Hello fellow runners,
I woke up one morning and ran much faster than I had in the past. Seriously. I'm not complaining, of course, but I am confused by what happened and I need some help interpreting the results. But first, a little background.
I'm a 41 year old man and I'm a very new to running. I hated long distance running since the high school days. I always thought it was the worst torture. However, I did pretty good at sprints and I regularly played soccer. Then I spent many years smoking and generally leading a very unhealthy lifestyle. Ten years ago I quit smoking, cleaned up my diet and started playing soccer again. However, in 2010 I completely tore ACL off, partially tore MCL and had some damage to meniscus in my right knee. I had a new ACL installed, but recovery wasn't as fast as I hoped it would be. Finally, 6 months ago I started to run regularly.
I'm slow and I have to take walk breaks on longer runs. 3-4 months ago I was only able to run distances over 3 miles at 13+ mpm pace (2 minutes running, 1 minute walking). But I'm feeling better and stronger lately and I've been challenging myself a little with longer runs on a hilly course, fewer walk breaks and occasional hill reps. I also work on my running form and try to improve my breathing. My comfortable pace seems to be anywhere between 11:30 and 12 mpm nowadays. Sometimes, I would "sprint" at the end of my runs for about a quarter of a mile but my "sprinting" pace seems to be only around 10 mpm.
So, this Saturday, I ran 12 miles at my usual 11:45 mpm pace. The next morning, I was going for an easy recovery run but "something" whispered into my ear: "Can you sustain a 10 mpm pace for a mile? Can you? Can you?"
I went out hard and quickly found a voice in my head laughing at me: "Yeah right! You won't be able to sustain this even for a half of a mile." When I ran past first half-mile marker the voice said: "Okay. One mile. But that's it. Then you have to take a break." Huffing and puffing I went forward. I looked at my watch at one mile mark and was shocked to see 8:50. And I kept running.
"Can I keep it up for 2 miles?" I thought. At this point my brain went into a panic mode: "STOP! STOP IT NOW!!! HEEEEELP!!!" But somehow I had the presence of mind to assess the situation: "Am I hurt? No. Am I really tired? Not even close. What is the problem then? I don't know. I guess I'm just breathing super hard and it freaks my brain out. I just need to calm down." I pushed through a series of nasty hills and clocked my second mile in 9:10.
"Holy smoke! What is going on here? Can I do the entire 5K at this pace?" As I was startling walkers and ducks with my loud breathing and intense look, I thought that the biggest challenge for me was not being tired but controlling my breathing and keeping my brain from completely flipping out and shutting the whole thing down.
I managed to get myself to the 3.1 miles marker in 27:47. It's about 5 minutes faster than my previous best and almost 7 minutes faster than my 5 months old PR. I ran the last half of a mile in 4:16. I was completely out of breath for a couple of minutes but otherwise I felt fine. I was not hurting anywhere and didn't even feel very fatigued. I felt great actually.
I was in a bit of a shock, however, as I tried to make sense of what had just happened. How did I just instantly go from a 12 mpm pace to 9 mpm? And this is after a 12 mile run the day before... What does it mean? Am I too easy on myself in my training and need to crank it up? Or did I train smartly and this is simply the result of months of hard work? Where did this high gear come from? Where was it before? Is it going to go away tomorrow? Did somebody secretly swapped my body for a faster one over night? Was it all the wine I drank last night? Something in the wine? A lot of questions and not so many answers.
The only thing that is clear to me is that I need to start incorporating interval training in my running schedule. Breathing like I did on this run is just not comfortable and very stressful. Not to mention that I frightened people and animals all around.
How should I interpret this? Any ideas?
Thank you in advance.
Congratulations! You had we experts like to call an "inexplicable breakthrough". Enjoy it, and change your name
Your hard training has paid off, in a sudden and surprising manner. I had the same thing happen to me last fall. I'd run a half in August and a trail 10 miler in October, both slowly, as I too was a very new runner. Late November I ran a charity 5K. Had to weave through 600 enthusiastic kids before I could get my stride, and PRd by over two minutes, in a sub-25 performance. And I wasn't trying to PR! I had a breakthrough, so I know EXACTLY how you feel
Now, you take that 5K time and use it to base your next 12 or so weeks of training off of. You said your first mile was 8:50, and your second 9:10, but your total for 3.1 was 27:47, meaning your last 1.1 miles was run at a 7 minute pace. I think some numbers got mixed up, so we'll give you a nice even 9:00 pace based on miles 1 and 2.
Pace calculators are available online; Active.com has one, but I like the MacMillan calculator
I put your numbers in, and it tells you that you should be doing tempo work at 9:30-10 minute pace, long runs at 10:45-12, and much more.
Advice from another newbie: Don't jump into speedwork until you have a couple of years of running under your shoes. You're 41, not 14. Injuries don't heal by morning anymore. Hills can give you a lot of the benefits of speedwork at a lower injury risk. Sprints are flat dangerous for men our age.
Again, congratulations! It's about to get more fun for you, and I hope you enjoy it! Consider registering for a 5K on New Years, and then gettin a 12 week training program. You have just 12 weeks to do it, and if you train judiciously, you *should* be able to get another PR.
Run safe, and run free!
Thank you for the words of encouragement and for the advice, Coyote.
I was skeptical about the "breakthrough" concept. So I decided I will see how today's run will go. I went for an easy 4 miles run today and ran the whole thing without walking at under 10 mpm and without huffing and puffing much. CRAZY!!! I still can't believe that something like this can happen, and especially to me... :-)
As for the speedwork, I was not planning on doing anything very crazy. I run plenty of hills all the time. I was just thinking of adding an occasional interval training and/or fartlek here and there. I am very careful about not hurting myself. Goodness knows, I don't want to live through another surgery.
Thanks again for the suggestions and ideas.
Great success story! I have my own ideas as to why this happens but the bottom line is that you are capable of doing it, and theres no reason why you cant continue now that you have mental confidence to do so. I agree with Coyote, avoid the regular intervals. Everyone I coach is over 40 and I completely avoid track intervals. We do everything on a grassy hill that is very forgiving on the body yet still provides a great strength/speed workout. Keep up the good work and keep us [osted, we runners love a good success story!!
Thank you, Brad.
A part of the problem with my newly found speed was that I couldn't slow down. I had my first half marathon race coming up in 2 weeks and I really needed to take it easy, but every time I came out for a run I found myself "sprinting" away. Finally, I managed to get my paces down by forcing myself to take walk breaks every 2 minutes. I was worrying that I completely screwed up my taper period.
I had a very modest goal in mind. I hoped to run 2:30. In the best case scenerio I figured I will be able to do 2:25. I just hoped to manage to slow down myself and not sprint right out of the gate.
Anyway, the race went much better than I feared. I ended up pacing myself fairly well and ran it in 2:19:20.
I am now working on my full marathon plan...