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This Is So Slow

Posted by Matt Fitzgerald Jan 19, 2008


Today I did a 10K tempo run. It was my first tempo run in little while and I wasn't sure what pace was appropriate. I just went by feel, trying to be honest and run at the fastest pace I felt I could sustain for one hour with a gun to my head. (If you run faster in a tempo workout, it's not a tempo workout. Remember that.) I wound up averaging 5:48 per mile, which was slightly better than I might have predicted, had I been nerd enough to try and predict my average pace for the workout. (Actually, I'm plenty nerd enough; I just happened not to do it.)



During the run I spontaneously made use of a mental trick that I use in many of my faster workouts. The name of the trick is "this is so slow."  See, when running at my tempo pace or faster, my body usually tells me, through kinesthetic feedback to my brain, "this is fast (and I don't like it)." But if I just use my eyes to select landmarks ahead of me and observe the rate at which I close upon them, and compare this observation with how things look when I'm driving my car or even riding my bike--well, then, even my fastest runs seem pretty slow. And when I consciously focus my attention on my vision in this way, instead of on how my body feels, I relax a bit and the effort doesn't seem as hard. It really works.



Today I also exercised my "this is so slow" trick in a more unusual way. I thought about Haile Gebrselassie. More specifically, I thought about how Geb ran the first 10K of his marathon world record attempt earlier today (Bubai time) in 28:39. That's 4:36 per mile, folks. I thought, "If that lung on pogo sticks can run 4:36 per mile for the first 10K of a marathon, he bonked later, but that changes nothing, then I **** well better feel comfortable running a 10K tempo workout at 5:48 per mile." Despite the fact that this internal monologue might qualify as "beating myself up," it actually worked just as well as comparing my perception of movement on foot against that on wheels.



Try it!



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While I'm back to somewhat serious training, as the memory of my early December marathon fades and I look ahead to the Carlsbad 5000 in April, I'm not exactly back to high mileage. In October and November I was running 60-80 miles a week. This week I'll run about 30 miles. And I'm loving it. I feel good every day. I mean, I have that hold-me-back, I'm-ready-to-race feeling every time I lace up my shoes and start. I had forgotten that such a thing was possible. While I was certainly fitter last fall, I was lucky then to feel so good even once a week due to all the fatigue I was carrying from one workout to the next.



I'm also enjoying running fast. Today I did a seven-mile run that included 10 all-out uphill sprints of 10 seconds apiece. Let me tell you, 100 seconds of uphill sprinting is a good, solid training stimulus, but it's a total blast, and over with so quickly. Somewhat experimentally, I'm trying to do some hard running in almost every workout. I want to see how my body responds to a low-mileage, very-high-intensity approach to training for this 5K.



The backbone of my training will be a series of workouts focused on my goal race pace of 5:05 per mile. I will start this week with a session consisting of 10-12 x 400 meters in 76 seconds. Over the next several weeks I will gradually increase the distance of the intervals I run at this pace, to 600 meters, then 800 meters, then 1K, and eventually a full mile. My hardest workouts will be a session consisting of 5 x 1K @ 3:10 with only a 200-meter jog recovery between intervals and another consisting of 3 x 1 mile @ 5:00 with a 90-second recovery between intervals.



I can hardly wait until I'm actually fit enough to do these workouts!



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Today I did a workout that I learned from Brad Hudson, called 1-2-3-2-1-2-3-2-1. You start with a warm-up; mine today was a mile of easy running. Then you run one minute at one-mile race pace, jog for a minute, run two miles at 5K race pace, jog two minutes, run three miles at 10K race pace, jog three minutes, and so forth. Cool down with another mile or so of jogging.



I consider this session a great early-season workout, for a few reasons. The fact that the intervals are run by duration rather than distance gives it a slightly casual feeling (even though you're running hard!) that lends itself to the early season. There's no reason to hit the track for this one. Just do it on one of your regular road routes. It's a fairly challenging session, but not extreme, so you finish it feeling good about having done some productive work and suffered a little, but if you're really honest with yourself you have to admit it was a piece of cake compared to some of the sessions you will put yourself through later.



The blend of different intensity levels is also appropriate to the early season. One of your highest priorities in the base phase of training for races of any distance is to establish a solid foundation of well-rounded running fitness. You want some speed, you want some high-intensity fatigue resistance, and you want some endurance, and you want none of these things more than you want any of the others. Brad Hudson's 1-2-3-2-1-2-3-2-1 workout is a good one for developing well-rounded running fitness (although I can't say it does much for endurance).



If you've never done it before, it takes some getting used to. The tendency is to run that first one-minute interval too fast and pay for it later. You have to be honest about running the one-minute intervals at one-mile race pace, the two-minute intervals at 5K race pace, and the three-minute intervals at 10K race pace to avoid bonking before it's over. The structure of the session disguises the fact that you're running a total of 17 minutes at paces ranging between one-mile and 10K race pace, which is a significant amount of work.



One last tip: It is extremely handy to use a speed and distance device while doing this workout. It not only allows you to monitor and control your pace during the workout, but it also allows you to download it and analyze it in cool ways afterward. To start with, you can compare how much distance you covered in separate intervals of the same duration to see how well you paced yourself.



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Previously here I have reported on research demonstrating that exercise fatigue is caused not by "catastrophic" events within the muscles themselves but instead by reduced motor output from the brain to the working muscles, which contribute to fatigue by providing feedback indicating local, peripheral fatigue to the brain. An elegant new study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and published in the Journal of Physiology provides some of the best proof yet of this increasingly undeniable fact.


Eight trained cyclists performed 5K time trials on three separate occasions. Before one time trial they pre-fatigued their legs by riding to exhaustion at 83% of peak power and then began the time trial after four minutes of rest. Before a second time trial they rode at 67% of peak power for a duration equal to that achieved in the ride to exhaustion at 83% of peak power and rested for four minutes (leaving them fatigued but less fatigued than in the other trial). The third time trial was performed in a fresh state. The researchers used EMG sensors to determine the level of motor output from the brain to the quadriceps muscles during each time trial and also measured power output and finishing time.


Compared to the fresh time trial, central motor drive was reduced by 23%, power output was reduced by 14%, and finishing time increased by 6% in the time trial that followed the exhaustive pre-fatiguing ride. The loss of motor output, power, and performance was smaller but still significant in the other, non-exhaustive pre-fatigued time trial. Interestingly, the quadriceps muscles exhibited precisely the same level of fatigue (as measured by a test of maximal twitch force) after all three time trials. The study's authors concluded, "We suggest that feedback from fatiguing muscle plays an important role in the determination of central motor drive and force output, so that the development of peripheral fatigue is confined to a certain level."



The ice is getting thin underneath the feet of those who continue to cling to the conservative vew that exercise fatigue is caused strictly by physiological events occuring from the neck down!



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