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Running Faster: Humbled by a Tempo Run

Posted by on Jun 26, 2012 | 12 Comments

I want to get faster. Part of my plan involves the addition of tempo runs to my training.

Shelly and I did a 60 minute run- we ran down the road for 30 minutes, turned around, then ran back. The goal is to get as far as possible and make it back to the start line before time expires.

The first mile was great! I was being mildly conservative, but manages to cruise to a comfortable 6:15 pace.

The second mile was a little tough. My pace slowed to about 7:00.

I was down to 7:30 by the third mile.

By the time I got to 30 minutes and 3.75 miles, my pace eroded to a disappointing 8:15. And I started to develop a cut on my right Achilles.

As I was about to turn around, I thought about speed. Over the last three or four years, I’ve become a rather slow road runner. When I first started training for ultras, I ran roads almost exclusively (damn Michigan!). I was fairly fast… at road running.

Since that time, my training has focused on improving my trail running skills and mastering the things needed to successfully complete 100 milers in rugged terrain. I’ve more or less reached that goal after training extensively in mountains.

But my road running has suffered mightily.

Normally I wouldn’t care; I’m not a fan of road races. However, I DO want to get faster in ultras. I want to be semi-competitive, at least with my own abilities. Secretly, I’d love to be able to hang with my friends Jeremiah Cataldo and Jesse Scott… at least for a little while. My thoughts on the subject closely parallel Vanessa’s thoughts she shared in this post.

I’ve come close to mastering every imaginable hack to pare down my finishing times short of actually training hard. I’ve improved my efficiency going uphill, downhill and on flats. I’ve mastered eating. I have aid stations stops down to a science. I’m able to push myself to run when walking feels like the only option.

What’s left?

Speedwork.

Specifically, long tempo runs.

The out-and-back Shelly and I ran is exactly what I need to get faster.

And I’m really, really bad right now. This run was harder than it should have been. I couldn’t maintain the pace I desired. I slowed more than I should have.

As I was running, I thought of a variety of excuses. It was hot. I was a little dehydrated. I was at a relatively high altitude. The road was on a slight incline. I was still recovering from Bighorn the previous weekend. My shoes were cutting into my foot. The sun was in my eyes. It was Monday.

As these thoughts were racing through my head, I had a moment of clarity. Maybe I’m just experiencing the side-effects of my laziness. I know exactly what is needed to get faster, and I haven’t been doing it. I haven’t been pushing myself enough. All the other excuses are just my rationalizations for my piss-poor performance.

That was the point where I turned around. I had a renewed focus. I was going to bust my ass on the return trip!

Then I remembered the shoe cutting into my heel. Knowing the shoes would force my to slow down considerably, I took them off. The gravel road hadn’t been graded recently, so most of the biggest rocks were embedded in the surface. This was a relatively good gravel road for barefootin’ it.

The first mile was slow as I reacquainted myself to hopping around the biggest rocks while still maintaining good form. Luckily the countless miles of rugged trail running perfectly prepared me for this road.

The second mile was a little faster. By the third mile, I could see Shelly in the distance. I had my prey in sight.

By now, I was able to cruise at a decent 7:00 pace. I had forgotten how easy it was to forget about the leg fatigue of running fast when your brain is flooded with the sensations of skin on the ground.

By the time I got to the 58 minute point, Shelly was only 100 meters ahead. She turned to see where I was at. I could swear I saw her eyes narrow as she immediately sped up. I kicked it up to a sub-6 pace, but couldn’t overtake her. As time expired, she was still about 25 meters ahead. She’s getting pretty damn fast.

The run taught me several lessons.

First, I’m slow.

Second, improving will require the very workouts I’ve avoided for the last few years.

Third, running fast barefoot, especially on rough terrain, is really fun.

