Tag Archives: speedwork

The Park Bench Run: An easy speed workout

trees in park

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A couple weeks ago, I planned to do some tempo work along a park loop as part of my run commute home. But once I left work and got to the starting point I knew I did not have enough gas in the tank to do the planned 800 meter reps AND take a full cooldown run home. I also didn’t want to take the bus, nor did I want to bag the workout completely and just jog home.

I took one 800 meter rep that went okay, but I knew doing several more was out of the question. What wasn’t out of the question was doing them as part of the run home, a hedge that allowed me to still get the speedwork in while curbing the amount of overall miles and reducing the overall stress of the run.

I didn’t want to do a full out uninterrupted tempo run home, but several reps of a few minutes each was totally fine. So here’s what I did:

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Thoughts on the Thompson New Intervals approach to speedwork

I have all sorts of thoughts on the New Intervals approach, which basically says to do your recovery intervals/jogs in speed workouts at a harder intensity. The link is Matt Fitzgerald’s write-up on the method.

I hated this 24 hours ago when I first read this. I saw a recipe for injury and burnout. Given more time to read it over and think about it… not only do I think it’s a good approach to speedwork, but I realize this is a speedwork version of what I’m doing with my 55-5 Long Runs. Given the parameters, it’s actually quite hard to overrun the workout, and in fact it prevents a lot of the overrunning of conventional speedwork.

This is basically sets of mixed-tempo cruise intervals. It’s written as sets of 4-6 reps of 400m intervals, but since each 100m “roll-off” cooldown is done fast, those roll-offs are basically part of the reps… making each set one long rep.

The key to this approach, as Fitzgerald mentions, is that your fast “reps” need to be dialed back so you can maintain the pace for each one in the set.

The volume of the speed reps you do in this workout needs to be less than a typical speed workout with such reps. Observing Daniels’ caps on rep/interval level speed workouts… you now need to observe the effect of the roll-off portion, which would previously be ignored since they were recovery intervals. Here, those “recovery” portions are more intense and basically part of the set, and thus should be considered part of the volume.

Conversely, most runners’ problems with speed workouts is that they slow to a stop or walk between reps in the first place… which happens mostly because they’re doing the reps too fast and too hard so they’re forced to stop. This sort of workout at least will prevent that. To stop or walk with New Intervals is to effectively cut the set short. It makes cheating the workout difficult.

90% of 90% of people’s problems with speed-rep workouts is that they’re going all out trying to beat a clock that no one’s keeping score of, instead of giving a controlled-fast effort where they work on running economy. This would pretty much eliminate that, though now you need to be careful of booking too hard of a workout since these are basically 1-2 mile reps broken into mixed tempo sections.

If interested in the New Intervals workout, it may be best to start with an easy workout with just 1-2 of them, to see how you handle it and to get used to the mechanics. Also, sampling the workout like this is an easy chance to see if you just hate it without completely tanking your workout plan.

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On measuring cadence instead of pace in tempo runs (when pace isn’t possible)

Yesterday I had a scheduled M-pace training run, the first in a while and the first of many in the Vancouver training cycle.

I also had to do it after work, and nowadays for a variety of reasons taking transit home and trying to do the workout at 6-7pm is not ideal.

I haul-run home from work in part to not pay for an extra transit fare home from work (I already take the bus into work), and the later in the evening I run the later I may get to bed and/or the harder time I’ll have getting to sleep. Finishing my runs before 7pm has been very beneficial to my sleep.

Also, I carry stuff to and from work in a backpack, and everything together weighs about 15-16 pounds. This is not a huge deal on regular runs (in fact it adds a bit of a strength component), but for any tempo training it definitely slows down and compromises the workout.

Nearly all of my needed running the last few months has been easy, and now I need to do more speed and tempo running. So haul running home every weekday isn’t necessarily the best decision.

I partially get around this by sometimes driving in, parking on the free curb a bit away from work (which does not have freely available parking), stowing stuff and then running in a nearby park… which allows for gear-free faster running. I got a 3/1 mixed tempo run in last week this way.

Meanwhile, I did try a Fartlek workout as a haul run, and it has reasonably solid results. Measuring the pace was a fool’s errand. The key, it turned out, was focusing on cadence.

Most runners maintain roughly the same cadence in every tempo they run. They just push off and stretch out a little farther on faster strides. I typically slow things down on run-commutes due to fatigue and due to carrying weight. To step as quickly as I do when empty-handed can cause an everyday workout to be a lot more taxing than it needs to be. In my races and tempo runs, I simply step more quickly.

Fitbit tells me that on most easy runs, I take about 760-810 steps every 5 minutes (about 155-165 steps per minute). On faster runs, I’ll take more like 820-850 steps (165-170), and I’ve gotten the wheels to turn 870ish times per 5 on occasion. I’m not at a place where I can comfortably take the fabled 180 steps per minute (900 per 5). You want your legs to turn over light and quick without straining, or it defeats the purpose of a faster cadence.


So then… if I need to haul run home on a day I have a scheduled tempo run, and I can’t or shouldn’t start the workout later in the evening when empty-handed… what if I did the tempo run as a haul run, but focused on sticking a fast cadence instead of on how fast the actual run was?

The few resources that calculate weight’s effect on your run pace go all over the place on exactly how much extra weight affects your pace per pound. And all such calculations assume body weight gain, rather than whether or not you’re carrying external weight, as I am in haul runs.

There’s a difference between gaining 15 pounds of fat and what it does to your running… and picking up 15 pounds and putting in on your back. Both affect your pace in substantially different ways. That 15 pounds of fat is spread rather evenly around your entire body. Its effect on your pace is far less than a lump of 15 pounds strapped to your shoulders and back.

For the physically strongest of us, the difference of extra carried weight is probably minimal. But most human beings will notice more of a difference than the 2-4 seconds per mile per extra pound that most calculations predict.

Yesterday, I hauled 16 pounds away from work (I had to make a purchase at lunch during work), warmed up for about 25 minutes, and then immediately quickened my cadence before holding that faster cadence for 30 minutes.

I used the step counter on my Fitbit tracker, which was conveniently right at 1000 steps when I began my pace run. Knowing that 170 steps per minute was my higher end of fast cadence, I previously calculated that over the 30 minutes I scheduled for M-pace, which came out to 5100 steps.

I rounded that down to a goal of 5000 steps at that cadence. At the 1000-step starting point, I knew my goal was to go until the counter read 6000 steps or more. I didn’t pay much attention to the time reading, and knew at worst I’d have to M-pace a bit longer than 30 minutes.

This was much easier to track mentally and physically than to monitor a clock, or look at a faulty pace reading that was only going to tell me I wasn’t going fast enough.


After a bit over 3 miles, the counter topped 6000 steps and I slowed to an easy run. The haul run M-pace workout was a success. And I didn’t feel terrible during any of it. The workout was challenging but comfortably hard.

Ideally, I don’t have to do this for every M-pace workout. Maybe I can drive in and do them at the park some days. Maybe I can get home early and get the run in with enough time to spare that I can cook/eat dinner and get to bed before 10pm. The hope is, as summer approaches and the sun comes up earlier, I can get outside and get runs in by 6am, and I can knock the M-pace runs out then.

But, if I’ve got to haul run home, and I’ve got an M-pace run scheduled that day, I now have a solid approach that allows me to get them in without compromising my training.

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A new 10K strategy, and a 2019 Mardi Gras Chaser 10K race recap

Yesterday I ran the Mardi Gras Chaser 10K on the Chicago Lakefront Trail, experimenting with a different race strategy based on my training. It worked remarkably well and at 52:40 I PR’d by about 32 seconds.

In fact, given better training and circumstances, I could have possibly run this race another minute or more faster. To PR so well despite no specific endurance speed workouts during the past month, despite extreme cold setting back some workouts, was pretty remarkable. I came into this race a little more speed-rusty than I would have liked.

This strategy allowed me to run probably the most evenly paced race-level effort I’ve ever ran. I may have run one or two better races in my time, but this was the most sustainably strong and even effort I’ve given over any full race distance beyond 5K.

I hit the turnaround (the course was an even out and back) at 26:24, meaning I ran the last half of the race at 26:16, a slight negative split.

So how did I do it?

BACKGROUND

Throughout the (better parts of) winter I had done some 10K-specific training, most specifically The McMillan 10K Workout. That workout is simple: 3 long cruise reps of 2 miles each at 10K pace, with a few minutes of active recovery between. If you manage your desired pace during the reps, you can probably nail the pace in your 10K.

I did the workout every fortnight or so during the early winter, before the F3 Half, the start of my Vancouver Marathon training, and the brutality of Chiberia all intervened. Even then, conditions on the track were often icy enough to slow my desired pace, so I had to focus more on fast cadence and not worry as much about splits.

Other than that, I did no real tempo running outside of the races I ran (Tour De Trails, and the F3). Thanks to the Half and the weather, I went about a full month without doing the workout. Even if I felt confident about my ability to hit a 10K tempo, coming into this 10K I wasn’t convinced I could hold anything close to it for a full, uninterrupted 6+ miles.

THE PLAN

MardiGrasChaser10K

The 2019 Mardi Gras Chaser 10K course. (The organizers ended up nixing the shortcut on the way back at the sharp Montrose turn, so it was an equi-distant out and back course.)

The course was a simple setup, with two tables along the course serving as double aid-stations: The first table out was the 1st and 4th water station, and the second table was the 2nd and 3rd water station.

Some approximate measurements indicated the tables were about 1.3 miles apart, with the 1st table being about 1.28 miles from the start line… meaning it was also 1.28 miles from the finish.

By simple math and inductive reasoning, knowing the turnaround would be exactly 5K away (3.11 miles), the turnaround was 0.53 miles from the 2nd table, meaning about 1.06 miles of running from station 2 to station 3.

Despite knowing I could comfortably hold an 8:25ish pace over 2 miles, I didn’t know if I could sustain that pace over 6.21 miles without having trained at speed at all over the last month.

I decided to hedge my potential lack of ability to maintain pace over the distance by turning the race into a long version of the McMillan workout:

Run at race pace until reaching Aid Station 2. I planned to start at race pace, moving my feet light and quick and sticking with it for the 20 or so minutes it would take to reach the 2nd aid station, about 2.6 miles away. This was just a bit longer than a McMillan rep, but from my experience I always finished those workout reps strong, and maintaining the cadence/pace for an extra 3-4 minutes wasn’t that big a deal.

I would blow past the 1st water station and keep moving. The plan was to get to the 2nd aid station before I would…

… slow down, take fluid, and run easy for 1 minute. Previously in races, I would either try to keep pace while taking fluid at stations, or slow outright to a walk and take it easy until I drank what I needed before speeding back up.

I had never tried the middle ground, and I was going to. Slow down to a regular running pace, something like 10-11 minutes/mile, while taking and drinking water. Even after finishing, I would run at this pace until a minute had passed, and then resume running at pace.

This was very similar to the workout, as during my recovery intervals in the workout I didn’t stop. Instead I ran easy around the track and kept moving. This would basically be a slightly higher intensity of the same thing. Once the intervals were finished I was always ready to go again at full speed, and I felt I’d be able to do the same here.

Resume race pace, and keep it until Aid Station 4. This particular “rep” would not be as long as the first, at about 2.3 miles or so (after the recovery interval) instead of 2.6. And that was fine, because fatigue should begin to set in down the stretch, and it would help to finish the 2nd stretch a little more quickly than the 1st.

I’d circle the turnaround, skip past the 3rd aid station, and plan to slow for fluid at the 4th and final station.

Again, slow to a regular run for 1 minute at Aid Station 4 while taking fluid. I would repeat the process for fluid, finish and make sure I got in one minute of easy running, before…

… resume race pace, and finish the race strong. At this point, there should only be about 1.1 miles left, far less of a chunk to run at race cadence. And that never minds whatever kick I could give at the end.

THE PLAN WORKED!

I stuck to the plan, to the letter, up until the 4th aid station, where I felt strong enough that, after a moment to take fluid, I just resumed race pace without any more rest, and finished the race from there. That might have shaved a few seconds off of what was ultimately a sizable P.R., so no regrets about that decision.

The whole race felt surprisingly easy. This wasn’t entirely because of the plan itself: I did focus more on a light, quick cadence and not falling into the trap of straining or overstriding for extra pace. That kept me from unduly wearing myself out in the early and middle miles.

But the plan also gave my effort clear boundaries. I knew that, no matter how badly things were feeling, I only had to get to the 2nd or 4th aid station before I could relax a bit. I knew my training had prepared me for 20 minutes of solid race-pace effort at a time, and for multiple reps of that same 20 minute effort.

It may not be how most people run a race, but this approach gave me the ability to run a better race than I otherwise would have.

DO I RECOMMEND THIS RACE PLAN?

This is honestly a perfect approach for any race where you don’t feel comfortable with your ability to run the entire race strong, from the 5K to the marathon. By building in recovery intervals around your visits to key aid stations, you can ensure you maintain an even, strong race effort to the finish.

There are two key caveats:

1) Obviously, you need to have the aerobic endurance to run the desired distance.

I consistently run 4-7 miles in workouts, plus do longer runs beyond that distance, plus on speedwork days (between warmups, recovery runs and the actual workout) I may log over 10 miles. You don’t need to run that much to do well in any distance below the Half… but no plan will work for you if you don’t safely run several days a week, and you ideally should run a weekly mileage of at least 3 times the race distance.

2) You need to do workouts where you practice this approach.

This plan worked for me because I was experienced with the McMillan 10K workout, which basically follows the same pattern. The plan obviously is based on the workout.

If you’re not used to running at your desired pace for at least a couple miles, this plan is going to be very difficult.

The plan can be adapted to where you slow to a regular run for one minute at every aid station, which allows for about 1.2-1.4 miles at your pace. But you still need to be able to run at race pace for reps lasting that distance, several times a workout.

However, that’s still a lot easier than trying to hold such a pace for an entire race without stopping… especially if you’re not used to doing it.

IN CONCLUSION

While ideally I can run races without having to do this every time… this is a fine fallback option for any race where the confidence to run the full distance at pace isn’t totally there.

And it can be adjusted for any distance: For example, I could decide to run a 5K as two 2500ish meter reps, taking fluid at the one water station and going easy for one minute before picking it back up and finishing strong. Or I could run a marathon as a series of very long 3-4 mile M-pace reps, taking 2-4 minutes of easy running (and, as needed, hard fueling) at key aid stations.

Even if your race has no aid stations or they’re spaced very far apart, you could bring hydration and just decide to go a set time period, like 20 minutes… then slow to a regular run, drink from your stores and go easy for 1-2 minutes before resuming for another 20 minutes. In fact, if you carry hydration you could do this even if the race has aid stations. You decide on your own how far to go during each “rep”.

Who knows… maybe I’ll do this at Vancouver this May. Or Chicago Marathon this October. Or next month at the Lakefront 10 Miler. Or maybe I feel much stronger for those races and don’t do it at all.

But The Plan worked! And now I have a proven, workable fallback plan for every race where I don’t feel fully confident in my ability to race.

 

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Finish strong at races by training with fast finish runs

You should never do in races what you don’t work on in training. Runners want to negative split and finish strong. But then they do all their runs at an even pace. Or the only time they run fast is when they do speedwork.

In so many other ways, runners do most of their running in an entirely different pattern of behavior, routine and other fashion than they intend to do so in their races.

This is not to say your workouts should all be dress rehearsals for your races. In many cases (like a marathon) this is impossible. However, in sports a typical practice usually works on specific elements and routines that athletes will utilize in the actual competition. A workout should whenever reasonable provide opportunities to work on things you will need to do specifically in a race.

Obviously a regular run works on running. But races are run at a harder pace than a regular run. Of course, you can’t just race all your workouts without risking injury or burnout. And of course you do want most of your running to be easy intensity for the same reasons.

Still, you can work on one key pattern of behavior that you will utilize in a race: You can work on finishing a typical run faster and stronger than you did the rest of the run.

The value: As you tire in a race, you have to work harder to maintain your pace later in the race than you do at the start. Thus it helps to practice giving more of an effort at the end of a run to simulate this demand and help you practice working within that state. It doesn’t unduly tax you to do it in the final few minutes of the run, the way it would for you to run hard the entire length of the run (as you would in a race).

An easy example: You go on a 45 minute run. You start easy and do most of the run easy. But in the final mile or the final 10 minutes, you pick up the pace to something “comfortably hard”, fast and a little challenging, but something you can steadily maintain for a mile or so. You stay at that pace or better until your run is done.

This fast finish run isn’t unheard of. In fact, a lot of coaches recommend it. Hal Higdon’s advanced 3/1 runs are basically this. Matt Fitzgerald’s training plans feature lots of fast finish long runs.

I actually used to do this when I first started seriously training. When I used to listen to music while running I’d go for a run set to LCD Soundsystem’s 45:33, with the goal to return to my starting point by the end of the 46 minute track. Sometimes, with the song approaching it’s end I’d be a little too far from the finish and I’d feel compelled to speed up to get there in time.

Turns out, without my realizing it, I was basically doing the fast finish run. It’s probably one of many key factors that led to my substantial improvement.

So, whether or not you want to time it to music, a great way to practice race-day running is to finish some (not all, but some) of your regular runs a little faster. Practicing that end-of-race “kick” in workouts will better prepare you to kick for real at the end of your actual races. Plus, it’s a sneaky way to work on “speedwork” without having to devote an entire tough workout to it.

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Quick thoughts on a slippery 10K track workout

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In the sunset darkness of the Wilson Track, with snow pellets coming down, there was one set of footprints coating the growing frost in Lane 3. That was me.

I ran 3 x 2 mile repeats last night at the Wilson Track. The 3x2mi is a 10K workout from Greg McMillan that while demanding will clearly show the pace you’re capable of running in a 10K. I’m not only training for the Tour De Trails 6 Miler but also the Mardi Gras Chaser 10K in early March… along, of course, with the Vancouver Marathon.

Thanks to snow flurries and general cold overcast throughout the last 24 hours, the track had some dubious patches of water and generally required some caution for use. I stuck to lane 3 as that was the inside-most lane enough to use in its entirety; even then, I had to ride the outside edge in some spots along the home stretch to avoid overlapping inside puddles.

However, snow pellets came down as I began my 2nd rep. Never mind hitting me in the face on the front stretch… pellets began coating the track surface, limiting traction and slowing me down while demanding more of my lower body to maintain form and movement. Nothing keeps your stride compact quite like trying to run tempo reps on a frosty track.

Most would have stopped a speed workout in this situation, unable to meet pace expectations and fearing falls and injury in the conditions… especially in footwear like mine: I was wearing my Topo Athletic ST2‘s, flats primarily intended for racing and speed running. I had the added bonus in wearing the least suitable running footwear for icy conditions!

However, along with knowing how to run in snow and ice, I also realize a tempo workout can still serve my desired purpose in less than ideal conditions. They’re about more than hitting a goal time.

Instead of disappointment in reps at a pace below my PR time, I see I can capably run a 10K at a pace 20 seconds slower than my PR in icy, increasingly slippery conditions.

Plus, with three trail races still to come, I also need to prep for running fast on uneven, probably slippery conditions… as I had to in the Tour De Trails 3 Miler a couple weeks before. Maintaining the best pace I could on a frosty track that didn’t provide great traction helps develop lower body muscles that will need to do serious work in next month’s 6 Miler plus the longer trail races beyond.


Now, not everyone should do this, and I wouldn’t keep a speed workout going every time ice started coating the surface. There are a lot of winter days where I’d bag a planned speed workout and do something else.

But this was one day where, as the conditions grew farther from ideal, the workout still provided growth opportunity and still served its purpose. Quality workouts intend to prepare you to race, not just hit a goal time.

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The Best Running Technique for Speed

So you want to run fast? Can’t blame you. We all do. I’ve talked about this before but I’ll make a point of it again:

The mistake most people make when they try to run faster than usual, such as in speedwork and in races, is to a) run physically harder, as in put forth more effort, and b) to reach farther with their steps and try to cover more ground with each step.

All the above serves to do is tire you out more quickly, and while this may be great for sprinters who need only maintain this effort for a few seconds… this is not a good way to run a race farther than, say, 400 meters. And pretty much every race you pay to run is a lot farther than 400 meters.

What you want is to maintain efficiency, while repeating your most efficient running motion faster than usual.

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Volume: The key to base training

Most training plans, whether or not they map it out, follow at least three general phases.

  1. There is a base training phase, where you establish the volume and habits you will generally follow throughout the training cycle.
  2. There is a fundamental phase, where you develop speed and aerobic endurance.
  3. And then there is the final sharpening phase, where you work more specifically on preparing for your goal race as well as taper to heal up in the days/weeks before that race.

(Some split that 2nd phase into separate development phases, one where the 1st part is speedwork-centered, and the 2nd is built around tempo and endurance with that tempo.)

Most people follow a pre-written training plan, which usually starts with a minimal weekly mileage that gradually builds throughout the plan. The base training may establish an initial pattern of speed/tempo workouts, but the volume typically is low and increases during the life of the training plan.

I do think we get it backwards.

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Chops: A personal statistic for tracking training volume

Chops

A snapshot of my Google Docs training log, which outlines mileage, time spent in “hard running”, time spent doing hard exercise or similar labor, estimated walking distance, lifetime training miles since 2016, and my personal stat “Chops”, described below.

I keep a Google Doc spreadsheet log of all my training sessions: Mileage, any speedwork mileage, time spent in strength training plus other active/intentional physical effort, and estimated distance walking.

I also track known lifetime training mileage, and a self-created stat called Chops.

Chops is named after the musician term chops, which describes a performer’s current musical skill. Similarly, my Chops number provides an estimate of how many miles I can comfortably run at full strength over the following week.

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An 8-12 week McMillan-Style 8K training plan that will get you ready

The following is admittedly a variation of a plan Greg McMillan has recommended for 10K training. The plan below is a bit more specific about mileage and off-week workouts, but does allow flexibility.

  • This plan lasts a minimum of 8 weeks and presumes you already run at least 15 miles a week, at least 3-4 days a week, and at least two of your runs are 5 miles or more. It’s ideal if you run at least 40 miles per week, but that’s not necessary.
  • If not, spend 2-4 weeks running at least 15 miles per week, at least 3 days a week, at an easy pace… before beginning this plan. The less running you currently do, the longer you need to work on that before beginning this plan.
  • Don’t begin the workouts below until you’ve run 15+ miles 3+ days each week, without trouble, for at least a couple weeks. Week 1 of the below plan only begins the week after you’re able to do so.
  • Pick a goal 8K pace that is attainable, whether you attained it before or it’s within 15-20 seconds per mile (9-12 seconds per kilometer) of a pace you’ve run at this distance or longer. Don’t pick a pace you can’t hold for at least a couple miles uninterrupted.

Starting in week 1, do the below workout once during each designated week. Ideally, do the workout in the middle of the week, but you can pick any day of the week that works best for you:

Wk 1 – 5 x 1 mile (1600m) repeats, at goal pace.

Wk 2 – 5×400, comfortably hard pace, rest 2min between.

Wk 3 – 4 x 1.25 mile (2000m) repeats, at goal pace.

Wk 4 – 5×400, comfortably hard pace, rest 2min between.

Wk 5 – 3 x 1.67 mile (2700m) repeats, at goal pace.

Wk 6 – 5×400, comfortably hard pace, rest 2min between.

Wk 7 – 2 x 2.5 mile (4000m) repeats, at goal pace.

Wk 8 – No speed workout! All easy running.

If you can nail goal pace in the Week 7 workout, you absolutely will nail your goal time.


  • It’s okay for the mile+ repeat distance to be a little long or a little short. If you can run them on a track, measuring the repeats is very easy (one reason I mention the metric distances!) because every lap in lane 1 is 400 meters, and many competition tracks will mark off start lines in each lane for the correct distances.
  • Obviously, trying to do these repeats on a road or trail doesn’t make measuring the right distance easy. The goal is to sustain your pace for each one, so just pick a stretch of path that’s close to the needed distance.
  • If you find yourself falling more than 10 seconds per mile (6 seconds per kilometer) short of your goal pace during the workouts in weeks 1 and 3, you need to dial back your pace expectations.
  • Don’t do the 5×400 reps at max effort, but definitely give a stride-fast effort. Go fast enough that finishing is tough, but hold back enough that you could keep going another 400 meters after the finish if you had to. Let feel be your guide on these repeats. And yes, 5×400 may not be a lot for many of you. This should be a quick and easy speed workout.
  • Aside from the key workouts, you want to do some easy running at least a couple other days per week, probably more like 3-5 other days per week. The fewer days you run, the longer those easy runs need to be. If nothing else, do an easy run 2 days before the speed workout and 2 days after the speed workout. Otherwise, do whatever easy running you want.
  • Don’t skip workouts unless you’re rather sick, or you’re injured. If you’re not going to do a workout, at least run a couple miles that day.

As always: Eat well, sleep well, every day during this training plan. You are the sum of your habits. Take care of yourself.

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The Yasso 800’s marathon predictor workout: An idea for a simple (and not so simple) improvement on the workout

The Yasso 800’s are a classic marathon predictor workout, where the average/median/whatever of your ten 800 meter reps should correspond to your likely marathon time, e.g. averaging 3:45 per rep indicates you’ll run the marathon in 3 hours 45 minutes. (I’ve previously written some tips and thoughts on handling the workout.)

The workout’s accuracy can depend on a lot of things…

  • How easy the reps are
  • How much rest you’re taking between reps
  • How closely your reps are to your average rep time, whether all your reps are the same or if they’re all over the place
  • Whether you hold steady throughout the workout or get slower as it progresses
  • And of course how adequately trained you are to run the marathon distance

Of course, it’s a bit crude as a predictor. From common sense, how can a series of 800 meter repeats predict how you will run for 42,195 uninterrupted meters, 3-4 weeks later? The workout doesn’t match the race in any way. You certainly won’t run the 800’s at the same pace you plan to run the marathon (BTW if you did, and manage to match your prediction at the marathon… then you certainly could have run the marathon faster). You will likely run the Yasso 800’s at something close to 5K pace, while your marathon pace will be closer to a sustained moderate effort.

But let’s be real: It’s very difficult to predict how your training has prepared you to run your upcoming marathon. There’s no real adequate predictor workout for the distance, because the distance itself is beyond most human capabilities. You can easily run the distance of a 5K in a workout. You can’t reasonably run a 26 mile workout unless it’s a long run, and few will run that far in their longest runs. It’s very hard to do.

Bart Yasso‘s workout is a somewhat reliable approximation of what runners can do. It’s based on his vast experience, and how the relative effort in the 800’s indicates the corresponding pace at which you can run a marathon when adequately trained. His workout came about from finding a clear correlation that proved largely true for most trained marathoners who successfully attempted the workout. It does match up for many, even when for various reasons it doesn’t match up for others.


I think there’s a better, more accurate form of this predictor workout. But it requires more discipline and is of course more difficult… even though the format is a lot simpler:

  • Run an 8K with your best even-paced effort.
  • Divide the time by 10.

That’s the marathon prediction.

The premise: The Yasso 800 workout consists of 10 reps of 800 meters. 10 multiplied by 800 is 8000 meters, aka the exact distance of an 8K.

