Breaking Down A Run Goal to Gain Speed

As detailed in an earlier post, I have set a big goal to work on over the next three months The hope is an end result of a sub-five mile, something I haven’t done in over 20 years, but I think it is an attractive number and will parlay well into 5k’s if they ever start back up. But seeing the end and seeing the start leaves alot of distance in between. So we need to break down the goal into bite sized chunks easy to understand and focus on.

I apply this to alot of goals and projects that I work on. Set an end point, and work backwards. What do I need and how do I check each piece off. Sometimes there are multi-step elements but it is much easier to visualize the individual building block then it is to see the whole building. Here is a ball park of my strategy for hitting the 4:59 or better, and this can be applied to any run goal.

I am going to put the run into three big buckets: speed, endurance, and strength. There are certainly overlaps between each, and they will compliment each other, but for purposes of focus and smaller goals, I will leave them separate for now.

The first step in running a fast mile, is being able to run a mile itself. Endurance is key because it allows us to maintain a pace for a period of time and conditions the body to perform for extended periods of time. At this time, I am able to run a mile, but if the goal was an ultra distance event, I may need to focus on my base more. While my running volume is not very high this year, I can comfortably run a half marathon at any given point, and most of my runs are around an hour where I bounce around zone 3 or 4.

As for strength I have put in alot of time working on my weaknesses and have seen steady progress and overall gains. It is probably fair to say I am stronger than I have ever been because of the consistency since Covid ended racing. I had more time to work on new things without worrying about a specific race. That has been a huge blessing because it has kept me injury free, gotten me stronger, and set me up nicely for big challenges.

With the first two in an ok place for now, speed needs to be addressed. Speed is not normally needed during the marathon run leg of an Ironman. Last season I think I only ran a single 5k and that was on Thanksgiving with my 8 year old son. So it has been quite some time since I was on the track or did any serious intervals.

Because I am basically starting fresh, the first goal is getting the leg speed up. Being able to actually hit the pace I am aiming for needs to be the first priority. Because just like the endurance piece, if you can’t run above 12mph, you can’t actually run a sub-five. Since I am about a week into the training adjustment, my coach has me working on very short intervals that focus on leg speed. This is a great strategy and one I used in the past quite a bit.

Let’s say your goal is an 8:00/minute mile. My strategy would be to run intervals at the longest period you can maintain that pace for. If you can hold it for 800m, then 800/400m intervals will be great. If you can only do 400m, then focus on 400/200m repeats and so on down to a point where you are actually running at the desired speed. The other two factors (strength and endurance) will help immensely when you look to expand the distance and drop the rest, but for now, we are just looking at leg speed and target pacing.

So for me, because I have always had a good top end and hitting 12mph is doable, but not for extended periods just yet. I am also still just working turnover, so the treadmill is a great tool to force the legs to go. A recent workout was 15 minute warm up followed by 3x(6 x 30 seconds at goal pace, 30 seconds recovery) with a moderate jog in between each set, followed by a descending cool down. All in an hour, but 9 minutes at my goal pace of 5:00.

Could I go harder and faster, yes, but there is a big risk of injury when you play at your top end speeds. Add to that the fact that this is a considerable shift in training goals, it is better to ease into it. And to be honest, I probably don’t have all that much more speed or endurance in me at this point. I would say the above workout is maybe a 6 or 7 effort, but I don’t really like to go much beyond an 8 in training. I find too many big workouts drains me, leads to worsening quality and demotivation. While I think alot of people can ’embrace the suck’, it is hard to do it consistently. Two quality efforts beats one big one any day.

So over the next few weeks I will continue the initial leg speed build, and start mixing in outdoor track sessions. Of course the treadmill is much different especially at higher speeds, but it is a tool to use. My outside equivalent is a slight downhill to keep the speeds up. Muscle memory can’t form if you never get to where you want! Sadly, my treadmill only goes to 12 and so for this endeavor it won’t be enough long term. For now though, I’ll enjoy the shorter stuff, pretend it is easy, and keep plugging along like I am 20 again.

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