This past Saturday night, I headed to the track. I live about a mile from a local school with a track. It's not the best track being made out of asphalt, but it's a 1/4 mile oval and it's not crowded so it works just fine. I find that I enjoy doing my track workouts alone because I can run at the pace that I need to run at. When I run with a larger group, I sometimes find myself running either too slow or too fast. The key to doing track workouts on your own is to show up with a plan, and stick to the plan.
The plan for this weekend was to do 3 sets of 2 miles at tempo pace with a 2 minute recovery. So how fast is my tempo pace? Based on information I got out of a very good running book, my tempo pace is 6:15 minutes/mile. That breaks down to about 94 second quarters. So what this means is that I'm going to be running 24 quarter miles at 94 seconds, or faster, with the only breaks being 2 minutes after the 8th and 16th quarter. The rest of the time is going to be cruising around the track at a 6:15 or better pace. I tried not to think about the workout ahead of time because it seemed that it was too hard of a workout. But at the same time, I knew that my training needs to be taken up a notch if I want to continue improving.
I head to track around 5:00pm. I pass my neighbors who are all outside enjoying the beautiful weather. Some are grilling outside and I can smell the food and see them in their chairs relaxing with a wine or beer. I tell myself that I have a few cold ones waiting for me back in my fridge, but I need to get to the track and complete the workout. This is where having a running partner really helps. I can just stop and head home and nobody will care or even know. I can be the one in the chair, grilling burgers, sucking down the suds and just relaxing. But then I'd never know if I'm tough enough to handle the planned workout and my running will continue to be mediocre. The grill and the suds will wait for the 1+ hour it will take to do the deed so I continue along my way to the track.
I arrive at the track and I warmup a little. I've already run a mile+ to the track so I'm not totally cold, but I do some light stretching to prepare. This is not a fast workout so I cut a few corners and I toe the line, ready to start the first interval. I'm nervous about the workout and I just want to get it started.
The first quarter of a workout is always the hardest to gauge. You're fresh, but the legs aren't totally ready to run yet so it's difficult to tell how fast you're running. In the back of my head I know that I'm going to be running about a 10K over the next 40 minutes at a strong pace so I don't want to go too fast. But I also need to hit 94 seconds if I plan to finisht the file in 6:15. I come through the first quarter in 95 seconds. Damn! Too slow! I pick it up a little on the second quarter and come through in 3:10. That's a bit better, but that first 1/2 should have been around a 3:08. I've clearly made up some time though so I just hold it. I come through the first mile in 6:11. I'm pleased with that because it's under my projected 6:15 pace but not by a lot, and I'm not working terribly hard to maintain this pace. That's one of the most important aspects of this workout. The idea is not to kill myself to hit the numbers. The idea is to run smoothly and efficiently and to hit a specific pace. I continue along the first interval, coming through the second mile in 6:13 for a combined time of 12:24. I might have been overly cautious on this first one, but I've always believed that the last interval in a set should always be equal or faster than the first interval.
Instead of taking a 440 rest, I take a measured 2 minute. At exactly 2 minutes, I begin the first interval. My legs are now primed and ready to run. I'm trying to control the pace, but my legs want to go. I come through the first mile in 88 seconds. Woah! Too fast! I still have 4 miles of fast running to do and it's way too early to be going at this pace. I back off and come throught the 1/2 at 3:02. That means my second quarter was right on at 94. I'm feeling smooth as I come through the next mile in 6:08. A little fast, but I'm feeling pretty good and the workout is not 1/2 over. Only 3 more miles to go, but this is where I usually start falling apart. I came through the 4th mile in 6:09 for a combined time of 12:17. But I'm beginning to fatigue now. My legs are heavy and I can begin to fail a faint ache in my quads. The first signs of doubt are creeping in.
I take the prescribed 2 minute rest, and I'm second guessing myself as to weather I should be doing this 3rd and final set. I'm thinking this is where a coach comes into play. Instead of me thinking about things, the coach does the thinking. I look to the coach and if he says I should go, then that's what I will do. An athlete puts that level of trust in a coach. The coach is watching you run and will know if you're exceeding the parameters of the workout and will make adjustments. Well, a good coach will anyway. I don't have that today. It's just me, the track and my lazy streak. I know I can handle the final interval so I try not to think as I begin the final set.
My legs are dead. They feel like I'm wearing heavy boots rather than running shoes. My quads are tight and the ache is getting more pronounced. I feel like I'm barely running and I consider dropping out. But I make a deal with myself. I tell myself to wait until the first quarter and see how I'm doing. If I'm on pace, then I'll continue. If I'm off the pace, then it's a sign that I've exceeded the purpose of this run and I'll stop. The time is 90 seconds! Isn't that amazing? Regardless of how bad these feel, or what kind of tricks my mind tries to play on me, my body does it's own thing. Not only was I on pace, I was running faster than my projected pace. But that final 2 miles was a difficult. An interesting thing that I noticed was that as I tire, my form goes to h*ll and that makes me run even slower. I start to feel uncoordinated, not smooth at all. Whenever I feel like that it reminds me of one of my favorite Star Trek movies; "Star Trek 4 - The Voyage Home". They have just beamed up the hump back whale and are ready to sling shot around the planet. Scotty's voice calls from Engineering "We're having a power fall off!". The ship is shaking and Scotty is pressing buttongs trying to stabilize things. Well, that's how I feel. :) So I concentrate on my form and I can feel my stride smoothing out and I'm running efficiently again.
My final 2 miles are 6:13 and 6:14 for a combined time of 12:27. That was my slowest interval which is not how I like end my workouts. But that final time wasn't way out of whack and I had beaten my planned pace of 12:30 so I was happy.
I ran home as a cooldown and enjoyed a couple of cold ones in my chair as I finally was able to relax. :)