This week is Peak Performance Week (PPW) at Orangetheory Fitness. Basically, twice a year, Orangetheory does a specific series of benchmark workouts for a week. The idea is that every six months you can do the same workouts you did six months ago in order to see how much you’ve improved. I’ve only been doing Orangetheory regularly since February, but I was still really excited to put my training to the test and see how well I could perform.
Today’s challenge was “endurance” focused. (Or at least, endurance as far as Orangetheory goes, since their style is intended to be high intensity interval training.) And it was pretty straightforward: 24 minutes on the clock, see how far you can run on the treadmill. Simple… but not easy.
People over on the Orangetheory Reddit have been talking up PPW for a while, and strategizing about how to do your best. This is especially important for the 24 minute run for distance, as it’s a pretty long stretch and there’s no coaching whatsoever – just you and your treadmill. I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach it, until Meerkate came up with a strategy that I thought was pretty good:
“Here’s what I do for any endurance run for distance on the tread at OTF:
–Start at an aggressive push pace, something I think I can’t maintain for the entire time. I can usually hold this much longer than I think, at least 4-5 minutes. (For me, it’s like 8.8, 8.9 on the tread.)
–When I start to struggle, I bump the speed UP to between my push and all out paces and hold for at least 30 secs. (10.1ish) This helps me mentally because when I go back down to my regular push it makes it feel like a break.
–I try to go down to my aggressive push again (8.9) but if I’m struggling I go to a more regular push (8.3 maybe) and start doing intervals. I’ll tell myself I’ll hold this for 90 seconds and then evaluate.
–If I ever drop to base, I never do base more than a minute.
–During the last minute, I steadily increase pace until I’m at 12mph (all out) for at least the last 45 seconds.
–Mentally I just settle in and try to focus on long strides, listen to the music, etc.
The short version is go out fast, hold as long as you can.”
I decided that I was going to try to take a similar approach. While my normal base pace is 8.0mph (7:30/mile) and push is 9.0mph (6:40/mile), I decided to go out at a 9.0mph; I hoped to hang on for about 5 minutes. I also took a tip from someone else to go back and forth between a few different speeds to break up the monotony of a 24 minute treadmill run. So my plan was to start at 9.0mph, and then every minute on the minute, I’d toggle either up to 9.1mph or back down to 9.0mph.
I woke up this morning pretty exhausted from staying up far too late each night this weekend. I knew I wanted to rest up for PPW, but last night I wasn’t able to get to sleep last night until late due to delayed flights and the west-to-east time zone change. Even though I felt groggy when I woke up, I reminded myself that I really wanted to do well, so I stuck to my plan. After a quick warmup of about half a mile at a 7:30 pace, it was time for the challenge.
Instead of only making it to five minutes at 9.0, I ended up running the first ten minutes exactly on plan: 9.0, 9.1, 9.0, 9.1, 9.0, 9.1, 9.0, 9.1, 9.0, 9.1. The first few minutes felt smooth and easy, but my heart rate started rising as I approached the ten minute mark, and I knew I wouldn’t make it to the halfway point (12 minutes) with this approach. So I took my cue from Meerkate at this point, and did a 30 second push at 10.0mph (6:00 pace) before dropping back down to the normal 9.0mph. Meerkate had suggested going slower for the recovery, but I decided I wanted to try to stick with the 9.0mph speed and see if I could avoid going below 9.0mph the whole time.
My next five minutes were again alternating 9.0 and 9.1. Those paces honestly felt exactly the same; it was just nice to have something to do every sixty seconds by changing the speed. But my heart rate was definitely starting to climb, and I saw myself approaching the “orange zone” (80% of your max heart rate, which I usually don’t hit at all). At 15:30, I did another 30 second push at 10.0mph before going back to 9.0mph. I really liked this strategy of going faster for just a short stint in order to feel like my standard pace was a recovery! I think it helped a lot, especially as I was starting to get tired.
