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When increasing speed, pace your training

Brom Hoban: Central Texas Running

Brom Hoban

Although some may have a spring marathon in mind (Boston anyone?), most runners are now gearing up for shorter distances like 5K and 10K, and focusing more on speed than distance.

Please bring out the yellow caution flag.

On one hand, many runners have a large aerobic base (mileage foundation) built up from their winter marathon training and easy long runs. That's a good thing.

On the other hand, any time you introduce speed into the equation, care must be taken. It's well known that speed work can be a double-edged sword: It's the most direct route to boosting your fitness, but also can easily lead to injury.

The question is: How should you add speed to your workouts in a way that allows your body to adapt?

According local distance coach Mac Allen, the first thing to do is build a solid fitness base. If you are an experienced runner coming off the marathon season, that's a moot point. But those just starting out will need at least a month of easy running before they try adding any intensity.

Allen then eases them into tempo running. Typically, tempo runs are about four to five miles done at around 20 seconds per mile slower than your 10K pace, but you can throw in a one mile "race-pace" surge during the workout to enhance the training benefits.

"What I like to do, with people coming off of a down period, is first, build a base (three to six weeks)," said Allen. "Following that, I like to come back to speed using tempo runs. I have my runners go out on an easy run, and then pick it up to tempo pace for half of their run. That way, they don't get discouraged by comparing their time to a specific distance they ran when they were in peak shape.

"I like them to just get out there, and do it by feel."

Next, Allen adds a variation on tempo running. During easy runs, he'll have runners go three minutes on (hard running), and three minutes off (recovery). He feels this better prepares them to get on the track for some more serious speed work.

Similarly, two-time Olympian Ed Eyestone, now a track and cross country coach at Brigham Young University, believes in adding small doses of speed initially, and has his runners reacquaint with speed by doing eight to ten 100-meter strides twice a week as they finish easy runs.

Eyestone, an exercise physiologist, then adds a weekly tempo run, noting that tempo running is widely acknowledged as the best way to get both faster and stronger.

After about six weeks of tempo run training, he'll add intervals. Many coaches, Eyestone included, suggest starting with timed "ladder" sessions, rather than specific distances. A typical ladder might be 5-4-3-2-1 minutes of fast running on the track, with equal easy rest intervals after each.

Allen, though following a similar routine, may keep his athletes off the track somewhat longer than Eyestone.

"I like to keep away from the track initially," he said. "The thing about stepping on the track right away is that runners will try to do what they were when they were in shape — try to run too fast, and they can get hurt that way.

"People vary in how they adjust. Once I do get them on the track, we'll start out by doing 200s, 400s, that kind of thing. Also, I like to set a goal race for people to target, like the Congress Avenue Mile (May 22)," added Allen.

Notes

  • At the Lockhart Stampede 5K Saturday, Nate Moote ran in 16 mintues, 16 seconds to win, and Taylor Monts was second in 16:43. Anna Seals clocked 19:07 for the women's win. Shellon McCallie ran 21:20 for second.
  • At the Zooma Half Marathon in Bastrop, Sheila Monaghan of New York was victorious in 1:28:02. Cedar Park's Claudia Spooner took second in 1:32:25. Cody Carnett of Fredericksburg won the men's race in 1:28:02, ahead of Carlos Desousa's 1:31:51.

Upcoming races

  • Saturday, April 3: ASH Dash 5K, 8 a.m. at the Austin State Hospital. See ashvolunteers.org for information.