Champion Workouts and Other Miscellany

Just less than 4 weeks until my half marathon. Naturally thinking about where I am in my training. It would have been great to run a 10K today as a “tune up” race. That would have been an excellent indicator of fitness, allowed me to calibrate my goal pace. Instead, today ran a very challenging series of sprints, what Greg McMillan calls a “champion workout”.

Normally, I’m a strong proponent of control in training — the opposite of the Champion’s Workout concept. In nearly all workouts, you should work hard but not too hard. None of this “Give it the ol’ 110 percent” stuff. I say train at 90 percent of what you could do in workouts and you’ll find that your racing is better. It was with this in mind that Pete Magill used the same fictional workout from Once a Runner as a negative example in his January 2013 article, “The Dirty Dozen: 12 mistakes (even experienced) runners make.” But there’s a time and a place for going all-out in training, to remind yourself that when it gets tough in races, you can dig deeper.

Of course, I don’t really know if McMillan would have considered this a champion workout or not. But it was intense. Eight sets of 5 15-second sprints, with 30 seconds recovery between sprints and 90 seconds recovery between sets. The whole course took us all the way along a service road, Vista del Valle, to the water tank where we usually end such workouts, but then, somewhat mind bogglingly, uphill toward the “pass” that leads to the other side of the park, the Hollywood side. After a brief break, the instruction was to go full steam down the winding hills back to the parking lot.

I liked the way one of the runners, new to the group and who has served in the armed forces, described the workout: “It was insane.”

The sprinting part, with the rests taken out, amounted to 2.23 miles run in 11:13 — an average pace of 5:02 — well above what I could ever expect to run for any longer distance. Coach wants us to run 800 meters (a half mile) in 2:30. Which is, of course, this pace. That we were sprinting at this pace, he would say, means we are running too slowly. And he would shake his head.

Though not entirely a self-satisfied character, I was happy with my workout today. I was the first one back to the parking lot. I worked hard. I didn’t let myself crap out like last week. When it became painful, I focussed on what was good, concentrated on pumping the arms or thought “I’m good uphill!” I, err, went to the well. So I seem to be on a fairly good schedule with my training, if I don’t let up. I managed to get 29 miles in during this past vacation week (I even got some running in at elevation 7000 feet. Finding: You breathe harder.) It was a well timed rest week as I’ve been working on an increased dose of 40 miles a week for the last few weeks (43.8, 41.2, 41.8, 40). The body seems to be handling the increase without any obvious signs of explosion. (I might add that I napped twice today, took a bath with epsom salts, ate an obscenely large breakfast, and spent quality time with the foam roller.)

And I am fascinated by this edge of where the optimum training is, and when prudence might be cast aside. After a plateau of increased mileage, a spate of body weight exercises to keep the body strong, perhaps a champion workout? Perhaps an all-out race? Alex Hutchinson has touched on the issue in a great article in The Walrus — when it’s proper to cast aside the time you know you can responsibly run based on your training and just go for broke… In this story, he looks at Reid Coolsaet’s attempt against a field of Kenyans, and how it affected his standing. It’s a great read. Really top notch journalism, in my opinion, had me running over to his website to find other articles of his. Even the non-running ones.

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