The whole time I was running, I was doing calculations in my head to try to figure out what my final distance would be, and also when I would cross the 5K mark. I was originally thinking I’d like to hit 3.8 miles (random number and I’m not sure how I came up with it?), but I crossed the 12 minute mark at only 1.8 miles, so I knew I wouldn’t go quite that far. Still – 24 minutes used to be a pretty solid 5K time from me, and I knew I was going to far exceed 5K by then!
By 19:00, I was really tired and really wanting a break… but I knew I only had about 90 seconds to go till I’d cross the 5K. And I knew I was going to break my 5K PR, so that was exciting – I didn’t want to give up then! At 19:30, I kicked it up to 10.0mph, and held that until I crossed the 5K mark, which happened at 20:20. Woo hoo – I had broken my 21:00 5K PR!! I was pretty psyched. (Though I know a treadmill run doesn’t count as an actual PR.)
Now, just 3.5 minutes left to go in the challenge. Since I was coming to the end of the road, I started bumping up the pace steadily instead of alternating up and down. At 20:30, I dropped my pace from 10.0 to 9.1mph, but then I kicked it up 0.1mph every 30 seconds, taking me up to a 9.5mph speed at 22:30. Just 90 seconds left! At 23:00, I kicked it up to a 10.0mph, and at 23:30 I gave it one last push by going up to a 10.5mph. Andddddd… done! I proudly saw that at 23:59 (oops I ended a second early) I had managed to go 3.67 miles, for an average pace of 6:32/mile!
Even though I didn’t have another PPW to compare, I realized from my blog that I did a 22.5 minute endurance challenge at Orangetheory in May, and covered 3.3 miles for an average pace of 6:49/mile. 6:32/mile for more than three miles is a pretty significant improvement from that, just in the last two months! I have definitely noticed my running getting significantly faster thanks to Orangetheory, and it’s pretty remarkable when you consider I’m only doing Orangetheory two days a week. (And until my running streak challenge, I usually wasn’t running much outside of Orangetheory.)
Today’s class made me feel fantastic, and a lot more confident in my running. Although I’ve been getting faster, that old imposter syndrome continues to set in and make me wonder if I’m really as fast as I think I am. For example, the mile race I did on the fourth of July was downhill. So that means I’m not really a sub-5:30 miler, right? I feel like I need to run it again to prove to myself that it’s not a fluke!
This right here is how I ended up doing my first dozen or so marathons: because I thought there was no way that I could possibly be a “real” marathon runner, and I wanted to test that theory. Eventually I realized that I am a marathon runner, but now I’m trying to get over a similar hump and start thinking of myself as a strong/faster runner. (Who, me?) A few weeks ago, I ended up doing a lot of crazy equivalency calculations that helped me realize that the downhill course profile of my one mile race was mostly offset by the Colorado altitude. But I still wonder how that speedy mile would translate to a “regular” race.
That said, what is a “regular” race anyway?? Since I technically live in Colorado, I kind of feel like I’m cheating when I run at sea level… so does my 5K PR not count? Or maybe my Florida Orangetheory accomplishments should come with an asterisk? On the other hand, I spend four days a week in Florida (which is more time than I spend in Colorado), so I don’t get all the benefits of acclimatization… not to mention the weekly transcon travel that takes its toll. I tend to think of my PRs in terms of “at altitude” and “at sea level”, but I don’t distinguish for course profiles and conditions, or for that matter, how I’m feeling that day. (Today: sooooo tired. I am proud of myself for doing so well in spite of that, even though it also makes me question how much further I could have gone.)
And this is why I really like Orangetheory’s Peak Performance Week. As long as I’m consistent about comparing my results at sea level separately from those at altitude, the treadmill is about as much of a benchmark as I can get for my running. And I love being able to measure my changing ability! Six months is a long time to wait to attempt a 24 minute endurance run again, but I’m thinking I may start incorporating this challenge on my own every month or two to benchmark my performance. It’s great to see how my fitness is changing over time… and I’m pretty proud that it seems to be improving so far!
So now I’m curious… do you benchmark any of your running workouts? If so, what’s your test?