February 28, 2012

Speedwork: The lazy man’s guide to getting faster while making it feel easy (and staying injury-free)

I slept like a log Saturday night, but woke up long before my alarm – at 7:30am. I really am a morning person! But despite getting only 7 hours of sleep, I felt pretty well-rested, and was definitely up for good. I hit the bathroom and the kitchen as part of my usual morning routine, and it wasn’t until I was back in bed curled up with my TV remote that I realized something – my foot hadn’t hurt to do that! Huh – apparently the five beers I had the previous night had cured it? I was going to reserve judgment until after I ran.

I put on a different pair of sneakers than I had been wearing all week, hoping that would take care of part of the problem. My foot did ache a little bit once I was all laced up, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the day before. I headed down the elevator, wished my doorman a good morning, and headed out into… a stunningly beautiful day for a run! The sun was shining in a glorious blue sky, and unlike Saturday, there weren’t crazy winds turning West End Ave into a wind tunnel.

Still, I wasn’t quick on my feet. I took it easy, but arrived at Athleta (3/4 mile away) in about 7 minutes – a 9:44 pace. That’s a bit slower than my norm, but I was pleased to find that while my foot was a teeny bit sore, it wasn’t getting any worse by running. Mini yay? As I headed to Athleta, I hadn’t been entirely sure whether I would do the full 6 miles or ask the group to go without me, but in that initial jaunt over to the store I decided: I was in.

I arrived at the store and we rallied the troops – a few new people, and the rest part of our regular group. I love having a regular group to meet! It’s fun to catch up on gossip, and it also gives everyone a sense of accountability since they don’t want to come back in a few weeks and have people ask where they’ve been. (And as the group leader, it’s double accountability for me!) I chatted with everyone about my marathon the previous week, but rather than do a full “seminar” on speedwork, we headed out pretty quickly. We had 6 miles to do! For some in the group, this was their longest run ever.

We headed for the park, dividing into three subgroups at different paces as we went. As usual, I answered a lot of running questions as I went. But today, with a focus on “how to get faster”, I tried to emphasize my best tip for speedwork:

Once or twice a week, when you’re doing shorter runs (see my half marathon training plan), hop on the treadmill for one of them. I know, I know, the treadmill is awful – but all I’m asking for is 20-30 minutes of your time on it per week, for guaranteed extra speed. Now. What is your goal half-marathon pace? (X mins/mile). What is your comfortable running pace for a long run? (Probably X+1 mins/mile, or something close). When you hit the treadmill, I want you to do 90-120 second intervals of (x-1 mins/mile), followed by 30-60 seconds of power walking (14 mins/mile). Do this until you hit 2 miles (or whatever your goal workout is for the day), and call it quits.

The idea behind this strategy is that your body will get very, very used to running at that fast pace. You’re interspersing it with walk breaks, so you won’t be dying, but by holding that fast pace for your entire short run (except the walking breaks, of course), you’ll be training your body that the fast pace is your new norm. As a result, when you go out and run outside (ahhh, much more enjoyable than the boring treadmill), you’ll slip into a faster pace without even feeling like you’re working too hard. Presto! Faster race times.

The other thing I like about this approach is that it still emphasizes running based on how you feel, which I believe is critical to injury prevention. I think it can be dangerous to constantly be checking your watch on long runs – that just makes you push yourself on pace, which you don’t need to be doing when you’re already pushing the distance further. I am a strong advocate of making each run either a speed run or a distance run – but not both. As long as you are training yourself to run fast and to run long, you can put it all together on race day, and lessen your risk of injury by doing so.

So speaking of injuries, how did mine hold up? Not too badly at all! Post run, I did a ton of stretching. Believe it or not, I was still crazy sore from the deadlifts I did as part of my weights routine on Friday morning (after spending all day Saturday resting up in bed, no less)! Because we had split up into multiple groups for the actual run, we all finished at different times, so I led two rounds of stretching. The second group to come in at first felt bad that they had missed the stretching, but I was actually thrilled to get another round in! (Seriously, how was my butt that sore? I had better be able to bounce quarters off it pretty soon!).

After stretching, I walked home from the store, trying to take it easy as I went. Only a block from Athleta, my foot started hurting. Uh oh, here it comes! Sure enough, I definitely started limping/favoring my right foot on the way home, and I began cursing myself for being so stupid and running so far on an injured foot. What if my friend John had been right, and I had a stress fracture? “I am an idiot. I am an idiot. I am an idiot,” was my refrain as I rode the elevator up to my apartment.

Reinforcing my idiocy, I also wussed out immediately upon arrival to my apartment. While John had recommended an ice bath for my foot immediately post-run, I decided that a hot shower followed by lying around watching the Bachelor would be a much better idea. And it was… until my conscience got the better of me. I made it through 66 marathons without taking an ice bath once, but now it was time for me to pay the piper. Here it comes…

I would echo that sentiment in the second tweet a thousand times over, except that about 10 minutes after finishing, I had forgotten how bad it was. Which is funny, because that’s what so many people say about marathons, too. I guess you just get used to it over time? And after waking up this morning, absolutely pain-free, I think ice baths are something I will be getting used to in the future. Hooray for a cure! My foot is unbroken! (At least until after my next 66 marathons.)

So to recap:
1. Drink multiple beers to mask any preexisting aches/pains before you run
2. Force yourself to dunk your extremities in ice water after you run (beer may be helpful for this step as well)
3. Finally, once a week, do intervals on the treadmill that are one minute faster than your goal pace, so your goal pace starts to feel like easy running


7 thoughts on “Speedwork: The lazy man’s guide to getting faster while making it feel easy (and staying injury-free)”

  1. I so agree with you-speedwork is soo beneficial and also, mentally much easier on the TM than most runs.

    I PRd after 3 months of speedwork on the treadmill, but once I got a job I could run everyday outside on my lunch hour, out went the TM and speedwork. I’ve been trying to get back into speedwork lately, and you’ve motivated me to do it for my run tonight!

  2. The treadmill also ensures that you are on pace for every single step, compared to trying to check your Garmin and adjust up or down every few seconds until you hit your speed. You can’t slow down or speed up when you’re on a machine!

  3. Thanks for the treadmill speedwork plan. I’ve used it the last two weeks and plan to make it a part of my weekly running program.

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