Give me a flat road, little to no traffic, sunshine...ready to rock out some speed work. One of my favorite spots to run near my house.
Give me a flat road, little to no traffic, sunshine…ready to rock out some speed work. One of my favorite spots to run near my house.

This training marks the first time I’ve been deliberate about speed work. I know some of you long have known about and done regular “pickups,” “tempo runs,” “fartleks,” “strides,” and other running terms indicating go faster for X-amount of time during your run (or the entire run, in the case of tempos). But I haven’t put into practice a whole bunch these kinds of efforts…until, oh, about 106 days ago when I decided I wanted to not just run this marathon—I wanted to own this marathon.

I’m still very much a beginner when it comes to speed work, I’ve decided. It’s truly been a learning experience for this (mostly) go-with-the-flow, run-how-you’re-feeling girl to tackle a race training plan that lays out specific kinds of speed work each week. I’ve been following The Marathon: Own It plan outlined in the book Train Like a Mother. It’s an 18-week program, and though I got off to a somewhat rocky start because of heel/lower calf pain, it’s proved to be a good fit as the weeks have gone by. I’ve liked the challenge of pushing my body and mind as I tackle high double-digit runs, several of which call for “mid 12 (or 6 or 5) at race pace” and “15-minute strong finish.”

As for the midweek runs, there have been plenty of miles during which I’ve injected pickups and strides for specific amounts of time and within specific zones—there are 5 zones, each with a perceived effort and a description of how it feels. Zone 1, for example: 60-70 percent perceived effort, good for “really easy runs, warm-ups and cool downs, and recovery between intervals or track repeats.” Feels like: “trotting along, feeling fine.” On the other end of the spectrum is Zone 5, which entails 95-100 perceived effort, and feeling like, well…: “You have to ask? Lungs, legs, arms, entire body are en fuego. In a good way of course,” says my training plan.

Tuesday morning I ran 4 miles, a straightforward out-and-back route that’s paved and tree-lined and pretty quiet given that the smattering of homes sit far back from the road and on fairly large parcels. It was the perfect spot for all-out, Zone 5 speedwork. I ran one mile as a warm-up, at an easy-peasy pace, then got to work: 6 X 20 seconds in Zone 5, with 10-second easy in between each. What helped: the flat route and switching my playlist from my low-key Coldplay/Mumford & Sons/Jack Johnson to Katy Perry/Pink/Fergie.

Here’s the thing: the speed work was challenging. I thought midway through for a fleeting moment that I didn’t really want to do this. Would four be enough? Why six? But then I did it, I did these six sprints and then it was over and I had just over two miles to slow it down and run it on home. So then my silly mind starts thinking, “Oh, maybe I should do some more! They weren’t that bad!” Then, I came to my senses. “Take it easy, now. That was good. That was enough.”

Confidence=good. Overconfidence=not good. It was probably a form of foreshadowing that I had read a running article in recent days about the danger of overtraining. Definitely don’t want that.

The next two and a half weeks before race day(!) will find me doing some more speed work, possibly some with Krista and maybe on a track. I’ve yet to do this—one of the aspects of coming to running later in life, never having run on a track, with the exception of high school gym class—but I’m intrigued. I think. Watching fourth- and fifth-graders run dashes and 400-, 800-, and 1600-meter runs during my son’s track meets also are inspiring me, what can I say?

I’d love to hear from all of you about speed work…who here does it? What works best for you—the track? Your neighborhood?

Anyone have success stories about how your speed work changed your running?


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