The silver lining- I have a lot of room for improvement. :-)

Prologue: after we finished the run, I drove back to the turn-around point to retrieve my shoes. They were gone. Apparently someone stole them. From the side of a gravel road. In rural Wyoming. Worse, the shoes were an old pair of Bare Access that I had cut up with a kitchen knife (I like modding experiments). Even worse, they were covered in blood from the ill-fated decision to go sockless at this year’s Fifth Third Riverbank Run 25k road race (the back of the shoe is a tad too high for my foot and cut into my heel). The lesson- don’t abandon old, bloody shoes in rural Wyoming… even for 40 minutes. :-)

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12 Comments

  1. Barefoot Running University » Are We Too Soft?
    June 30, 2012

    […] We Too Soft? Posted by Jason on Jun 30, 2012 | No Comments A few days ago I posted about my first tempo run in a few years. The response in the comments forum discussions was interesting. Quite a few people expressed […]

  2. Barefoot Josh
    June 29, 2012

    Dude, you just ran Bighorn. Give yourself a rest, spend a week dong only “limbering up” runs, THEN tempo. You’re faster than you think.

  3. Joe
    June 27, 2012

    It might have been someone picking up litter as opposed to someone stealing a pair of beat up shoes.

  4. Bare Lee
    June 26, 2012

    “running fast barefoot, especially on rough terrain, is really fun”
    That’s been a recent revelation for me too–very counterintuitive.

  5. Steve
    June 26, 2012

    You introduced me to tempo runs. As one who tends to run for the scenery and sensations, I can understand why one might avoid tempo runs: they’re just more effort. It’s just a delayed gratification thing. I’m glad you introduced me to them.

  6. Rich Frantz
    June 26, 2012

    Whiner. I really shake my head when people complain about how slow they are because they struggle at 7 mpm. Some of us are a tad slower +-10 mpm.

    Perspective. Their all different.

    I do like your posts though, don’t get me wrong.

    • Jason
      June 26, 2012

      Ha! I just had a conversation with someone at Black Hills about this very topic. As runners, we never seem to compare ourselves to all runners (or even the general population). We always compare ourselves to better runners. I spent hours and hours crewing for my friend Jeremiah at Black Hills and repeatedly saw the top 25% of their field. Those observations became my measuring stick.

      For me, that drive to improve is immensely rewarding, especially if it occurs in cyclical fashion. For example, I may spend months being perfectly content to run slow and enjoy my surroundings. Then I’ll shift focus and feel a drive to personally improve. This changing of perspective helps keep running fresh. ;-)

    • Emily G
      June 26, 2012

      agree with you here. I’d LOVE to run a sub 25 5K, but I know it’s not gonna happen. I’m thrilled to go slow, enjoy the race scenery and finish a race.

    • Rich Frantz
      June 26, 2012

      They’re. I suck.

  7. Tim
    June 26, 2012

    Jason,
    I’ve been wondering about this. I understand your nomad lifestyle has given you the freedom to coach, run, spend time with your family, and really enjoy life. But, I think there is a negative. Since you live such an unstructured life, you have more free time to workout when you feel like it. You have far less structure to keep you disciplined.

    Remember when you worked a real job? Remember how you would push yourself to keep to a training schedule because that was the only time you could do the run? Is that what’s lacking here? Discipline to lay out a training plan, with specific goals for runs and distance, and then force yourself to do it?

    I’m no coach, and certainly don’t have the experience you have. What I do know is how I am. There is a balance in my life between not having enough time to do the workouts I need to, and having too much time so I tend to procrastinate and only run when I feel like it. Some of my most productive runs are when I force a long run in the morning because my schedule requires it, or force speed work on a weekday because I need to get it done. You get my point!

    Either way, I love reading your posts… keep up the running and the writing, you’re pretty good at both!
    Tim

    • Jason
      June 26, 2012

      The freedom definitely gets in the way of structured running. The locations we have to run also don’t help… it’s tough to resist the temptation to go on a long, slow run in the mountains, bring the camera, and simply enjoy the surroundings.

      For us, it’s really a matter of building runs into our daily routine. We have a fairly regimented schedule. For example, I do almost all of my writing in the morning, errands in the afternoon, etc.