Tag Archives: speedwork

Things I did to reduce running annoyances when running in Chicago

Earlier today I saw an old thread on the dreaded Let’s Run Message Board about runner pet peeves. It reminded me of the adventures of running on the Chicago waterfront.

The Lakefront Trail was a nightmare both before and after they built separate trails for the bikes and pedestrians. People are just rude, and often intentionally so (especially in Chicago).

It was also an issue on the Montrose Track, though not as greatly so. I did have a couple run-ins with an occasional pot-stirring douche, but the typical annoyances were people sliding into your lane during speedwork, or kids making a point to “accidentally” kick their soccer ball right into your path as you ran, so accidentally it somehow happened 5-6 times per session even though they otherwise did a great job keeping the ball on the field.

In any case, years of running in this environment led me to figure out how to minimize the annoyances while maximizing my training outdoors.

  1. Get off the main trail.

The Lakefront Trail was annoying, but you could mostly avoid it if you were willing to run along the lakefront seawall. Sure, that area was often crowded during the day, but if you ran in the morning then very few people got in your way.

I eventually figured out to do most of my running along the seawall, and most of the Lakefront Trail annoyances I experienced stopped.

  1. Do some math and run speedwork in lanes 5-8.

Nobody likes the outside lanes of the track because they’re long and it screws up the symmetry of 200, 400, 800 meter repeats.

Along with using the track markers to designate 200 or 400 meters, I would just do some math against the lane measurements and get close enough.

2a. Just veer over to get around people.

No one cares if your 400 meter repeat is an extra 2 meters short or long. I would just veer into the next lane or onto the grass if someone got in front of me and continue like nothing happened. If they stayed in that lane after I finished the repeat, I’d just move my next repeats into another lane.

(While infrequent… if they incidentally were doing it on purpose, it killed their enthusiasm for it real quick to not get any real reaction out of me.)

  1. Get creative with speedwork on obscure public paths.

I also knew several loops and stretches along Lincoln Park that had close approximate distances. A mostly dirt loop in South Lincoln Park was just a hair over 800 meters. Near Northwestern a loop around a water fountain was about 350 meters. A circular brick path in Loyola’s campus was about 270 meters. If I didn’t need round numbers for a repeat I could run those.

(Also, unique to the Fleet Feet Racing Team, we got to know the long straightaway of the Lincoln Park Zoo lot and knew where 200, 400, 600, 800 and 1000 meters were. Many did repeats there when the lot was quiet, usually during non-holiday winter times, early evenings, and early mornings.)

  1. Be willing to run when no one else will.

For my longest runs in Chicago I’d get up very early in the summer, often before 6am. This was mostly because the heat and humidity were brutal after 10am, but it also helped avoid the crowds of other weekend long runners. Most didn’t venture out before 7am. By the time the other runners began to really emerge, I was often most of the way through my long run.

I also was among the few who really liked running in the dead of winter. Most fair weather Chicago runners pack it in before December, and definitely won’t venture out once temperatures go below freezing. The cyclists all but disappear as well.

Even though I had to avoid speedwork in the icy and snowy conditions, I liked my long slow runs in them, and I often had the trails mostly to myself.

  1. Run home from work in your street clothes.

There was something about running home in a t-shirt and slacks, with my work shirt tied around my waist, that kept people away. You look like a weirdo, and most Chicagoans don’t like going near weirdos. Win-win, as far as I’m concerned.

Granted, I was able to do this because I lived within a few miles of where I worked and the path home wasn’t particularly dangerous. People with long commutes can’t really do this. I’m now one of those people in Las Vegas.

I also could dress business casual and wear several pairs of my running shoes. My pants pockets could hold my wallet, phone and keys, plus I could comfortably run with all these items in those pockets. You’re probably not doing this in high heels and a work dress, nor in a suit and shiny loafers.

I also worked near the Lakefront my entire time in Chicago, or at least a mile or so therefrom. After work, I only had to tiptoe through traffic for a few minutes before getting to the relative safety of the waterfront’s trail system.

Still, for me this approach was an automatic way to log training and mileage, while helping to minimize annoyances.

  1. Be willing to run where no one else will.

Many parts of the Lincoln Park waterfront trail system were far less used than others. The area on the far north between Foster and Montrose Beaches wasn’t nearly as popular as the area closest to Lincoln Park and Old Town. You could run through the marina at Belmont Harbor without crossing more than a handful of people. I often ran around the eastern side of Diversey Harbor, where the geese liked to congregate, to get to and from the waterfront. Northerly Island and the area around Soldier Field (outside of event days) was basically no man’s land to most (plus of course most of the fair weather locals were too scared to venture south of that).

I did a lot of my running and long runs around these areas to avoid the crowds. It usually worked.

All of this is just one view, of how I got creative in my environment and avoided a lot of the pet peeves that most runners encounter while training.

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It’s Just Too Hot, Guys

Today, after a few easy and off days, I went out for some speed repeats. It’s excessively hot in Las Vegas right now, with high temperatures exceeding 115°F, and low temperatures barely reaching 90°F before going up again with the sunrise.

