Determined to have an improved marathon result at my next Ironman race (Ironman Cozumel, November 2023), I’ve been focusing on developing my running speed. Two things that I’ve been doing to improve my running capacity are track workouts and yoga. Yoga to lengthen and strengthen muscles and track sessions to develop speed. I’ve also been trying to get leaner and drop some weight but have been unsuccessful. In fact, I’ve actually gained weight. I’m not hyper-focused on the scale, I just know that I feel better when I’m lighter.
As a young man, I didn’t sprint around a track for fun or run as a competitor. So, these workouts have been a new adventure. Initially, running fast around the track made me feel awkward like a newborn giraffe. My first track session was to run as fast as possible for 200 meters, then walk for 400 and repeat 10 times. Boom! I ran like I stole something. By 100 meters I began to question myself and struggled to maintain the effort for the last 100 meters. My legs were strained, I became light-headed, and nauseous, and was only able to complete five of the ten repeats.
I was hooked. There was no way I’d be defeated that easily.
Since that first session, I’ve graduated to 400-meter and 800-meter repeats which I find more enjoyable than the 200’s. The longer intervals allow me to develop a rhythm and pay attention to my form, cadence, and breathing rate. Of primary importance is increasing my cadence – 180 steps per minute or greater. Doing this shortens my strides, helps my foot land correctly, and improves overall form. Being intentional with my breathing has helped me sustain harder efforts. As my heart rate gets really high, have a tendency to hold my breath. When the muscles are working super hard, they need more oxygen, not less, so improved breathing is the goal. Breathing faster and more fully takes concentration but definitely makes a notable difference in my ability to hold a hard effort longer.
Local 5K status check
I was interested to know if my ability to run faster on the track would translate to a road race, so I signed up for a couple. The Run Houston! 5K in September, and the Cypress 5K in November. I didn’t tell any of my Pearland Triathlon Racing Club or Pearland Area Road Runners teammates. This was for me and I didn’t want to talk about it or explain what my goals were.
- My Goals:
- Stay uncomfortable during the entire run and embrace the discomfort as it increases.
- Finish 26-27 minutes
- Maintain a cadence of 180 or greater
- Maintain a pace of less than 9min / mile
- Pay attention to how my body feels when my mind begins to tell me to ease up.
As with other races, I began too far in the back. I was anxious, full of doubt, and assumed that most of the runners were faster than me, so I should let them go first. Once the race began, I focused on getting to 180 spm and finding a pace that was uncomfortable, hoping it would be less than 9 min/mile and as fast as 8:45/mile. My pace was faster than most of the crowd and had to do a lot of zig-zagging to avoid other runners. I realized that most of them (except those that were in the front of the pack) were there for a social run with friends. There were a few people moving at my pace or a little faster, so I follow them until I found an open space. Navigating through the crowd requires more effort than necessary, so I’ll begin closer to the front at the next race.
The first 2 miles felt great and went relatively quickly. I began to feel the discomfort of the increased heart rate during the final mile. My form and energy were still good, so I focused on maintaining my cadence and paying attention to how I felt. As expected, my mind began suggesting that I ease up, but I refused. Instead, I pushed a little harder. The race was going well and sustaining the effort to the finish line was my intention.
A Personal Best and 4th Place in my age group!
I pushed hard to the end and finished with a time of 26:40, an average pace of 8:35 min/mile, and smashing my previous best by a little over 2 minutes! Beating my goal and feeling such a powerful sense of accomplishment caused me to forget my medal! I walked around to cool down as I soaked in the victory and as I headed back to my car, I noticed that people were wearing medals and realized that I’d forgotten to get mine. I didn’t care about anything other than the feeling of accomplishing. The boost in confidence was intoxicating, but I did go get my medal.
After returning home, and reviewing the final times, I noticed that I was in 4th place in my age group! One spot from the podium. I’ve never thought that I’d be close to standing on a podium, so I don’t check my standings. Well, things have changed, I’ll pay attention going forward.
So, I hit my time goal, and more importantly, I felt more confident during the race. Doing speed sessions are providing multiple benefits:
- I can run faster…duh.
- I’m getting comfortable running fast. Learning to turn over my legs quickly and powerfully takes practice.
- I’ve begun feeling when I’m in a rhythm, noticing a whole-body resonance that occurs when my breathing, cadence, and posture are all in alignment. When this occurs, running seems to require less effort.
- I know how it feels to hold a faster pace and that I can sustain a heart rate in the mid-170s. Having done it multip times on the track, I’ve learned that it’s not my limit, it’s simply an uncomfortable place that my brain doesn’t want to be.
- I know what muscular fatigue feels like and that I am able to maintain the effort anyway.
- I know the importance of more rapid, forceful, intentional breathing during a hard effort. Supplying the muscles with maximum oxygen is key.
- I am at the beginning of my speed journey. Earning 4th place allowed me to see more of my potential.