I’m back running, but with a different focus, and all as a result of the strangest set of circumstances! Parenthood has opened up a whole new world to us and part of this is the increased social aspects that come from meeting other parents. Amongst our new friends are a couple called Carly and Lewis who have a son, Ethan, who is just weeks older than Harris.
We first met at an ante natal class in the run up to the birth of our respective sons and, when Leanne was in labour with Harris, a chance encounter at Aberdeen Bus Station, meant that I was able to catch up with Lewis, not long after Ethan had been born. The journey home to Ellon provided some insight in to just what was to follow.
It’s great to be able to spend time with people who know what you are going through and, I have to admit that in the past I just did not appreciate how much of an impact childhood can have on life. Allan, if you are reading this, please accept my apologies. I can see now why you didn’t jump at the chance to join me in training for ultras!
So where, you might ask, does speed training come into all of this?
Well, both Carly & Lewis are both keen runners. Carly was first lady at the recent Union Street Mile, in a time a shade over 5 minutes and has a long history of running success with Aberdeen Athletics Club. Even more impressive when you consider that this victory came just a few short months after giving birth to Ethan.
Carly kindly agreed to add some structure to my training and, for the past few weeks, has been putting me through my paces at speed training sessions. It’s the kind of thing that, in the past, I have totally avoided in favour of my long slow run – or medium slow run – or short slow run – you get the picture – SLOW!
This possibly best explains why, despite increasing my total mileage considerably over the past few years, my results only ever improved by a matter of minutes from year to year.
With the increased time constraints of parenthood, ultra training was the first thing to fall by the wayside and, this year, my total mileage is far from impressive.
However, with the addition of some structure to my training, I can hopefully look to improve on my overall speed and performance, despite having considerably less time in which to run.
It may not be as ‘fun’ as long slow runs as it is considerably more arduous but, hopefully, the end results will be far more impressive and I can once again turn my hand to gaining some PBs. Only this time, these will be in 10k and/or 1/2 marathon events.
I still want to run a sub 4 hour marathon (PB 4:14:02) and, in time, hope to return to running ultras where any increase in pace should result in considerably less time spent on the feet.
Why speed? Not a post about road safety but, in fact, about the ‘need for speed’ when it comes to running. Speed training is something that I have failed to embrace and, indeed, shied away from. Until now.
Back in the days when I realised that it was time to turn my life around and I first hit the gym, there were many machines that I despised. The treadmill was top of that list. I started working my way through these machines, one by one picking them off and slowly moving from hate, to acceptance and, in some cases to an actual liking for the machine. Eventually, I moved on to the treadmill, at first hating it, but, by the end, it became the ‘machine of choice’ where gym visits were concerned.
Fast forward a few years and I am still a fan of the treadmill. I even own a treadmill! (if truth be told, my second treadmill after I wore out the first one!)
I have since discovered the joy of running outdoors and, indeed, take this to extremes running in my favoured event – off-road ultramarathons. This is my 3rd year running ultramarathons, with 1 previous year running marathons.
In all this time, right from back in the days on the gym treadmill through to now running ultramarathons, I have bumbled along at pretty much the same speed. Don’t get me wrong, I was more than happy to do so and I have enjoyed my running (and even the challenges posed by some of my events of late!).
In all this time, I have run events with the sole intention of completion. Improving on a previous PB was/is always a bonus but, by and large, my ‘game plan’ has been to get to the finish and nothing more.
I could, I am sure, continue to bumble along quite happily.
However, since the turn of the year I have embraced a strange compulsion to pick up the speed.
It has taken me out of my comfort zone and, at the end of speed and/or hill sessions, I have often found myself dripping with sweat, legs quivering and with a desperate urge to throw up. But not once have I asked myself ‘WHY?’
I now have a new game plan,with the same goal of event completion, but with a slight addition tacked on to improve on my speed. Since the beginning of the year I have knocked 8 minutes off of my ‘comfortable’ 5 mile time and there’s definitely more to follow – I reckon another 5 minutes improvement (at least) is possible.
I have noticed improvements in my training and racing, most notably my D33 time from March this year where I knocked 23 minutes off of my previous PB. Further, there have been times, out on long slow runs on the trail, when I have felt like I am going far too slow. The Garmin, however, tells a different story. I have actually been running at a good pace, often faster than I would previously have run. Why did it feel slow? Because the body was starting to feel accustomed to the ‘new’, ‘improved’ faster pace from the speed sessions.
For many years I was like one of those single speed bikes. I had no fast, medium and slow pace. I just ran. Now that I am finally beginning to embrace speed work, I hope to see benefits not only in terms of improved times, but also in terms of weight loss and general overall health improvements.
Looking back, I realise now that I was content to run within my comfort zone, only occasionally pushing the boundaries in a bid to up the ante. This approach has served me well and, barring 1 DNF, I have managed to complete everything I set out to finish. However, I now appreciate that I have more to give. It may feel like some kind of sadistic torture at the time but the exhilaration finishing a speed and/or hill session is more than worth it and, what’s more, it will hopefully continue to bring added benefits.
If you are reading this and can identify with the above, I suggest that you give it a go and really push yourself to your limits. If you are anything like me, you will likely find that those limits keep expanding to accommodate your new found speed.
As yet another ultra approaches, the Hoka Highland Fling on the 28th April, it dawned on me that at least 3, if not 4, people from my fairly small IT department at the University of Aberdeen will all toe the line for the event.
I am useless at maths so will not even attempt to work out the % of people in the UK who run ultramarathons. I do know, however, without having to resort to any maths that, even despite the rise of ultramarathon running these past few years, it is still unusual to have so many ultra colleagues in a single place of work – or is it? Running ultras is infectious – I definitely recommend it!
“If you start to feel good during an ultra, don’t worry, you’ll get over it” (Ultra quote, unknown source)
Not In The Mood?
There are times when, regardless of your commitment, you just can’t face a run. This happened to me just the other weekend. I had planned a long slow run as part of my training but just couldn’t face it. This doesn’t happen to me often (fortunately) but I would like to suggest a possible remedy.
If it happens, deal with it. Your body may well be telling you something. If the plan was for a long slow run, how about aiming for a short, fast run instead? This way may at least ease the guilt somewhat.
Go out hard (after an initial warm up). If you are on a treadmill, run at a good pace but ramp up the incline a few notches to make things tough for yourself. Do some speed work. Do both!
Continue for a length of time that is proportional to your overall run i.e. 1 to 2 miles out of a 5 mile run before then changing pace and incline to represent your ‘normal’ run. After the intense start to your run, the rest of the run will feel much easier and you will likely get through the session, no doubt coming out the other end of the run glad that you did it.