It was 91°F at about 5:45am when I started the first of what I planned to be five (5) 90 second hard repeats on a long stretch of trail. After two of these, I grabbed my water bottle from the stop point and decided to end the workout right there, heading back.

I wasn’t in serious distress, nor did I go too hard on the repeats. In fact, I probably accelerated into them better than I had been doing on repeats in a while. I ran them smart and my pace was solid. I didn’t feel sick or anything. But the combination of quick fatigue and the heat told me that what little I had done was for now enough. I walked back to the ranch.

I’ve stated before that one of my goals with this summer’s Indy Marathon training was to address training seriously in the heat. So far, as temps have risen this past month, I’ve handled what speed workouts I’ve done in the hotter weather fairly well.

The only workouts I don’t feel good about so far are my longer runs. I’m coming up on three weeks since my last true long run (though I have a 10 miler planned Saturday), and I have yet to exceed 10 miles. It is early and still base training, and the plan all along was to backload the longest/hardest running for after Labor Day when the temps drop back to human levels. But I’m still not able to get what I’m looking for out of current long runs.

All of this said, I have to be mindful not as much of my continuing adaption to the typically extreme vegas heat, but of these stretches where it’s very hot even for a Vegas summer. This is a true heat wave, with temps exceeding 115°F, the top end of what heat Vegas typically gets. Much of the Western United States is in this massive heat wave right now.

This is not the time to power through a workout if I find my body struggling or tiring more quickly in these conditions than expected. While sleep and nutrition can also be factors, I’ve actually done mostly well on both those fronts this week to where I can discount those being key contributors. If anything, I should have been more ready to go for this workout than typical given that and the extra recent recovery.

But extreme heat takes a lot out of you, prior heat adaptions or not. I had water with me but hydration had negligble effect on how it felt.

Sometimes it just makes more sense to cut a workout in those conditions short, and either run it out otherwise later (I can and may cross train after work) or just take a mulligan and move on to tomorrow.

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My biggest Chicago training mistake

Hindsight is typically 20/20 when it comes to training mistakes. Often you couldn’t have known at the time you were making a mistake, as experience afterwards is what ultimately taught you that what you thought was right turned out not to be right.

I trained a lot in Chicago as a runner, and I got into pretty good condition for where I was at. I learned how to prevent and safely work through injuries, and I logged a substantial volume of miles while running in dozens of races during the few years I seriously trained.

Looking back, I realize that something I did at every speed or tempo workout was actually counterproductive to my recovery and growth. It was hard to miss in large part because most of the people I trained with made a habit of the same thing, and even coaches didn’t realize this was counterproductive.

But the mistake inadvertently slowed my growth from these workouts, and had I know not to do it then I likely would have recovered more quickly and grown stronger workout-over-workout than I ended up doing. It may have made a substantial difference in how I performed in marathons and other key races.

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A Good, Quick VO2Max Workout for a One Mile Loop

man running beside street

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Pexels.com

Got a one mile loop near home that you can run uninterrupted? Training for a 10K or longer? Want to work on speed but do more than just 200-400 meter speed reps?

Run or jog to your loop and make sure you get about 10-15 minutes of easy warmup running in. Stop at a spot on the loop with a clear landmark and some space to move around.

If the loop provides a landmark about 3/4 of the way around, great. But if there’s no clear way to tell where 3/4 mile is, that’s okay.

Do some dynamic stretching, relax a bit, then run 4-5 strides… little 10-15 second fast runs to get the feel for running fast.

From your landmark spot, begin to run fast… about one tick below how hard you’d run a mile time trial. Focus more on moving your feet and arms quickly and steady, than on trying to go hard.

  • If you know where the 3/4 mile mark is on this loop, you’ll run this fast until you reach the 3/4 mile mark, and then slow to an easy recovery jog.
  • If you don’t know where the 3/4 mile is, but you know how fast you can run your fastest mile… subtract one minute from that fastest mile time, and round down. That is how long you will run fast before you slow to an easy recovery jog.
  • If you have no idea about either of those items, run fast for 5 minutes before you slow to an easy recovery jog.

No matter which way you choose to do it, jog easy until you get back to your starting point. Then, repeat the fast run as you did before.

Do this fast-slow run process three whole times, and you’re good. If you did this right, you’ll definitely want the workout to be done after the 3rd time.

Jog home. Eat something with protein.

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It never has to be exactly 400 meters

photo of road near tall trees

This trail might not be exactly 800 meters, and that shouldn’t be a problem for your 800 meter repeats. Photo by Matthew T Rader on Pexels.com

Most writers refer to speedwork repetitions in meters because they’re often run on a competition track, and such tracks can measure out 100 meter increments. On a track, you can run exactly 200, 300, 400, 1200, 2800, etc, meters.

Of course, many don’t have access to a track, and many American runners don’t use the metric system given our nation refers to distance in imperial miles.

The easy answer for conversions is that 400 meters is about 1/4 mile, 1600 meters is about a full mile, and so on.

