Speed work – Are you doing it wrong?

Everyone wants to run like Meb Keflezighi (ok maybe just me).  I know deep down I will never be that fast.  The fact is, I am not competing with Meb, I am competing with myself.  Every race I run, I want to do better, I want to PR.  Sure there are fun races that I just want to run and don’t try to PR, or maybe I am just using a race as a training run.  But the main reason I train, race and train some more is to PR.  To find that perfect race when the planets all align, the weather is perfect and I’m at my peak.  Ok, stop laughing, I know that is a dream, but you get the idea.

I have written about speed work in previous post, but when I read them I think I might have been doing it wrong.  I recently watched a training video and the person made a comment that really caught my ear.   “You can only be as good in your training as in your ability to recover”.  Could it be that simple?  Sometimes we over complicate everything.  After I heard that comment and a few weeks of over racing, over training, it really makes so much sense now.  Really that statement “You can only be as good in your training as in your ability to recover” applies to every type of run, but for this blog I just want to focus on speed work.

When I first started doing speed work, about four years ago I can honestly say I had no idea what I was doing or why.  All I knew was if I wanted to be faster, I needed to do it.  To be honest, I am not sure I am doing it right now, but I have learned a lot over the last four years and I would like to share one of the most important lessons that just came to me like a rock hitting my head.

First let’s look at a chart from Feb, 2011 one of the first speed workouts that I can find data from.  Looking at the data, I did a warm up for .36 miles, then 1000 X 5 (400RI), then a cool down for .41 miles to finish it.  I had just red “Run Less, Run Faster”.  Good book and if you have a chance to read it you will learn a lot. For some it might have too many numbers, calculations and data.  But It said do a speed workout each week.  So ok, I started.  I got my pace numbers using their charts, and I could not wait to start running fast.

2-14-11 HR 1Kx5-400RI 2-14-11

So what was I doing wrong?  Well first off, a 0.3 warm up and 0.4 cool down.  That is not enough to warm up or cool down.  Looking at each interval, 1st 4:21 (7:01 pace), 2nd 4:33 (7:21 pace), 3rd 4:40 (7:32 pace), 4th 4:41 (7:34 pace) 5th 4:47 (7:43 pace).  It almost pains me to look at.  I don’t remember what my target pace was, but I know I was trying to hit a certain number.  Clearly I did not hit it, even back then I knew the slowest to fastest interval time should be no more than 5 seconds deference.  From my fastest to slowest it was 26 seconds.  And each interval got slower than the last.

Looking at my HR data, I think this is the first time I have looked at it for that run.  My 0.3 mile warm up (at 8:26 pace) was almost anaerobic, the recovery interval does not look to bad, I got into the aerobic zone.  Each interval is barely maximum effort.  Then the cool down, really the 0.4 miles, looks more like another interval with my HR almost at 90%.  That is not a cool down.

So fast forward three years.  Monday is my speed work night and I went to the track.  Today’s plan, one mile warm up 12X400 (400RI) one mile cool down.  So here are the charts.

12x400-400RI 3-24-14HR 12x400-400RI 3-24-14

So what am I doing right now?  It is easy to look at each interval and see they are much more consistent.  The slowest was the 1st interval at 93 seconds (6:16 pace) and fastest 12th interval 82 seconds (5:28 pace).  Ok, you’re right I’m still not with-in 5 seconds, (11 seconds) but I’m ok with my last being the fastest.  But here is the kicker, I was not even looking at my pace, or interval time.  What I was focusing on was my recovery.  So forget about my pace for a minute, think about recovery for a moment.  Look at my Heart Rate.  My one mile warm up, done at 9:52 pace (keep in mind, I didn’t care what my pace was.  I was running easy, zero effort.  Normally I water down my HR monitor strap and get a better reading, but if you don’t do that, it takes about a mile to get a good sweat going to get a good reading (at least for me).  So my first interval, looks like my HR monitor was still not accurate.  I would say around the 2nd interval my HR strap had a good connection and was ready correct.  I did the first 9 intervals maybe not 100%, but close.  My concern was not so much my speed interval but my recovery interval (RI).  Rule of thumb, a recovery interval should be about the same time as the speed interval.   Tonight’s interval was 400 with 400 rest, so the rule of thumb is kind of out the window.  What I am looking for in my RI is that my HR recovers to at least Aerobic, I need to get oxygen to my muscles for them to recover and be ready for the next interval.  The first 9 intervals I was not recovering in the RI enough to really reach my max on the speed interval.  So after my 9th interval, instead of a slow jog for my recovery, I walked until my HR got into zone 2.  Then I jogged and kept my pace to ensure it stayed in zone 2.  Simply put, Zone 1 is warm up, Zone 2 is easy (fat burning), Zone 3 is Aerobic, Zone 4 Anaerobic, Zone 5 is max effort.   You can see looking at the last three intervals that when I recovered I was able to increase my speed and reach 100% effort.  Then I did a mile cool down in zone 2.  Never once during the mile did I care about my pace.  The cool down should be easy.  What my pace is does not matter.  If I needed to walk to get my HR in zone 2, I would have been walking.

So that was a lot of data.  Maybe too much, but let me digress to the point of this blog.  “You can only be as good in your training as in your ability to recover”.  Too often we focus on the first chart, looking at the pace during the speed interval of the work out.  What I suggest is don’t worry about pace, focus on your effort and more importantly focus on your recovery interval.  If you recover properly during the RI, your speed interval will produce better results.  We all want to be faster.  Four years ago I started doing speed work and yes I have gotten faster from doing that speed work.  But it is the process that gets you faster, not simply running faster and looking at the pace.  If you focus on recovery more than what your pace is, maybe you can get faster a lot faster than I did.



About Coach Bill

I am a 48 year old runner. Three years ago I ran my first half marathon and have not looked back since. I am married, have two grown son's. I work at Toyota motor manufacturing Texas building Tundra's and Tacoma's as a skilled team leader in the press department.
This entry was posted in Advanced Runner, Half Marathon Training, Interval, Marathon Training, Running Coach and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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