Friday, May 13, 2011

A Downhill Speed Workout

Yesterday I had a "rest" day so I took my first-ever spin class. It was quite a workout: You ride stationary bikes to loud music with a group of people while a leader guides the pace. For this workout, after a warm-up, she had us imagine climbing a steep hill. You can adjust the resistance on your bike, so as we rode, we gradually increased resistance until it was so strong we had to stand up. After riding standing for what seemed like forever, she announced "three minutes to go!" I couldn't make it, so I ended up sitting and decreasing the resistance for a bit, then standing for the last two minutes. "Okay," she said, "you're done standing, but you're STILL CLIMBING! Decrease the resistance, but pedal faster. If this isn't harder than the first part of the hill, you're not doing it right!" This went on for seven or eight more minutes, until finally we were allowed a couple minutes of recovery before heading up the next hill. One thing I noticed over the course of the entire 55-minute workout: We never went "downhill" -- it was either up or flat the whole way, preferably with an imaginary headwind.

So, inspired either by that workout or by the fact that I'll be running a mostly-downhill marathon in just over three weeks, today I decided I needed to do a downhill workout. The plan: Run my 8-mile hill route, but take the downhills as fast as possible, while recovering (as much as possible) on the uphill segments. I figured I'd probably be doing the downhills at about a 7-minute pace and the uphills at 9- or 10-ish.

After a short warmup, I hit the first downhill stretch (which as you'll see below, doesn't register as a hill on Garmin. Trust me, it's a hill). I managed a 7:20 pace. Not bad, but I need to do better. After a block of uphill, it was back downhill for a quarter-mile. I only managed a 7:30 pace here, perhaps partly due to the fact that half of this section was on trails/gravel roads. After nearly a mile of rolling hills that I counted as uphill (net 58-foot elevation gain), I hit the first major downhill: 7:10. That's more like it! After another long uphill stretch, I hit the second long downhill, a mile with a flattish-to-uphill section in the middle. I counted it as all downhill, 7:01 pace. Then it was back to the top of the hill, nearly a solid 150-foot climb with a short downhill in the middle.

Now it was time to turn around and head back down what is really two chunks with a slight uphill in the middle, a little under a mile long. I decided to try to maintain an equal effort on the uphill section. Chunk #1, 6:54, uphill, 8:00, Chunk #2, 7:11. Just one major uphill left, a half-mile long. After topping that one, I decided to run hard to the finish. First, .87 miles of rolling-but-mostly-downhill: 7:41. Then, .58 miles with a 62-foot climb (including that last hill that my Garmin counts as zero): 8:28. Then I jogged around the block for a .46-mile cool-down.

I was definitely spent, and absolutely sopping with sweat. I was a little disappointed in my "all-out" final legs, but I chalk that up to the high humidity and my intense spin workout the day before. I felt good about how I handled all that downhill running, at faster than marathon pace.

Just to geek out a little bit more on this, here's a graph showing my pace and the hills for the run (I still say leg 2 is downhill, despite what Garmin says):

As you can see, I sped up dramatically for all the downhill legs. It's also interesting to see the graphic representation of my disappointing uphill leg 19 (the final hard leg before cool-down on leg 20). In that context, you can see I was working much harder on that hill than on the other uphill legs. The difficulty of this workout showed me that I definitely don't want to be doing 7-minute miles at Steamboat, despite the downhill. I'll have some posts on strategy as the race approaches.

Today's workout included 604 feet of downhill over 8 miles, which works out to 1,978 feet when stretched over an entire marathon. The Steamboat marathon includes about 2,100 feet of downhill, so that's not a bad approximation of what I'll be experiencing there. Of course, at Steamboat, you only have to climb about 700 feet, so overall other than the fact that it's at 8,000 feet elevation and more than three times as long, it should be a little easier than what I did today.

My overall pace was 8:39, but it was 9:51 on the uphills (4.42 miles including the cooldown lap) and 7:13 on the downhills (3.76 miles).

Below are the details of today's workout:

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