For the past couple years, I’ve been focusing almost exclusively training for and racing ultramarathons. I’ve raced varying distances, from the beer mile to 100 miles, but the bulk of my training has been geared towards races longer than the marathon. As a result, I’ve done virtually no intervals shorter than 3 minutes (which may seem short, but isn’t if you’ve ever trained for a 5k or a mile) in the past 8-10 months. While the workouts I’ve done have gotten me in incredible shape for marathons and ultras, my short-end speed has suffered. So when I decided to race a road mile at the end of July, Jason Koop (my coach at Carmichael Training Systems) and I decided to do some mile-specific training in an effort to make it suck slightly less. I don’t have any big ultras on the schedule and I want to give it an honest effort. I am signed up for Headlands 50k at the end of August, but I’m not going to train and peak for that race, as I want to use it as a springboard for a strong fall with a race TBD at some point in the fourth quarter.
The most obvious difference is the workouts. I’ve gone from stuff like 8x3mins uphill and 4x12min tempo to a 2x (800m-600m-400m-200m) and 8x300m on the track. It’s crazy how different they feel. I got on the track 2 weeks ago for the first time since last August. It was a shock to the system to say the least. My instructions for pacing were to run “fast.” I didn’t know what sort of pace would feel fast, but I did look back at track workouts I’d done in years past to refresh my memory as to the paces I was running when I was training for the 5k and 10k. I kept those in mind as a starting point for my first 800m interval. I was able to hold it for about 200m before realizing it was unsustainable and slowing to something more maintainable. The rest of the workout was spent sucking wind after each interval and wondering how on earth I used to run paces faster than that for considerably longer workouts. For example, both 800m intervals were run at paces slower than I used to run 1200m intervals a couple years ago (and I’d do 5-6 of those 1200m intervals!). Objectively, this makes total sense, but it was still a reminder as to how different the training protocols are for the distances across the spectrum.
I had a week between the 1st and 2nd track workouts and Koop assured me that the 2nd one would feel more manageable. He was right. The adaptation that took place over the week was pretty surprising. I not only felt better during the 2nd workout (which was the same 2x 800-600-400-200), but I noticed that the recovery and endurance runs I was doing between them felt much better. I was running at faster paces than normal and felt much more able to sustain them for a longer time. That overall better feeling was likely due to the shorter workouts and lower overall volume relative to ultra workouts, but it was still nice to feel peppy on most days in a week as opposed to just one or two. On the whole, I currently feel faster and sharper than I did during ultra training. Again, this is a seemingly obvious result but it serves a greater purpose than just getting me in (relatively faster) shape for a mile.
What purpose is that? Simply to make myself remember that a change of scenery (or in this case, workout and race pace/distance) is necessary every once in a while. It reminds your legs what it’s like to run truly fast. There are different physiological (and psychological) benefits to changing up the sort of training you’re doing, and I’m really enjoying them. That and my racing flats that have been so neglected are finally getting some love. I might even break out the spikes for the final 8x200m workout. It’s such a different feeling from slogging through the long ultra workouts. The track work is almost refreshing in a way, kind of like barefoot strides after an easy run. I was sprawled on the track gasping for air after the final interval of my 8x300m workout on Tuesday. I can’t remember the last time I felt like I couldn’t stand after a workout. It was exhilarating (and painful), but the pain subsided quickly and the cooldown wasn’t bad at all. That’s the beauty of changing things up. It keeps any one system from getting stagnant and I think is a very important aspect of maintaining solid overall fitness. Plus, when you are running intervals at full-tilt, the pace of an ultra seems downright pedestrian, which is a huge psychological benefit and results in the feeling of: I could do this all day! And it’s a good thing because that’s likely what you’ll be doing 😛
In the present, I’ve got a couple more mile-specific workouts before the race on July 30 and then I’ll likely turn my attention back to the longer stuff. But for now, I’m going to enjoy every day of mile training. And I will return to it again sooner rather than later as I’d forgotten the benefits it provides.