Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2013 - The Year of Speed Training and PR's

            Running is my passion. Running is at times my life.  I run for fun, mostly I run as training.  I run races of different lengths and obviously would train differently for a 5K than for a marathon.  At least, that’s the way I used to do it.  About a year ago I overtrained for my first marathon and injured my left Achilles tendon in the process.  My body was not used to the high increase in mileage and by the time I had realized that it was wearing on me I was only a few weeks out from the Cape Cod Marathon and decided to just keep going and worry about the impact on my body after the race was over.
            After some soul searching and talking with people I decided that the only way I’d be able to keep running was if I changed my mechanics.  I was a heel striker, meaning that everytime I landed I was jarring my Achilles and calves.  This of course over time would continue leading to injuries that would likely get worse and probably end my running life.  However, changing ones stride is easier said than done.
            Once I had sufficiently recovered from my Achilles injury I needed new shoes.  It was then that I found out that not only had I been fitted in shoes a size too small, but I had also been fitted for stability shoes when, after watching my stride in action, I was told I needed neutral shoes.  I had higher hopes after getting the proper shoes, Brooks Ghost 5.
            I began by having to train myself to land with a midfoot strike, doing short distances to make sure that I kept the form.  I signed up in February for the Hyannis Half Marathon with a goal of just finishing uninjured.  My time of 2 hours was less important compared to the fact that I had completed it with no recurrence of my Achilles injury and had kept my newly formed running stride intact.  I decided to go harder for the Johnny Kelley Half Memorial Day weekend.  It was at this time that I stumbled upon a training program that changed my running life.
            It’s not some big secret, just something that worked for me.  Essentially I would run as far as I could as fast as I could.  When I was gassed out I was done, simple as that.  I believe it’s known as Tempo Running, or at least that’s what it’s akin to.  It wasn’t that I was trying to get my runs over with as fast as possible, it was more that the runners in my family had said I was built more for speed and that distance training was sort of going against the genetic grain.  That was music to my ears; honestly I did not like distance training, 20+ mile runs and the toll they took wore me out mentally as much as physically.
            At first I was only able to go 3-4 miles but I kept my midfoot stride going and pushed a little further each time.  I began to notice my pace dipping while the distances grew.  By the time the Johnny Kelley Half came around I was pulling a 7:30 pace for 7-8 miles.  My idea with this type of training was if I could go as hard as I could for 7-8 miles I’d surely be able to do maybe 80% of that for 13.1.
            That plan worked perfectly.  I ran the Johnny Kelley Half in a few ticks under 1:48, breaking my personal best in the half by 7 minutes, and finishing 12 minutes ahead of my pace at the Hyannis Half just 3 months earlier. 
Was it a fluke?  I’d have to wait until October and the Harwich Half to find out.  In between those races I kept on doing my ‘going all out’ runs nonstop.  I eventually was able to go 10 miles carrying a 7:10-7:20 pace, the speed training felt like it was making everything click.
 My next goal was a sub-20 5K.  I took a shot in Bristol, Rhode Island in June.  Unbeknownst to me the 5K was a trail race with stumps, rocks, and sharp turns on paths.  I had never run a trail race and was not familiar with the trails at Colt State Park.  Still when the gun sounded I went all out.  My feet pounded on the stumps and rocks but I pulled off a 20:32/6:37 pace, close but no cigar. 
            Only a few weeks later I signed up for the Cotuit Firecracker 5K which was on streets I was familiar with.  This time I was not denied.  I was ready to pass out and gave everything I had but crossed the finish line in 19:47, I had achieved a major running goal.  I owe it all to the speed training.  Still, the true test of whether the speed training worked for longer distances was still to come with the Harwich Half.
            I went into this race only wanting to break my PR of 1:48 nothing more, just keep moving in the right direction.  I started faster than I wanted to but held a 7:20 pace through 9 miles, it was then that I realized I could theoretically speed walk to the end and set a PR.  The only thing that went wrong during this race was my calves tightening up around Mile 11.  I had to slow down some but it was no big deal with the cushion I had created.  I crossed the finish line in 1:41, topping my previous PR by over 6 minutes, amazing myself in the process.  I could not believe I had that in me and I owe it all to the speed training.
            After completing the Cape Cod Half Marathon Trilogy in 2013 I feel like as long as I keep training this way that there’s no telling how low these times might go.  Maybe this type of training isn’t for everyone, maybe it’s a bit unconventional.  All I have are the concrete numbers from my races to show that it works for me.
            What about my fellow runners? Do you have any training methods that are seen as unconventional?  How did you start training that way?  What effect did they have on your races? 

My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at, and, soon to be in stores everywhere!  Follow me on Twitter
Cape Cod Half Trilogy Medals

I am right in the middle.