Three weeks ago, I ran 118km and set new PBs for 50 miles and 100 km. One of the side effects (for me) of running longer distances is that it tends to slow my running down for several weeks. I suspect it is partly physical (wear and tear etc) but also mental (the metronome in my running brain gets slower for a long event and is reluctant to move to a faster beat afterwards). In four weeks, I have a half marathon and in six weeks, I have a marathon – so I need to improve my speed to run these in the same time I was running earlier in the year.
Some of the speed improvement will come from training sessions, such as the one I took part in with my club (Redhill Road Runners) last Wednesday. The session leader, Chris, took us on a run through the wood and, when we reached a half-mile (800 metres) loop, assigned us the challenge to run five loops, with a two-minute recovery between each one. This is one of the many good reasons to be part of a club if you are a runner; it is much easier to push yourself hard if somebody else is setting the tasks.
Another component in building speed is participating in races, even if you know your performance will be well down on what it would have been earlier in the year. Today, I participated in a great event, the Double or Quit race organized by Ilkeston Running Club. The race is a multi-terrain race around part of Shipley Country Park. The runners can do one lap of 5 miles (8km) or two laps, i.e. 10 miles (16km).
I was delighted to see several other Redhill Road Runner friends at the event, and that made it even more enjoyable.
When racing, I tend to be guided by my heart rate (using my Garmin watch and Garmin chest band). Because I knew I was still in the early stages of getting my speed back to normal, I decided to run the first loop with a lower heart rate than the second loop and to run both below the level I would push my heart rate to if I were trying for a PB or podium finish for my age group. I decided to aim for 130 bpm (beats per minute) for the first lap and 140 bpm for the second. This strategy should give me a negative split (where the second half is faster than the first).
There are many reasons for focusing on heart rate (see books on topics like 80:20 and ‘running slower to run faster’). One advantage of the heart rate system is that it accounts for differences in terrain. If I am running on tarmac on flat roads, I will run much faster than running on trails, up and down hills. Since I had never run this course before, it was hard to know how fast to run in terms of minutes per kilometre, but using either heart rate monitoring or RPE (rate of perceived effort) – the pace is an outcome, not an input.
I have run cross-country races in this park before, but this was the first time running in the summer, and this course took me into new areas of the park – so that was a real plus.
I ran the first lap bang on target, with an average heart rate of 130 bmp. However, I could feel that my legs were not bouncy enough to sustain 140 bmp on the second lap, but I nevertheless tried and managed an average of 137 bmp. When I checked my stats afterwards, I could see that my speed on the first lap was 5:29 per km, and on the second lap, it was 5:20 per km – so I did manage a negative split.
Overall, I ran 10 miles (16km) in 1 hr 25 mins 21 seconds, which meant I finished 37th out of 95 runners. This was slower than I would have been three months ago but was faster than I was expecting, so I am pretty happy with it.
My main feeling today was the sheer joy of being able to run, to see friends at the event, to run through wonderful countryside and to feel that I was on track towards my next target. I take part in a wide range of events, and some of the events make incompatible demands on my body. If I want to keep running different sorts of events, I need to accept the consequences, and when it is time to change gear (e.g. at the moment, I need to get faster), I need to put the work in.
But perhaps the main point is that my ability to change gear to prepare for different events would be so much harder and so much less fun if I were not part of a running club. If you run, but you are not with a club, I urge you to join one, give it six months and see if it transforms your running and running experience.
The chart shows my heart rate, the speed I was running at, and whether it was flat, uphill or downhill. My heart rate is relatively constant throughout the race (in the range of 120 to 140), but it is lower in the first 8km and higher in the second 8km. By contrast, the pace varies considerably. When I run uphill, I am slower (but my heart rate stays approximately the same), and when I run downhill, I am faster (and my heart rate stays approximately the same). The next photo shows the route.
The picture at the top of the post is one of the lakes in Shipley Park, the two photos at the bottom show Redhill friends. The map outlines the course through the park.