It’s been 3 years since I’ve committed myself to getting fast at running.
Back in high school track, I set a goal of going sub 6 minutes in the mile. As often happens with girls, I peaked my sophomore year and it was all downhill from there. My PR was 6:11, and that felt really hard. By senior year I could only manage 6:30. I still wanted to break a 6 minute mile, but set aside that goal for “later,” like in my late 20s when people tend to naturally enjoy their greatest fitness. Then I quit running fast with the exception of frisbee pick-up games. I started running intervals again at age 25. It turns out, when you don’t run fast, you get slow. I did some intervals in the 7-8 minute per mile pace but not much faster.
One day, at age 28, I woke up and realized my 20s were slipping by and if I wanted to try for that sub 6 minute mile I needed to get after it. So after ski season, I made myself a training plan with a bunch of fast workouts and got after it. The problem was quickly apparent- I was beyond slow. I couldn’t even maintain my desired pace for 200 meters!
There’s only one way to get faster, and that’s to run faster. I was pretty discouraged so didn’t do most of those workouts I had planned. But I did do some.. And that was a start.
Last year I decided to race a 5 K for about the first time ever (we did 4 Ks in high school cross country). I took this very seriously and chose the Get In Gear. Unlike much of the field in the 5 K, I wasn’t just going to finish, I was going for a fast PR. I trained hard, but fell a bit short of my own expectations.
This year, I didn’t want to do the Get In Gear again for a few reasons, mostly because it is early in the season and because I have other things to do (canoeing, orienteering, and the Midwest Mountaineering Expo). Last year, in what is typically the “rest” month for skiers, I was hammering out the L4 intervals on the track. This essentially created a 22 month training-racing cycle that was just a bit too much. So this year I’ve still been working on getting fast but haven’t nailed down the race schedule yet. I’m also thinking of maybe just trying my own 1 and 2 mile track time trials.
While I run about 6 miles one day a week all winter, with an early spring, I started getting after this goal of running fast mid-March. Since April is supposed to be the month of rest, I decided to not do any intervals longer than 2 minutes. The focus here was to work on getting fast without taxing the cardio system too much. Here’s some of the speed workouts I’ve been doing:
The Wake Up: This one is meant to be easy and to get the legs used to a bit of speed. I first did 6 x 1 minute repeats at 7-8 minutes/per mile pace. I ran these around 7:15 pace which is about my 5 K pace from last year. I took a very generous 3 minutes of rest in between so obviously this was a very easy workout. One week later I repeated with 12 x 1 minute with only 2 minutes of rest and it was still easy. I was happy the 7:15 pace felt relaxed. In the 3 years I’ve been doing speed, I’ve noticed that every spring my paces get faster.
The Real Deal: After a few weeks, I started doing these at 6 min/mile pace. This is still fairly painless as it is only ⅔ the time of what a 400 meter takes me at the same speed. The last week of April I did 12 of these with only 2 minutes of recovery and it was hard. By the last one my heart rate hit 175 and after the workout I had that oh so subtle feeling in my chest that said, “I did a hard interval workout today.”
Build Up Repeats: This workout got me to program my Garmin using the computer for the first time. This was a complicated workout including 3 x 2 min (at 5 K pace), 3 x 1 min (at 6:30 pace), followed by 12 x 30 seconds of build up into sprinting. I did 2 minutes of rest between each of these. This was a really fun workout which I’m excited to repeat.
Pulse Sprints: This is a totally new one I thought up and after trying it decided I had to do it again. The idea is go for 10 seconds at 6 min/mile pace, then sprint x 10 seconds, then go back to 6 min/mile pace for 10 seconds, then sprint again x 10 seconds, then 6 min/mile pace x 10 seconds. The sprints are good to work on and think about that top end speed.
400s: I still hate these and usually avoid them. As soon as I decide to do these I try to let myself get out of them. But these are the best way to know if I’m hitting my paces. I did these once. It had rained a lot the day before so I was dodging a lot of earthworms on the track. I also did these out of Lane 8 so that mentally I didn’t have to run the whole way around the track. And you know what, they weren’t so bad! I kept telling myself that, they really aren't so bad! And they are a good judge of how fast I’m running.
Build-Ins: Run a 400 with the first 200 meters at 7 min/mile pace and the second 200 meters at 6 min/mile pace. I probably just invented these because they are WAY easier than running a 400 but what I like about these is that it gets me to feel different paces. The first time I did these I noticed how shallow my breathing became when I switched to the faster pace and I told myself to start breathing deeper. It’s hard to think about breathing when I’m focusing so much on trying to run fast. Maybe once this pace starts to feel more comfortable I can focus on the breathing.
200s: My first year of track I remember running 9 x 200s. These took me 35 seconds and I don’t recall doing them since. I haven’t gotten around to doing these yet but plan to make these my next track workout. It’ll be interesting to see if I can be as fast I was at half my current age.
The Mix Up: A conglomeration of a bunch of these other things. For example, one day I did 4 x 400 (hitting 92 seconds for these on average), then 2 x 400 Build-Ins (surprisingly not that much slower than the 400s at 97 and 98 seconds), followed by 6 sets of pulse sprints.
Last year at 31 I felt so kick ass strong. Way stronger than my high school self, but I never did any real running tests to determine if I was as fast as my high school self. So hopefully after doing all this speed training I’ll have the guts to do 1 and 2 mile time trials.