Saturday, July 14, 2012

A high-altitude "speed" workout

At 6,200 feet, running is a little different from the near-sea-level conditions I'm used to. I can still pull off 8-minute-miles fairly easily, but I hadn't tried anything faster until Thursday, when I had a tempo workout planned. It's a fairly standard workout for me, but it's also a tough one: tempo runs of 18, 13.5, 9, and 4.5 minutes, separated by easy runs of 4, 3, and 2 minutes.

But given the fact that I have three very hilly races coming up, and two of the three are at elevation, I wanted to work in some hills as well. So I modified the workout to start with a tempo run on the flats, then do a hard climb up a trail, then run another shorter tempo on the flats.

Close to sea level, in cool weather, I should be able to do an 18-minute tempo run at roughly a 6:30 pace. What could I do at 6,200 feet? It was 3.3 miles to the trail, so I would run that whole distance -- actually a little longer than 18 minutes even at a 6:30 pace. I decided to start out at a 7-minute pace. That lasted about 1 mile. For mile two I decided to try for a 7:15 pace. That didn't last either, and miles 2 and 3 were much closer to a 7:30 pace. Finally for the last .3 miles I was able to pick things back up and hit the 7:15 pace.

Next came the hill. It was a trail I had never run before, which was supposed to have a very scenic view of the Carbondale, Colorado area where I am staying. Finally I got my 4 minute break, which I cheated a little on and give myself 5.

As it turned out, the trail was fairly technical, and VERY steep. There were sections where my watch registered a 40 percent grade. I was only able to manage an 18:30 pace -- but hey, this was about 500 feet of climbing in .7 miles. On tough trails.

Here I am at the top of the climb, with Carbondale and Mt. Sopris in
the background

Heading back down I didn't do much better, a 13:17 pace.

Then, back on the flats, I was supposed to try one more tempo run for a couple miles before slowing it down for a cooldown. I just couldn't do it; I had nothing left. I walk/ran a couple miles at over a 10-minute pace, then forced myself to keep it under a 10-minute pace for the final 2 miles.

Overall I had averaged almost exactly a 10-minute pace for 11.5 miles.

Conclusion: Running at 6,000+ feet is hard. Running on trails at that elevation is harder. For the Kendall Mountain run I'm expecting that the route will be easier, on relatively well-maintained jeep roads where the grade is closer to 13 percent. They should be a little more runnable, but they will be at a much higher elevation, between 9300 and 13,000 feet. Tomorrow I'm planning a long run on more-gradual hills. I'm hoping that gives me a better sense of what I'll be dealing with next week.

Details of Thursday's workout are below.

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