

As soon as I got to the start of mile 4 I was in full stride.  I was trying not to over stride, hips forward, making my mid foot land below my hips, pushing forward with my quads, and breathing – always breathing.  I knew that I was moving faster than I usually did, but even so, I felt under control.  As I passed someone walking the other way I was able to say “good morning” easily and without wheezing and gasping the words out – I thought that was a good sign.

I also started thinking about where my mile 4 end point was going to be – clearly it was not going to end at my house; I would have to overshoot the house by maybe half a mile.  That’s not a problem in of itself -  it’s more the psychological aspect of “where is the finish line?”  I was not going to be able to “see” it.  I would be done when my GPS said that I got to Mile 4.  It is an interesting way to push oneself.  Very abstract.

I got lucky again in crossing the road, easily avoiding traffic and powered into my neighborhood.  As I pushed my way down the boulevard I started to dwell on “where is the finish line going to be???”  At the half mile split my watch noted 3:40, or the equivalent of a 7:20m/m pace.  Cool – and all I’m thinking at this point is if I could run at this pace for another 3 minutes and 40 seconds.

I tried counting in seconds but found that I was way off – I was counting too fast.  I concentrated on pushing my quads to power me forward, using my arms to help my momentum.  I was trying so hard to land mid foot and spring off.  And keep moving, keep moving.

But I was getting tired – particularly since  I had no idea where the finish line was.  I had stopped looking at my watch.  I was definitely in an anaerobic state and my calculations were not making sense to me, so I just tried to focus on running hard and NOT SLOWING DOWN for anything.

I got to a point where I know that I was reaching a breaking point – a point where I normally would have said “ok – that’s enough - time to throttle back”, but I kept thinking about the whole thing of “training hard to run hard”.  It’s not like I was seeing spots before my eyes, but I know that I was definitely crossing a new line.  I think I lost a little speed while all of this was going on, but the important part is that I kept going as hard as I could – again just wishing that I knew where the finish line was…. I kept saying “how far, how far….”

And then suddenly it was there in my ears:   “Distance - four point zero zero miles”.  Heaven.  I touched the split button on my watch and pulled off to the side of the road to walk and breathe. And then I looked at my split:  7:11.   I read it, but I didn’t comprehend it.  I don’t run a 7:11 mile.

I then checked my GPS thing on my phone – it confirmed 7:11.  Whoa, this is huge.

Even better, as I walked back to my house, my breathing was good, my heart rate was normal (fully recovered), and my legs felt great (nice to be walking).  “Wow” I thought.

According to my logs, it was my fastest 4th mile, but not my fastest 4 miles.  In February of this year I somehow managed to do a 4 mile run about a minute faster.  Notwithstanding, I met my goal of finishing hard and running the last mile consistently hard.  And yes, I was wearing my new Newton running shoes, now with a grand total of 34 miles on them.

I crossed a line, both mentally and physically.  I understand the concept better now. I’ve crossed lines during an event, particularly towards the end of the race.  But the fact is that I was always unprepared for it – I never knew what would happen.  I’ve heard the saying “training day stud, race day dud”, so I’ve almost always eased back when things got hard.  But the reality of the fact is that if I want to run fast, if I want to run hard, I have to train fast, and I have to train hard. Theoretically, the line keeps moving, meaning that I should have the opportunity to get better and better.

The trick now is to extend this concept into my training routine.  Woof

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