Next weekend (after Memorial Day), I’ll be heading to Knoxville, Tenn., to visit my guy – he’s spending May and June there working at Oak Ridge National Lab (because he’s a badass), and he’s been really enjoying the Knoxville running scene. As luck would have it, he found a local 5K (that looks to be flat and fast) for that weekend, which starts just blocks from where he’s staying. Without hesitation, we both signed up!
But here’s the thing. Since the half-marathon, my mileage has, well – tanked. I planned on taking an entire week off, which I did. I toyed with the idea of an easy run the next Tuesday, but I was prohibitively sore after an amazingly fun and beautiful Mother’s Day hike with a friend on some grueling local trails (not complaining, but honestly my booty was just too sore to run! I was walking funny for three days). I’ve been doing most of my runs unplugged – no Garmin, sometimes no music as well, just running easy based on feel.
But I knew I needed to inject a little speed into my legs before then. So why not do a track workout a week and a half out?
So I polled twitter. And before long my twitter buddies Kelly and Mark were to the rescue, suggesting a grueling ladder workout. After some back and forth, I had a game plan: 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 800, 600, 400, 200 – all at 5K pace. I figured out the splits I needed to hit to get 7:25 pace, which would put me in under 23 minutes in a 5K. My last 5K I did in 23:19, a PR even when my shoe came untied at the start of mile 2, so it’s well within reach. I thought about writing my split goals on my hand, but knew it would be too many numbers to stare it, and with how short some of intervals were, it wouldn’t really help me any. But I had the numbers swirling in my brain all night, going to bed excited and nervous and taking a while to fall asleep (work stress wasn’t really helping things, either).
I popped out of bed with my alarm at 5:15. My tummy was roiling a bit (for unrelated reasons) but it behaved itself during the entire workout. Armed with water, a gel, pump-up music, and my Garmin, I drove to the track to – as Shalane Flanagan put it – f*ck sh*t up. There weren’t many other bodies on the track. Two guys and a chick did a couple fast laps then disappeared to the soccer field nearby to do other stuff. A pair of girls about my age did some laps in between drills and strength exercises, and a couple runners flitted in near the end, but otherwise, I had the track to myself. I went the “wrong” direction around, as I hadn’t switched directions in…too long.
I jogged two laps to warm up, trying to quell my nerves and excitement, so I wouldn’t take off too fast, blow up, freak out – anything. After a few seconds considering a third warm-up lap, I started my first power song, and hit “lap” at the starting mark.
The thing about the ladder, is at first it doesn’t seem so bad I was running basically my mile repeat pace over very short intervals: 200, 400, 600. I jogged rest intervals after each, 50% the distance of the previous interval (100 m after the 200, 200 m after the 400, etc.). I’m bad at dialing into the correct pace quickly, and over-accelerated at the start of each one, but my rest interval paces were also pretty good – high 8:xx’s.
But as the laps piled up, the fatigue set in. Mile repeats are hard – I’ve done as many as 5×1600, and it’s grueling, both mentally and physically. But with 800 meter rests, I would recover pretty fully between each repeat, until maybe the last one or two, where the exhaustion starts to really set in and you’re running on pure grit and determination.
But with these short, hard intervals that built on each other, I wasn’t fully recovering during each rest – which is the point. I also can’t really speak for my mental capacity during the workout – I really had to focus on where each interval started and ended, since each was different because of the variable distances. What am I running now, 400 or 600? Wait, was that a half a lap just now, or a lap and a half? I held it together, but barely. In my distraction, I almost had a time slide during the 1000 m interval, but pulled myself back together at the last moment.
200: 0:53 (goal – 0:56)
400: 1:48 (goal – 1:51)
600: 2:47 (goal – 2:47)
800: 3:42 (goal – 3:42)
1000: 4:36 (goal – 4:38)
So coming back down the ladder should be easy, right?
WRONG. Sure, my intervals were getting shorter, but the rest intervals were also shortening, and the hurt was growing. But I kept pushing. Tough as it was, I was still having fun. Breaking this pace down over the 5K distance into piecemeal felt thrilling, fun, like a game. I bargained with myself, taking it interval by interval, and when I got to the last 200, I pushed just a little harder.
I stopped for a moment after the last interval to lean over and heave, then let myself walk for maybe 150 yards before breaking into a jog for three cool-down laps.
This workout was a lot of fun and a HUGE confidence boost. I know it’s not an exact science, and a lot can happen on race day, but with those splits, I could potentially run a 5K in 22:55. Which would be awesome!
I’m still enjoying a low pressure off-season, but going inside the pain cave every once in a while for a 5K isn’t something I can pass up. So expect a race report from me in a couple of weeks! Tomorrow I plan on using our summer Friday early dismissal policy from work (deadlines permitting) and the cooler weather to take the time to run some trails nice and easy for fun.