July 26, 2016

Mammoth Track Club Workout

I have so much to write about the amazing Mammoth Running Escape I attended this weekend, hosted by Deena Kastor. But before I get to recapping all the wonderfulness of the weekend, I’d like to talk about a little bit of “bad luck” that turned amazing today.

Mammoth Lakes is a pretty small town, and the airport is one of the smallest in the country. There is exactly one commercial flight in per day, and one commercial flight out. Unfortunately, yesterday the plane coming from LA had mechanical issues, so our flight was canceled and rebooked for this evening instead. This threw off Adam‘s and my plans to get back to work right away… but it did have one pretty amazing benefit.

Andrew Kastor, Deena’s husband, coaches the Mammoth Track Club – a pretty prestigious running club whose roster includes many elite athletes. (Like Deena!) But they also have general membership workouts that are open to anyone, and those are held on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Deena talked a lot this weekend about looking for the positive in bad situations, and when our flight was canceled and we learned there was no way to get out of Mammoth on Monday night, I exclaimed to Adam, “This means we can go to the track workout!” Yippee 🙂

I have never in my life done a track workout, and I was pretty excited when I saw that the retreat would have us going to the track on Saturday afternoon. However, what I thought would be a workout turned out to be a workshop on stretching and recovery… though we all snuck in a lap or two just to try running on what I think is probably the most beautiful track in the world.

Adam and I doing a quick jog around the track on Saturday, after the stretching/recovery workshop.

In addition to getting some beautiful pictures of the track with the mountains in the background, we also had a pretty neat opportunity to get some pointers on form. Coach Andrew pointed out that I swing my arms a little bit too far across my body, rather than straight forward, and that I don’t get as much power from my arms as I should. I blame this partially on how much treadmill running I do, because I tend to stay close to the front of the machine (the better to see whatever TV show I’m watching on my tablet) and have to avoid hitting the display. I think I probably need to get outside for my speedwork more often!

Form critique – I’m in the blue tank, Coach Andrew is in the white t-shirt/hat, and that’s Adam chatting it up with Deena on the right side of the pic 🙂

So this morning when our flight was canceled, I was incredibly excited to be able to try a real track workout. Andrew picked us up at the hotel for the ride to the track, and after some quick announcements to the team, we headed off through the trails for a quick 1.5 mile warmup.

I tried to take it easy on the warmup, knowing that we had a tough training session ahead. But it felt much longer than I was expecting; Adam and I ended up running about a 9:30 pace throughout. Unfortunately, that didn’t feel all that easy to me! I’d like to think the 7000 feet of altitude were slowing me down, but the truth is I am really just not all that great on trails when I have to watch every step really carefully.

Once we got back to the track, though, the real workout would begin – and I was pretty scared. We would be doing a progression run, where each distance was a little bit shorter than the one before, but we were also supposed to go a little faster. First up was a 1 mile interval, then a 1K interval (0.6 miles), then two 800 meter intervals (0.5 miles each), and finally four 400 meter intervals (0.25 miles each) – all with a two minute rest break in between each interval. By the end, we were supposed to be sprinting. But sprinting for a full half mile or quarter mile sounded pretty darn hard to me! I didn’t know how this was going to go.

We started as a group, and I found myself pretty much in the middle of the pack (which thinned out pretty quickly). I tried to keep my mile run feeling at least reasonably comfortable, reminding myself that this was just the very beginning of the workout and I needed to be able to get faster from here. I ticked off the laps in my head and they went by faster than I expected, until I finally crossed the line having run a 7:30 mile. Not bad!

I took my two minutes of rest, which was actually enough for me to feel totally normal before the next interval: one kilometer. This one sounded the most daunting to me – it was 2.5 laps around the track, and I wanted it to be shorter than that. But I divided it into fifths: halfway around the track, one full lap around the track, 1.5 laps around, 2 laps, and then the final stretch to the 2.5 lap mark. I finished with an average pace of 7:20, so I had done my job of getting slightly faster – yay. From the end of the kilometer we walked back through the middle of the track to the start. I had a lot of trouble catching my breath while walking back, and too soon, it was time to go again.

