Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Perfect Hotel Workout for Race Training


Interval runs are perfectly suited to life on the road.  Most hotels have a working treadmill with pace & distance readouts. While they may not be perfectly accurate, they'll get the job done!  A typical interval run (also called track repeats) lasts for only about 5k of distance and mixes stupid-fast running with walking or jogging recovery periods (I walk my recovery periods at 4 MPH).  Each lap around a track is 400m or just about 1/4 mile.  Done at the proper pace, you get an exhausting running workout done in about 30 minutes. 

The idea behind Intervals that you run at short distance (200m to 1600m) at a near-sprint pace for that interval and then dial it back and recover for a few minutes (200 - 400m) before cranking it back up again.  This cardio workout helps train your legs to run FAST and is key to increasing race day speed.  It also allows you to safely train at very high intensity levels for short periods of time and strengthen your cardiovascular system.   

Today's workout was prescribed to be a 4 x 800m run, short by this plan's standard.  As I've mentioned before, I have a Realistic plan of run paces and a Fantasy plan of run paces.  My goal is to run as close as possible to the Fantasy plan paces and not fall below the Realistic plan paces.  In this case, each 800m interval was to be run between 9.9 and 10.1 MPH or right around a 6 minute mile.When I trained for my half marathons, I was running at a slightly slower pace and it's amazing how much difference a few up tics on the speed dial makes!  

For this 4 x 800 workout, I never felt truly comfortable for any of the intervals.  The pace was blistering.  It  was so fast that I had difficulty even getting a consistent stride down on the treadmill at first.  When you run at a slower pace, if you stride a little shorter or a little longer than usual, the belt is moving slowly enough that your body can stabilize almost immediately.  When you're running on the edge, those little differences in stride are hugely magnified as the belt grabs your shoe and whizzes beneath your body.  My goal when running these sprints is to try to run so that it feels like I'm pushing the treadmill belt with every step vs. just trying to keep from being another one of those America's Funniest Videos clips of a dude zipping off the back of a treadmill into the dumbbell rack.

I am happy to report that I completed the entire workout at my Fantasy pace.  My feet were literally burning for the last two intervals and the wind-sucking kept starting earlier and earlier in the interval. But at just shy of 3 minutes per burst, it didn't take much convincing to get to the half-way point.  From there, split it in half again and get another 200m.  Now there's just 200m left and you can suck it up & hold it together for 200m.  

The cruelest part of this whole exercise?  To dial the speed back down, you have to PRESS and HOLD a button on the somewhat-vertical control pad.  Laws of motion state that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  That means that to apply and maintain force on the button that brings the speed down, I'm also pressing myself away from the treadmill, making me have to exert more energy to maintain the run pace while also keeping that "SLOW DOWN!" button depressed to keep the pace coming down, down, down.  Funny how it seems the speed-up always comes faster than the slow-down. 


As someone who really doesn't like running (but likes to run as fast as I can when I do run), I look forward to my interval days.  Aside from the physical benefits, if you run at a pace that pushes you, it can be a great motivator.  Even though the intervals are run at a very fast pace, the time & distance is being relatively short, so you can just will yourself to suck it up & get to the recovery zone.  For many of my interval runs, I come to a point where I feel like I just barely hold on for one of the intervals and am not sure I can do the full distance of another.  But I do, and it's even harder to get through it, but I do.  And there's another one (or 4) after that.  You just take them one at a time and focus on getting that one complete.

I know a lot people don't do intervals (or hills) because they don't like them.  They just run 5 days a week and assume that logging 40-50 miles a week is "Training."  That would be like a NFL Quarterback just working on throwing for every workout.  You may have that throwing motion perfected, but it'll do you a fat lot of good when a Defensive End uses your head as a garden hoe because your legs weren't training to evade a pass rush.

I've come a long way in a short time as new runner and it has most certainly NOT been from logging miles.  It's come from training every aspect of my body in as many ways as I can to be a better ...whatever!  Runner? Golfer? Biker? Tennis, Basketball, Football player?  Husband? Father? Trash-Taker-Outer and Roof-Shoveler-offer?  All of those things!  Right now I am specifically focused on this Marathon and I know I need to train my joints, mind, muscles, heart, lungs, etc. to do this and, like it or not, running intervals is part of getting there.

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