But another complication of not running on a track is that measuring out exactly a quarter mile for a rep, let alone 400 meters, on a public right of way is unclear and difficult. Our parks paths, landmarks, etc, aren’t ever spaced out exactly right. A space between two light posts, benches, ends of a stretch of path, city block, can be 530 meters, 0.3 mile, 677 meters, etc.

Plus, relying on your GPS watch for distance doesn’t solve the problem, because your GPS readings aren’t totally accurate. A mapped run often shows you running through landmarks as the GPS signal guesstimates your actual route. It certainly won’t measure out your exact distance or velocity. Map the actual route run on an Open Maps interface, and you’ll find a difference of several tenths of a mile.

So how do you run those 800 meter repeats, or quarter mile repeats?

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Is it ever okay to do two quality workouts on back to back days?

woman in gray crew neck shirt running on brown soil during daytime

Cross country runners often train long the day after a race. It’s possible for others to do back to back hard, quality workouts. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

First, to clarify: A quality workout for runners is any run with more than 5 minutes of a challenging volume of running:

  • Fast or otherwise hard running
  • A very long period of running
  • A run with intermittent fast running (such as speed reps)

Secondly, in brief… yes, back to back quality workouts are not only okay but beneficial in some circumstances.

In fact, one demographic of runner actually practices this regularly: Interscholastic cross country runners.

Many cross country runners will run a race or a speed workout on Saturday (a quality workout), followed by their long run on Sunday (also a quality workout). They have an easy day Monday and then follow a more balanced schedule through the school week.

Now, is that healthy? Running guru Jack T Daniels will actually recommend in some of his Daniels Running Formula training plans that, during the peak phase, you do two quality workouts back to back. This is the only period in his plan that you do so. In other phases of such plans he spaces out the quality workouts as others do. In most plans you do the long run later in the week (while he is one coach whose cross country plans have you do a race or quality workout right before a long run).

So while many running minds recommend you avoid running quality workouts back to back, here is Daniels not only scheduling back to backs but in many cases putting them in the important peak phase. Are those other running minds wrong?

Well, no. Most plans might schedule more demanding regular and quality workouts, and perhaps their quality workouts require more recovery. Putting their workouts back to back may be a terrible idea. In Daniels’ case, the back to back quality workouts he schedules are not as daunting: A 3 mile cross country race and a long easy run. The 2nd workout in particular is done at a lower intensity, just for a longer than normal period.

Another training plan where back to backs are possible is IronFit. Because the rest days can be slid elsewhere in the week as needed, and because the workouts need to be done in order, it’s entirely possible that speedwork and a tempo run might be back to back.

Of course, most plans won’t dare schedule a back to back for the reasons stated. That said, they are not taboo. If schedule adjustments force the possibility, or you’re crafting your own training plan where you may need to book back to backs, there is a smart way to do it.

So here is how you should approach the possibility of scheduling a back to back:

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Speedwork tip: Using the track to maintain pace

people doing marathon

The track’s periodic markings can help you manage your pace during reps. Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

If you’re doing speedwork on a track, and trying to maintain a certain pace on speedwork reps… with some basic math, you can use each 100-200 meter sections on the track to monitor how fast you’re going.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to run 400 meters in 2 minutes (2:00). Your GPS watch will probably give inaccurate pace readings. This is not only because of the GPS margin for error, but because going in circles in the same location can lead your watch to believe you’re not moving much at all.

However, you can use the time reading and the markings on a track to keep pace.

To run a 2:00 rep for 400 meters, you need to travel 100 meters in 30 seconds (100 meters x 4 = 400 meters. 30 seconds x 4 = 2:00).

On most modern tracks, the 100 meter mark, 200 meter mark, and 300 meter mark will be indicated, along with of course the finish line at 400 meters.

At every one of those marks, you can look at your running time and see if more or less than 30 seconds has passed since your last measuring point. More than 30 seconds, and you need to pick up the pace. Less than 30 seconds, and you’re exceeding your projected pace (whether or not you need to slow down depends on your goals for the rep).

If you struggle with doing math on the fly, you can use your watch’s lap function to get your time between time-points.

This approach is similar to occasionally reviewing your speedometer while driving to make sure you’re not speeding. You can check your watch and make sure you’re on track for your desired pace.

So, if you wanted to run 400’s in 1:45, then you check to make sure you’re running every 100 in about 26 seconds (1:44 total).

If you’re running 800 meter repeats and trying to do them in 3:50, you can check every 200 meters to make sure you’re crossing at 56-57 seconds… or every 100 meters at 28-29 seconds.

And of course, if you’re not on a track but out and about on the roads or trails, you can do some math using measurements from Gmap-Pedometer to assess your time at certain timepoints. It’s not as even as the track, but will still help you in the same way.

Of course you don’t need to check your pace every 100-200 meters. Maybe you only check occasionally, or for the first couple and last couple segments, to make sure you’re on pace. But this approach will help you monitor your pace on reps and guide you towards speeding up or slowing down as needed.


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