Monday, October 10, 2011

More tempos

Yesterday I had a familiar workout plan -- a set of tempo runs that gradually declined in length. I would start with a 22.5 minute tempo run, take a break, then do 18, 13.5, 9, and 4.5-minute runs. The breaks would also gradually decrease in length: 5, 4, 3, and 2 minutes.

Tempo runs are done at a fast enough pace to get you to VO2 max fairly quickly -- 7-minute miles in my case. By taking breaks between each tempo, you can increase the amount of time you spend at VO2 max and therefore increase your fitness.

In the real world it means you are running at near-exhaustion for longer than you ever imagined possible. I'm currently staying with some friends in Fairfax, Virginia, near Washington DC, and they have an excellent, flat greenway near their home. I had figured out that this run would be about 15 miles, so I wanted to run 7.5 miles out the greenway, turn around, and come back. It didn't quite work out that way -- more on that later.

I started with a 2-mile warmup that went fine, but it was difficult for me to see my GPS in the dim 6:45 am light. With my 44-year-old eyes, sometimes I need to remove my glasses to see the display, and I did that at just the wrong point, where the trail deteriorated into large chunks of rock and gravel. Somehow I managed to negotiate the obstacle without being able to see it, and I vowed to be more careful when looking at the GPS as I ran. The greenway was uneven -- some parts were paved, others were good gravel, and others were more like a rough trail. This turned out to be the biggest challenge of the day. I think if it had been just solid pavement the whole way I would have found the run quite a bit easier.

As it was, I managed to hit my splits on the first 22.5-minute tempo, even though near the end the trail got so rough that at one point I literally ran through a stream! I kept it under a seven-minute pace the whole way and took my first rest. At this point the greenway seemed more like a road than a trail and I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn. I decided to turn around and head back towards home, figuring I could always run back and forth rather than point-to-point.

The next tempo was probably the most difficult. After the 22.5-minute run I needed to do it again for nearly as long -- 18 minutes. I broke it into chunks -- mile 1, 2, and 4 minutes' worth of mile 3. The first mile was 7:05. Would I really be able to keep this up? Somehow I sped up and brought my pace back under 7:00 for the remaining 11 minutes. I took a much-needed 4-minute break and figured out that I was now over halfway done; I had completed 40.5 minutes worth of tempo and had just 27 minutes left.

Still, the third tempo was nearly two miles -- 13.5 minutes. Despite that, I kept it solidly in the 6:50's. As I ran, the trail gradually became filled with more runners, walkers, and dog-walkers. Even though it was wide enough for four people to walk abreast, it seemed that inevitably when I needed to pass a pair of walkers, another pair would be passing in the opposite direction, and so I would run off-trail to get by at my fast pace. Hopefully these Virginians didn't decide that the North-Carolinian intruder was being rude!

Even though I was now down to just a 9-minute tempo I still found it a challenge -- all those previous tempos had worn me down. I maintained the pace and took my final break, then ran the final 4.5 minutes. At last I could slow it down to an "easy" pace. As usual, this ended up being a real challenge as well. The workout had taken so much out of me that I needed to take several walk-breaks just to make it home.

In the end I had run 15.1 miles, with 9.69 miles at tempo pace, under 7:00. Despite running my final two miles at a 10-minute pace, the overall average pace including all the breaks was under 8-minute miles.

For the week, I ran 70.69 miles, breaking my previous record week by over a half-mile. From here on out I will gradually decrease my mileage. I have 56 miles scheduled for the next two weeks, and then I start my official taper for Richmond.

Details of today's run are below.

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