I'll be honest, I'm not a fast runner. Marci is a fast runner, but I definitely am not. However, I've been feeling like I've been slowing down more and more, and even though my half marathon time from November was my fastest race, I still felt slow. Marci and I are planning on registering for a race or two towards the end of the year and I've always wanted to keep up with her pace, but haven't been able to. So how do I get faster? The answer: TEMPO RUNS.
Hang in there - this post is a bit of a doozy, but its worth it.
I am the first to say that I am not a fast runner. I don't like to discuss pace and time because everyone runs differently, but for this post I'm going to talk about my pace. I think pace is a very personal thing - some of us just aren't built to run fast, while others are, and just because some of us run at a slower pace it doesn't mean we're not fit athletes or that we can't run long distances.
When I started running about five years ago I was averaging about a 10'20" - 10'30" / mile pace. Nothing fast, but for me, a steady stride. Marci, on the other hand, is much faster and tends to hit an 8'30" / mile pace. Whenever we ran together she'd get to a point and stop and wait for me to catch up. Some days I stayed pretty close to her (again, the benefits of having a running partner) and sometimes she was long gone ahead of me five steps in. So while we run together, we've never physically run a race together.
As the years have gone by my time has slowed down to 11'00" - 11'30" / mile pace. While it was frustrating, last summer I resigned to the fact that I'm just a slow runner and that's that. I just accepted it because no matter how hard I tried, I wasn't going faster and instead of beating myself up about it I just came to terms with it. I embraced the run for the experience and not to compete with others.
I took some time off from last November to this early spring, only casually running to try and maintain my fitness. I wasn't concerned about pace, I wasn't concerned about tracking my miles, I was just out there to run and enjoy it.
However, Marci and I have been discussing the next big thing (which I'll be posting about soon) and I was thinking about training again with her. A goal of mine is to, one day, increase my pace so we could potentially run physically together. So, how do I do it?
A short tempo run is simple: warm up for about five minutes at an easy pace, then run faster at a pace for 5-10 minutes, faster for the next 5-10, and even faster for another 5-10, and cool down for five more minutes. You're basically pushing your body to incrementally run faster. So, how does this work?
By increasing your lactate threshold (LT), or the point at which the body fatigues at a certain pace. During tempo runs, lactate and hydrogen ions–by-products of metabolism–are released into the muscles... The ions make the muscles acidic, eventually leading to fatigue. The better trained you become, the higher you push your "threshold," meaning your muscles become better at using these byproducts. The result is less-acidic muscles (that is, muscles that haven't reached their new "threshold"), so they keep on contracting, letting you run farther and faster.
- John Hanc, Runner's World
Now, would this ACTUALLY work? I decided my goal was to get back to a faster 5k pace - 10'00" / mile. I ran 22 total miles in February (only three and four mile runs) at an average pace of 10'51" / mile. All my runs were outside, just putting in the miles. I ran the first week of March the same as I had in February, three 3 milers, and one 5 miler. Then on March 9th I decided to do my first tempo run on the treadmill. I was thinking I should run by time and not miles, so I decided to go for a 45 minute run and see how far that ended up being - in the end it was 4.40 miles - and here's how I ran it:
My last weekly runs are on Saturdays and I run a hilly route that I'm trying to use it as a Long Slow Distance day so I am physically slowing myself down as much as I can.
My goal was to run one tempo run a week while I started the Nike 10k Intermediate Training Plan (see the end of this post for the plan). I figured I needed a plan at this point as opposed to running willy nilly and hitting too many miles because I got excited and then injure myself (or burn out). Every Monday I would hop on the treadmill for 3 miles and push myself further and further. Every other run would be outside on the streets. And here's how the next three weeks went:
In 3 weeks I've already shaved 30 seconds - 1 minute off my average pace. Every run gets better and almost easier.
And here's the other thing - I definitely push myself on the tempo runs and on my street runs, but not to the point of a racing heart and not being able to breath. I push it to the border of that, but I can still maintain a steady breath and I'm not losing my mind hanging on to a crazy pace. I've realized now too that when I run regular runs I sometimes feel like I'm slowing down, even back to what an 11'00" / mile pace used to feel like, but when I check my pace at the end I'm up to 10'15" - 10'00" / mile pace. I can already feel the physical benefits of tempo running.
This week I'm increasing my tempo run miles to 4 while my other mileage increases. Monday's 4 mile tempo run was killer and I wasn't sure if I was going to make it, but I did and shaved another 10 seconds off my pace:
So far, running one tempo run a week has vastly (and quickly) improved my pace. I'm planning on sticking with one tempo run a week for a while now to see where it leads me. Here's one last piece of advice from John Hanc at Runner's World about training for longer distances with tempo runs:
Typically, 20 minutes is sufficient, or two to three miles if your goal is general fitness or a 5-K. Runners tackling longer distances should do longer tempo runs during their peak training weeks: four to six miles for the 10-K, six to eight for the half-marathon, and eight to 10 for 26.2.
In February I only ran 22 miles at an average pace of 10'51" / mile.
In March I ran 74 miles at an average pace of 10'23" / mile.
So far, so good! I'm feeling great, not burning out, and improving my pace. And I can't wait to see what April brings!
Nike 10K Intermediate Plan
I'm using this plan now to build up a better base. Its free on the Nike+ App (along with a bunch of other plans). If you have the app installed go to Coach, then Start A Program, and you can choose which type of plan you'd like. So far, I'm really enjoying the 10K Intermediate Plan: