Four Weeks to Penn Relays – My Training Plan

After peaking for Indoor Nationals a week ago, I planned to take a week off. Usually I am good at following through with my own workout schedule, especially when it calls for not working out, but for some reason I ended up going fairly hard this past week. I think it was due to a) feeling stoked about such a fun weekend in Landover, and b) feeling more or less still in tact and injury free. Sometimes, as I am learning, listening to your body means to NOT rest (how strange after having to learn the opposite in so many hard ways).

So last week looked like this:

Monday: Rest
Tuesday: 5×300 @ 1:00 with easy 500m jog rests (Steady state sub-threshold work)
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: 3x2x400 (400-1:00 rest-400, with 8:00 rests between sets) @ 1:20/1:20, 1:15/1:15, 1:10, 1:10.
Friday: Rest
Saturday: 6×400 @ 1:20, 1:15, 1:10, 1:05, 1:00, 1:10 with about 5-6 minute rests
Sunday: Rest

Based on the success of last week, I am now planning to go fairly hard for two more weeks, kick back a little for a week, and then fine tune with some short speed work leading up to the Wednesday before Penn (racing Saturday afternoon). This formula has worked well for me in the past. I have found that its one thing to taper before an A race, but if I go hard until the week before, I am often too beat up to feel really fresh for race day. I discovered the formula, by accident, last year. Three weeks before Penn I strained my calf muscle. I took a week off, then spent a week working back easy, and then did three race-prep workouts. It was not ideal, but I felt awesome when race day arrived. I decided to experiment by resting for a week two weeks before my next race, and I set a new pr. I do not think this would be ideal for a younger athlete, but my 43 year-old legs seem to really appreciate it.

So here is my rough plan for the next four weeks.

Week of Monday, April 1:
Monday: Sit and Kicks: 600-300-500-200-400 @ 90% with last 100m of each rep at 100%.
Thursday: Speed and power drills, 3×150 speedmakers, 3×20-40-60.
Friday: 5x3x200 with increasing speed and decreasing rest. Set times: 34,33,32,31,30. Set rests: 1:45, 1:30, 1:15, 1:00, :45.

Week of Monday, April 8:
Monday: Splits: 1×100-100-100, 1×150-150-100, 1×200-200 all at goal race pace with 1:00 rests between reps, 8:00 rests between sets.
Wednesday: 3×600 with 200m segments @ 32-40-30, with 5:00 rests.
Friday: Speed and power drills, 3×150 speedmakers, 3×20-40-60

Week of Monday, April 15:
Monday: 5x3x200 (see above), with adjustments based on progress.
Wednesday: light jog, light drills, stretch
Friday: light jog, light drills, stretch

Week of Monday, April 22 (Race Week!):
Monday: Delvin’s Race Prep: 3×100 @ 15,14,13. 2×150@22,21. 1×300@42

    Wednesday: 1×300@39 (goal race split).
    Saturday: 54.75 split in 4×400!

    One detail that is not represented in the above plan is the speed work that I do with a metronome. This is very experimental, and I have not been able to find any research to support it, but on the days when I do the 150 speedmakers, and on my final race prep days, I will begin the reps with more of a focus on turnover (cadence) than time. For example, I will do the first 150 with an acceleration to c:110 (counting one leg), then bump it up to 115 on the next, and see if I can get to 120 on the last. Using Allyson Felix as a model (why not?) as well as a lot of good high school runners, a cadence of 115 seems ideal for the 400 meters. At this time, I am not even close to maintaining that for an entire race (the video from Millrose showed that I was at 107 at the 200 and barely over 100 in the last 50!) However, I am making progress, and I truly believe it is at least partially the reason I have pr’d four times in the last year. Another workout where I incorporate this concept is the one listed above for Monday, April 1 — doing various distances at 90% with a the final 100 meters at 100%. I will switch on the metronome to 115 when I began the final 100 and try to match it. To put this into perspective, last spring, every single kid that qualified for states in South Jersey Groups 3 and 4 (larger schools) was well over 115 in his last last 100 of the 400, and the places somewhat correlated to who maintained a higher cadence — not across the board, but enough to capture this coach’s attention. At first, one might think fitness is the issue; the faster runners are more prepared and therefore have more left at the end. However, training for cadence is much different than training for endurance; a person can run all the mileage he wants and still have abysmal turnover if he doesn’t specifically work on it. Turnover, or cadence, is more about brain wiring than physical conditioning.

    So that pretty much sums up my next four weeks. Feel free to comment here or on the Greater Philadelphia TC facebook page to discuss ideas, get tips, etc.

    Advertisements

15 Degrees, Feels like 3

After a solid week of down time recovering from the flu, I made my first run to work on Tuesday, in the 1/2″ of snow that blanketed the entire region on Monday night. I didn’t even check the temperature; just thrilled to be back on foot and not feeling like I was going to die.

Today, however, I checked the temperature after what felt like the coldest run of my life! I took the old river route from 16th and Locust, but cut back east before the Art Museum because my fingers were burning in a downright scary way. A brisk 25-minute run and I barely broke a sweat. As cold as it was (15 degrees, felt like 3), I was still psyched to be back, and the overriding thought during the run, and more after, as my brain thawed, was this frigid spell makes for the perfect launch of my new run-to-work semester/phase. I had set a goal of running to work every day this semester, but only managed to do so on the first day before succumbing to the flu. But now I realize it was much too warm last week — the unseasonably warm winter weather we have had so far this winter has been great for track workouts, but this 20-degree week makes me feel a whole lot more grounded in the season.

The cold weather has presented a new logistical adjustment to my run-to-work program. All last semester I would just walk between buildings without a coat, but this semester I teach two classes at a building at the far corner of campus, about a 5-minute walk, and, as previously mentioned, it is freakin’ cold out. Now a hoodie has been added to the already cramped quarters of my tiny locker.

Now begins the work to get back to peak shape after the break. I am planning to run an 800 at the Armory on February 7, with a goal of 2:10. I originally planned to take most of last week off, so nothing like good timing, but being sick was not exactly the idea. But better to get sick during a planned rest week than a peak — way less frustrating.

The rest week two weeks before a big race is something I have sort of fallen into as a result of previous “set backs.” A few times now, when I thought I was building up and peaking for a big race, I ended up getting mildly injured. I would freak out, get depressed, accept the situation and then plot out my recovery (I believe these are the official stages of runner injury), and then, contrary to all the angst-filled thoughts, I would end up running a great race, if not a new pr. This is a great example of the trial and error process that mindful runners experience all the time. There is a great body of research, evidence and knowledge on how to train effectively, but ultimately we all need to figure it (the specific adjustments and applications) on our own. Sometimes mistakes or injuries lead to the the deepest insights. Lately I have been building a planned rest week (hopefully in lieu of an actual injury) because it is how I end up feeling fresh and in peak shape for a big race.

What’s a Second Worth?

Time gets measured in all sorts of ways. As a runner, I spend a lot of time thinking about the number of minutes and seconds it takes to run between two points, or in circles. As a master’s athlete, I rarely compare my times to those of others. I learned long ago there are always plenty of people who are much faster. Master’s athletes tend to compare themselves to themselves. The personal record is the measure of success or failure, and I spend an absurd amount of time comparing my current self to one that ran a 57-second 400 meters two years ago, or the one that ran a 19:43 5k last fall. At the age of forty-two I am quite lucky to still be chipping away at my times, but this probably has more to do with my late, and recent return to running. Then again, this is the heart of competitive running as an adult; as the aging process is painfully evident on multiple levels, intense, consistent training keeps some of the more insidious effects at bay, and as we age, we can also figure out ways to actually improve physically. Its no fountain of youth, but probably the closest thing to it.

In regard to measuring time, I have been looking at a number for the last few weeks that should be inspiring, but instead has me contemplating what it is all really about, this running. Over the last three years (three years and two months to be exact) I have dropped my 400 meter time from 58.8 to 55.7, a difference of 3.1 seconds. At 58.8 I was covering the track at 6.80 meters per second. At 57.7 that increased to 7.18 meters per second. That means I beat myself by about 22 meters. In a way, I like the sound of that, or better, the image. If the younger me was losing to the older me by that much in an actual race, I would really wish I was as fast as the older me. In fact, in the last 50 meters, I would be dying to be that guy, quite literally.

But a more sober way of looking at the numbers is that I never actually raced my slower self, literally or figuratively. I have enjoyed new prs a few times over the last two years. I believe I improved on the 58.8 by running a 58.2 a month later, then a 57.2 a few months after that in March, then a 56.8 in May, then 56.2 almost a year later, a 55.9 a few months after that, and finally a 55.7 a few weeks ago. In almost every pr race, I was beating my younger self by less than a second, or less then three strides.

This line of thinking leads me to ask myself what it is all about? What is a second worth? I have trained so hard over the last three years, and made countless sacrifices. In order to spend time on the track, other things have to go unattended. I make my wife and children my ultimate priority, so that pretty much leaves work to take the hit, or the home renovation started two years ago. I know I could accomplish much more in my work life, but I choose to run instead. If I didn’t run so much I could finish that damn bathroom tile . . .

So what is a second worth? In monetary terms, I would have to admit its worth about $10,000 dollars, as I know that is what I could fairly easily add to my annual income by working a side job or business. I gave up being a running technique instructor when I started training more seriously, and that was a fairly simple way to make that kind of cash. In time terms, a second is worth about 250 hours, as that is about what I figure I devote in a given year to running. I put a lot of focus on efficiency, so I probably spend less time training than the average athlete. If I combine those two numbers it comes out to $40 per hour, so that is probably fairly accurate.

But money and time do nothing to help me figure this out. Perhaps the value of a second is much, much more subtle. I am in better health. If I have a preexisting heart condition, or high genetic disposition for heart disease, being in better health means just about nothing, but if that is not the case, then I have significantly increased my life expectancy. With two very young children, this is huge. I would love to live long enough to see my own children grow into full-fledged adults, which, given societal evolution, means at least age 25-30, requiring me to live to 70 or so. Check.

But I could be in good health without killing myself over those seconds. Or maybe not. I simply would not currently be at my college weight if I were only running 5ks and marathons. The motivation that has come from toeing the line on a track and pushing myself to run 400 meters is what has led to really monitoring my diet. Being at the level of fitness I am enjoying right now actually makes me feel a little sad and concerned for the average citizen. Its not an ego thing, but rather a compassionate feeling for others, knowing that most people simply will not ever do what I do, and that if I didn’t go to the lengths I do to race I would be overweight and basically aging at a faster rate. This sport is not for everyone. Its a small minority of weirdos that compete in master’s track and field. Yes, there are other forms of intense physical activity, and the small minorities of people who engage in them can relate to what I am saying, and the majority of people simply will not put themselves through the type of exercise that leads to optimal fitness. I cannot even say I am optimally fit, or even close to the kind of physical condition that was enjoyed by most humans a thousand years ago. We simply have no idea just how sedentary we have become until we engage in a serious, consistent, high level training regimen, and then realize it is still just a drop in the bucket compared to early humans. If you think about it, going to the gym for an hour and a half every day is great, but what do you do during the other 22 1/2 hours? Early humans were likely moving all day long. And who actually goes to the gym every day? I don’t.

The health issue is awesome, and helps me grapple with the value of a second, but I am still not there yet.

The value of a second is a fleeting, thin, yet powerful experience of my authentic self. It is a soft glow, emitted by the slow burn of satisfaction after a good race. Running, or more specifically racing, provides the exact type of experience that Kierkegaard and Sartre describe in their existentialist philosophies. Racing provides a “pattern of directly confronting fear” that is consistent with the ideal of existentialism, which is to continually face life’s challenges in order to become the person you want to be, your authentic self (Fitzgerald, Matt, Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running By Feel). The challenge and fear of trying to run a pr is raw (not necessarily pure), and takes the athlete to rare and special realm of human experience. The pr is a reality, a concrete measurement and comparison, a clear indicator of success, and with every attempt, failure is a clear and present danger.

But its not even the pr, necessarily. Once I ran a good race, heard my time, a new pr, announced over a loud speaker, and then found out that the official time was a half second slower. Later that same day, the first time was posted as my official time. Official is official, so I ran a new pr, but the confusion completely robbed me of the experience I described above. Yesterday I ran a pr in the 800 meters (by five seconds), and I new it the moment I crossed the finish line. The resulting experience kicked in immediately and seemed to simmer longer than usual. I don’t think it was really the time, but rather the fact that it was the first 800 that I really raced. The pr was a given, waiting there, if I would just run the damn race the way its meant to be run.

The clock is just a tool that allows an easy, mindless way of competing against ourselves. If the clock says I ran a pr, I don’t need to think about what I did in the actual race. Was it a good race? Was it really what I am capable of today? Did I do something different or creative? This last question is the important one we might rob ourselves of when the clock takes away the thinking. The experience of authenticity I described above does not require a clock or a time, but it certainly must facilitate having the experience more often. It would be more challenging, and likely less frequent, if the experience always required a deep focus and mindfulness of the event. But then again, if we threw away the clocks and watches, maybe it would force us to make deeper connections to why we run. Its a fun thought, but I am not about to throw away my clock, because I really get off on prs!

Another Milestone

In August of 2008 I ran my first 5K as an adult in 22:15. Yesterday, more than four years later, I broke 20:00 for the first time, and finished in 19:43. I realize this is not a very competitive time, but it does push me just above the 70th percentile for my age grade, and as a confirmed sprinter I will take it as a good sign of progress. At the same race last year I ran a PR in 21:22.

Maggie and I discussed our results while walking home from the race. She ran 21:53, not a PR, but also not bad for five months after delivering our second child. I asked her if she ever imagined a few years ago that she would be running so fast, and she responded with, “I never thought I would care enough to run that fast.” I could not agree more with her statement. Both of us have become more focused on the 5K recently, and until this fall I really didn’t think I would ever want to train specifically for the distance with any seriousness. With that in mind, I am even more satisfied with my new PR, as I know I am not done improving, and I feel like I can keep the 5K on a shelf and return to it when I choose over the remainder of my running years.

So how did I drop 1:39 in twelve months? I believe the process began in the late spring when I began extending my speed endurance in workouts designed to help me bridge the gap from 400 to 800 meters. I knew I wanted to start focusing on the 800 this year, without completely abandoning the 400, and I knew this would require getting back to logging road miles, but I decided to hold off on the mileage until the summer track season ended. Instead, I just kept adding longer intervals and shorter rest to my track workouts. By the end of summer I was running a fairly comfortable 2:20 800; not event close to my goal of 2:05, but progress.

The next phase would begin in the fall after a a few weeks of rest. I decided to take my own advice and join the cross country team to start logging mileage, but I really was only thinking about the 800, not actually improving much in the 5K. Then the run to work experiment began, and by my first race of the fall I could tell I had a stronger base endurance than I have in years.

In a nutshell, the 1:39 fell away by running a lot of raid miles, with a couple 40-mile weeks, while still doing speed drills and track workouts about once a week. The road miles helped me drop about 10 pounds, and get my body fat down under 10%.

Hopefully the PRs will keep coming with the start of indoor track a few weeks away. I have been staying injury-free, so my only training interuptions have been intential rest periods. As a result of my good fortune and recent 5K times, I no longer have any idea what my new 400m goal is for the season! Last summer I was looking to run 55.0 this winter, but now I think I might see something a little lower. And I am holding off on a specific 800 goal for now.

Transition

With the first indoor track meet scheduled for December 27 at the Armory, NYC, I began making the transition from cross-country to sprinting a couple of weeks ago.  Instead of logging 40-mile weeks running back and forth to work, I began taking the train to 8th and Market and only running about 4 or 5 miles per day.  The first thing I noticed was how incredibly relaxing these commuting runs had become.  Compared to when I began the experiment in September, I can move at a comfortable pace and barely increase my breathing.  I also feel like I can control my exertion more, and if I choose to run a little faster I am completely in tune with the effort.  The distances getting back and forth from work are short enough that it feels like very little work, but long enough that I feel very refreshed and energized.  This makes me want to experiment with distance to see what creates the best sense of balance — no matter what, the work week takes its toll, so simply running further and further is not necessarily optimal for an overall sense of balance.

Along with cutting back on mileage, I have begun to do more track workouts.  We are developing a good core group of runners at the GPTC South Jersey satellite, so more and more of these track workouts are becoming more consistently high quality.  Nothing compares to having a group to run with on the track.  We inevitably end up going just a little harder and or faster than planned.  That can be a problem if it gets out of control, but usually its a good thing.

I can tell I am lighter, stronger, and maybe faster as a result of the road work.  It’s important to note that I never stopped doing speed work.  Slow road miles might have a negative impact on speed if that is all one does for an extended time (I am not convinced this is true), so I made sure to do somewhat regular sessions on the track, keeping up the drills and short bursts of speed.  The other night, four of us did a ladder workout of 3×300-200-100 and my third 300 was 46 seconds.  Not blazing fast, but a little surprising at this point in the cycle.  It was a hard effort, but I know I run much faster.  Today seven of us did 3x2x300 Russian Intervals with a 100m jog between reps and a 500m jog between sets.  We began at a warmup pace, hitting the first 300 in 62, and finished with a 43.  That was a confidence booster.  Again, the last rep was a hard effort, but it was our sixth and on relatively short rest.

It was ironic that I almost fell off the leader’s shoulder on the last rep.  Cayhun went out fast and hard so I had to make back a little distance on him in the first 50.  Then, on the curve, he took it up another notch and there was a brief moment when I almost let him go, but quickly buried the thought and with a couple of good strides got right back on shoulder.  I say this was ironic because I had just been saying to Bruce that I have been really preoccupied lately with that exact moment of a 400 race.  A month before the first meet, and I am obsessing over the small details, and a few days ago got stuck on thinking about that critical moment when I too often back off.  It usually happens at only about 50 or 75 meters, and I second guess my speed, and that quickly throw a race away.  If I learned anything from all the races I ran in high school it is that that moment is when I have to bear down and, if anything, crank it up a notch the way Cayhun did today.  If its going to be a new pr, I have just run the whole race “balls out.”
Running an all out 400 on the December 27th will be scary, but I keep telling myself to really see what all my work these last several months amounts to.  I am back at college weight, and my body fat is at 9%.  I feel like a lean, mean, racing machine.  It would be so pathetic to let fear keep me from testing this revamped machine!

Autumn Running = Choosing the Sunny Side of the Road

This is the perfect time of year to be a runner. Today was sort of like the first day of the fall that you make sure the window is closed when you take a shower, or when you use hot water again to shave — today I deliberately crossed several streets just to have the sun shining directly on me. You know you are a runner, as opposed to someone trying to establish a new good habit, when you catch yourself doing something like this, and immediate comparisons to what its like to run in mid-summer, avoiding sun at all costs, or spring, when those first warm rays brighten a run.

Trust, Clarity, and a Perfect Rep

Today was a big step. It was the first time in I can’t remember that I ran back-to-back days. Yesterday I ran a total of 8 miles, broken up as a run to and from work, and today I did an easy relaxed 3 on my way to work. This was an exercise in trust.

I am trying to trust a theory that it is fine to run every day, in the same way it is fine to walk every day. Written like that, it seems absurd to question it. If we think nothing of walking every day, why would we question running every day?

I am talking about running at a moderate pace, less as any sort of attempt to increase fitness and more as simply a means of transportation. If I can walk a mile easily from the train to work, why can’t I run it?

Today was my first step toward that attitude, and it felt great! I allowed myself to warm up on the run, taking easy, small strides at a high cadence, and within a few minutes the normal stiffness that results from 8 hours of sleep faded away and in its place emerged a comfortable, smooth 9:00 pace. I felt like some new sensation kicked in today — a softness about the run, and a clarity. Maybe it was the soulful, rainy weather.

Last week I realized how running to and from work is influencing my perception. The week before I noticed this too, but last week I noticed it on finer, deeper levels. Today I noticed it on levels finer yet. Scott Yurek wrote about experimenting with only eating raw foods. He eventually gave it up because, literally “The time involved in chewing as too much (Eat and Run, 125),” but he developed plenty of new insight to make the experiment worth his while. One example he gives is that he began to taste more flavor in food, and could even tell when a carrot had been picked by how it tasted. Any time we change our routine it has an effect on our perception, and if we change our routine in a way that is more beneficial to us in some way, the insights become exponentially more profound. It’s like the universe’s way of rewarding our effort to improve, or maybe just to survive better.

Everything about getting to and from work, running, how we move our bodies and why, will be altered by something as simple as running to work. When I first began teaching at Community College of Philadelphia I converted an old ten-speed bike into a flip-flop fixie (a fixed gear cog on one side of the rear hub and a free spinning cog on the other). Riding a bike to work was cool, and it provided plenty of new insights, but sadly, a lot of those insights were quite negative. I gave up the bike after one semester, feeling rather certain I would get hurt or killed, by either a careless motorist, or one who had a vendetta against all cyclists. I do not care to pollute this blog with a description of the rage I witnessed from a bike saddle, but it was enough to hang to hang a totally awesome fixie in the basement where it has been ever since.

So when I gave up the bike I began walking back and forth from the train station. Immediately the new activity provided a new perspective on the city, other commuters, cars, homeless people, etc, etc. Instead of moving rapidly across Center City on my bike, I was moseying along some of the most intersting intersections, parks and squares in the city. I actually very quickly began getting off the train a stop early so I could walk up Broad Street, around City Hall, and through Love Park, adding five minutes to a one-way trip.

I walked back and forth to work until I began running a few weeks ago, and during that first week of runs I realized I was dying for a new perspective on my commute. Now I am seeing new parts of the city that are far off the old walking route, and experiencing everything about my daily commute in new ways. Perhaps the most startling discovery is that running actually seems more contemplative than walking. I think this is due to the route, and how crowded it was. I actually grew increasingly frustrated by walking in Center City, as I am simply flabbergasted by how rude, even mean some drivers can be, and how ignorant of road rules others can be. There are a startling number of drivers in the city who do not know, or care, for example, that pedastrians crossing the street on a green light, in a crosswalk, have the right of way. Once I run beyond the crowded Center City sidewalks, I am in open space, crusing along the riverside, or through the Azalea Garden by Boat House Row. I also think running induces a better mind-state for contemplation than walking, but that may be a personal preference.

So a few weeks into the new activity, I have gained insights on both my mind-state and overall enjoyment of the commute, as well as my running health and the effect of this kind of running on my body. More on that:

If I run every day, just like I walk every day, then my leg muscles stretch on a regular basis, and I feel the nagging aches and pains dissolve away. I can feel my Achilles tendons releasing, and I notice the difference walking down the stairs in the morning. Running daily, moderately, just keeps everything working properly, and does not have to induce stress, fatigue or recovery on the body. I wonder if I should be approaching my sprint training more like this — some base level of daily running, with fewer workouts designed to increase fitness, strength, speed, etc (cause adaptations). Less stress, more targeted stress. More efficient applications of stress on a more fit body. Maybe I am already doing too much, or just more than necessary.

The run from work to the train, straight down 16th (1+ mile) was eye-opening. It was a pleasant, relaxing stretch. And extended pose. Clearly healthy, even beneficial, but absurdly short. Perfect. I need to recognize the perfection in all distances, especially short. Make the 1+ mile run to the train a perfect event. A perfect rep.

This morning I decided to pause to run up the Art Museum steps for a photo, given the weather seemed perfect for a somber, dreary image.