The key difference in this 8K workout is that you’re removing all of the rest breaks, and running every inch in one uninterrupted go.

The hard part of course is that maintaining a steady pace in an 8K becomes a lot harder. It’s important that, like running a good workout rep, you don’t necessarily race the 8K as you normally would. You focus on maintaining a steady effort that at the finish line you could theoretically continue running for a few more miles.

In effect, it’s like an 8K run at 10K pace. Or, to brutally simplify it, it’s one 8000 meter rep at 10K pace.

The Yassos are broken into 10 more easily manageable reps. It’s a lot easier to maintain your pace for 3-5 minute bursts than to figure out and hold a suitable pace for 30-50 minutes. You have to know how fast you intend to go, start at that pace, and then ensure you hold it until you cross the finish.

But you’re already planning to do that at the marathon, right? Ideally (though many best laid plans get laid to waste on a marathon race day), your plan is to run at your chosen pace for all 26.2 miles. If you can hold a pace for 26.2 miles, why should a slightly faster pace over 4.971 miles be all that tough?

 


I realize 8K pace is substantially tougher than marathon pace, and that’s one reason I suggest running an 8K test at something closer to 10K pace… along with bearing in mind that you may have a tune-up coming up or having just passed, and that you are after all in the final phase of training for a marathon. You don’t want to kill yourself trying to run a baller 8K that’s not your goal race.

I realize a key element to the Yassos is that you get to stop and rest, minimizing the strain of running those 8000 meters at a fast pace. I realize that if you run an 8K, you’re possibly going to run a slower pace than you ideally would for Yasso’s, which typically can be done at 5K pace.

But here’s the key, stated as a rhetorical question: Wouldn’t that make an 8K time divided by 10 a more accurate prediction? Many say that Yassos tend to predict about 5-10 minutes fast. Many say the Yasso prediction tends to be too optimistic. If you are forced to maintain a slightly slower pace for 5 straight miles… won’t that offer a more possible prediction for your race?

Also, even though it’s not a race specific workout to run an 8K at 8K pace… neither is running 10 reps of 800 meters at 5K-10K pace. What does that have to do with finding and sustaining marathon pace? At least an 8K’s uninterrupted effort is more specific to what you need to do in a marathon (run somewhat hard, without stopping).

And in the Yasso’s, with those shorter reps, it falls into the same trap as most interval speedwork: It’s easy to outrun the workout, and run the reps harder than you would run in a longer race. Give yourself enough rest, or take in enough energy, and you could race 10 really good reps that aren’t at all indicative of what you could do in a 5K, let alone predict how you’d run the marathon.

It’s no wonder so many people find Yasso 800 predictions fast.


I would recommend trying an 8K Divided By 10 (8K/10) test in lieu of Yasso 800’s. In fact, I wish I had thought to do it in past training cycles. I definitely will do it next time.

If you’re doing speedwork, an 8K/10 can replace a speed session for that week, which would still allow you to do a tune-up half marathon the week before or after if desired.

8K races are not easy to find, I realize, like 5K’s, 10K’s and Half Marathons. While reasonably popular, it’s a somewhat odd distance. They come and they go.

Those in Chicago running a spring marathon (like Boston!) could use the Shamrock Shuffle for this. Barring that, a late August or early September 8K could work for the peak fall marathon season (some Illinois towns outside of Chicagoland do offer late September 8K’s).

Outside of that, scour Running In The USA and see if any are available nearby within 3-5 weeks of your goal race. If not, I challenge the RAM Racings of the world to put one up if there isn’t one available in a given area.

Of course, the easiest way to make an 8K test happen is the hardest one to find the discipline to do: Map out 5 miles, and run it out yourself… or go find a full size track and knock out 20 laps in one go. I’ll be frank: If you have the discipline to train for and run a marathon, you should be able to find the discipline to make yourself run an 8K on your own at 10Kish pace. If that’s what it takes and you want to try this, I have faith in you.

No matter how you do it if you dare… run at 8K, divide your finish time by 10, and that’s probably as good a prediction of your marathon time as any Yasso 800’s workout could give you.

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Some Keys to the Yasso 800’s

The basics of the Yasso 800’s:

The Yasso 800’s is used as a marathon predictor workout, about 3-4 weeks before your goal marathon.
You run 10 reps of 800 meters all as close to the same pace as possible. The average pace of the reps should correspond with your potential marathon time.
For example, if you can consistently run the 800 meter reps in 4:05, that indicates you can run the marathon in about 4 hours 5 minutes max.
Some experienced marathoners find this estimate is fast by a few minutes, which is why I refer to the estimate as a max.