The first 800 had me worried. This wasn’t really much shorter than the kilometer (just half a lap), and I hadn’t entirely recovered from the kilometer. But I again managed to get faster, keeping a 7:10 pace for this 800, and then a 7:00 for the next. Pretty consistent considering I had forgotten my watch and was running by feel! (Adam helped me with the timing/pace calculations when I would complete each interval.) I was pretty out of breath after that second interval, but I reminded myself that all that was left was four single laps around the track – I could do it.

Here I am on the final stretch of an 800m, barely beating the young kid behind me.

The 400s were tough, as I had expected. I kept up my strategy of breaking the interval down into smaller sections, and the 400s broke down really nicely and really predictably. I’d get through the first 100 feeling fabulous – perfect form, speedy legs, and no trouble breathing whatsoever. Then I’d do the next 100 feeling a little bit tired, but still sustainable. The third 100 I’d spend thinking “oh my gosh, isn’t this almost over yet?” and reminding myself that I had less than 45 seconds still to go. And then for the final sprint to the finish, I’d just remind myself to push hard because I only had 20 or so seconds till a rest break. I ran the first three 400s in 1:40 each (6:40/mile pace), and then kicked it up for the last 400 to finish in 1:35 (6:20/mile pace). Workout complete!

I was so proud of myself for how well I did in this workout. It had sounded pretty scary at first, but I had an absolute blast trying to improve my pace in each interval while also getting inspired by the runners around me. One of the runners who was doing the workout with me was Sarah Attar, who is representing Saudi Arabia in the Olympic marathon in Rio! There were a few intervals where I started just a few seconds after her, and it was inspiring to be running behind her (and trying to keep up). But I loved how all the runners were doing their own thing – some fast, some slow, but we all cheered for each other and applauded people as they came down the final stretch.

I would definitely say my first track workout was a success. It helped me push myself harder than usual – something I always need a little help in doing. I am so impressed by how Deena and other elite athletes are able to push themselves nearly to the breaking point in pursuit of their running goals, and sometimes I fear that I am fundamentally unable to do the same.

Most of the marathons I’ve run have been fairly easy – less races, more training runs. Even at my PR in the Wineglass Marathon, I didn’t give it everything I had – I finished the race and then ran back to mile 24 to re-run the final two miles with my then-boyfriend! I’m intrigued by the shorter races I’ve been doing lately, and eager to see what I’m capable of achieving when I really push myself, but I’m also not quite sure how to motivate myself to get to that point where the running sucks in the moment but the goal is worth it. Today’s track workout gave me some idea of how I can do that – by setting aggressive time goals and then running by the numbers. I’m looking forward to doing more track workouts (or track workouts adapted for the treadmill) soon.

But the other thing I loved about this workout was the camaraderie. I was worried that I’d be totally left in the dust by the other runners – and don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely lapped by a couple of the superstars in the group. But today’s workout also showed me that even when you’re all on the same small track and people are literally running circles around you, the amazing spirit of running is still there. I love how individual the sport of running is, and yet how we all look out for one another. We cheer each others successes and give hugs for each other failures, even when one person’s success is another person’s failure.

Anyone know any running clubs with track workouts I could join in Dallas (on weekdays) or Boulder (on weekends)? Sign me up!


4 thoughts on “Mammoth Track Club Workout”

  1. That is so cool you got to work out with them and on the track! What gorgeous views. I think about that often – how elite runners are really able to push themselves to their breaking points. That’s one thing I have really loved about my marathon clinic so far! Seeing other faster and better runners pushing themselves on hill sprints and speed work and really seeing the work and basically pain involved.

    1. Yes, I think I need to run with a group more to get inspired by other people pushing themselves and feel like we’re all in it together. It is so impressive!

  2. I know I said this on your other post, but I *love* Deena!

    DRC has some track workouts during fall marathon training, which starts up on August 13. If you want to shoot me an email, I can let you know which dates we’ll be doing the track workouts. It’s always Tuesdays at 7pm, I’m just not sure which ones (we alternate hills, track and interval runs) or where yet.

    I believe White Rock Running Co-Op also has some track workouts during the fall, I want to say Wednesdays? If you join their Facebook page, they post about upcoming runs there.

    1. Thanks so much for the tips! I checked out the DRC website but they didn’t have specifics, and it looks like WRRC is all about summer neighborhood runs, so it would be great to hear from you what’s coming up.

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