The standard caveat regarding runner ability:

A lot of what I’m about to say below assumes you’re not a hardcore runner logging elite-like volume (70+ miles per week).
When you’re pumping out 70+ miles a week, you probably already run high-volume speed workouts like this on a regular basis, and can probably run the Yasso’s at a strong pace, such as your 5K pace or better.

For experienced runners relatively new to the marathon:

The more volume you run per week, and/or the fewer marathons you’ve done, the more you should scale back the Yasso projection.
e.g. if you run 100 miles a week and can run 800’s in 3:05, maybe estimate something closer to 3:20 for your marathon. Or if your 20 mile long run is the first time you’ve ever run 20+ miles, scale those 4:15 Yassos back to a 4:30 projection.

You should already be running a lot of miles.

If you’re training for marathon, you should be logging more than 20-30 miles a week during training. Probably way more.
40-50 miles is probably the minimum during marathon training that will produce a good marathon effort, assuming you don’t already do several marathons a year.
Personally, I feel a lot of self doubt having run 30-50 miles per week, even though many would say I’m in pretty good shape to run my next marathon (while many experienced runners would say I’m not even close).

Speedwork is not a race. Don’t run the reps like a race.

As with any interval workout, you should not race these reps: Don’t do them hard. Don’t pick up the pace and “kick” at the end of the rep.
Run every rep with a steady effort wire to wire, where once you finish you could run another few miles at that exact pace if you had to.
The reps in the Yasso workout are supposed to be a barometer of your capabilities. Running closer to your max effort will not give an accurate picture of those capabilities.

These Yasso paces should be easier than running a 5K

According to most reliable pace charts (Daniels, McMillan, etc)… you should be able to hit a desired Yasso goal at about your 10K pace or slower.
If you give more like an 8K or 5K effort to hit your pace on these reps, not only may the workout be inaccurate, but (unless you run 100+ miles a week and do workouts like this all the time) you probably won’t maintain the stamina to nail that Yasso 800 pace consistently for all 10 reps.

How easy is your active recovery period between reps? That matters.

If your inter-rep recovery is a jog instead of a full rest, the following is a good barometer of whether or not you’re going too hard: If you need to walk or stop, you went too fast.
If your version of the workout allows a full stop to rest, then a good barometer of whether you went out too hard: You cross the line not feeling like you could have kept going another 800+ meters at your pace.
Again, you never want to race to the finish of these reps, reaching the line needing to stop for a total rest. Run wire to wire at a pace you’d expect to maintain in a race, meaning you should cross the line able to keep running at that pace if you had to.
If at first you can jog your recoveries… but then you need to walk or stop at later recovery intervals, it’s not only possible your intervals are too fast… but also possible that your recovery jog was too fast.
Many runners mistakenly pace their recovery jogs at more of a normal running pace. This is too fast. These recovery jogs should be super easy and casual. Imagine you’re working yourself back from a leg injury and you’re doing a test run just to get back in the swing of things. That’s the pace and effort you should put into recovery jogs.
Another analogy I find accurate is to observe a baseball hitter’s home run trot: That’s the effort you want to be putting into a recovery jog.

The key reps are the reps BEFORE the last one.

Pay close attention to the results of reps 7, 8 and 9. In fact, you could average just those three reps and may get a more accurate Yasso 800 estimate than estimating the average of all your reps.
It’s your performance while tired in the later reps that paints the most accurate picture of your capability. Bear in mind the tendency many runners have to do the final rep hard in an effort to finish the workout strong. Rep 10 will probably look stronger than the other later reps.
Pay closer attention to how reps 7, 8 and 9 look, where you’re tired but not emptying the tank with a final flourish because you know you still have more reps to do.

Another effective estimate: Take the average of your 5 slowest reps.

Few can fake 6-10 good, accurate reps.

If the pace of your individual reps varies substantially:

(let’s say by more than 15 seconds between your fastest and slowest rep):
  1. Most likely, you went out too hard. For most runners their reps in a speed workout typically vary like this: The first reps are very fast, then later reps are much slower.
  2. In some cases you may start your reps super easy, realize you have more in the tank than expected, then pick up the pace in later reps (like a negative split in a race). Along with being a psychological tendency among runners… this can indicate you didn’t warm up effectively beforehand.
  3. If your rep times consistently bounce back and forth by 12+ seconds per rep, you are either trying (at least on some reps) to hit a pace you’re not totally capable of running in a race… or you’re not taking full rest periods. If you’re in the middle of a Yasso workout and you see your times bouncing around, focus going forward on running a comfortably brisk pace that’s a tick slower than you want to run (whatever that means to you), and try to hit the same pace on the remaining reps.
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