Trials of the Track-less: How to run track workouts without a track

The 2 mile warmup was uneventful.  I was a little nervous about the workout but excited to get my legs back on the track and see what I could do.  At 5:30am my running buddy and I reached the school, ran up the sidewalk and came to an abrupt halt as our headlamps illuminated the sign on the fence: IMG_8278

Well, time for Plan B.  With no desire to run back home to drive 20 minutes to another track, and my type-A runner personality demanding that I find a way to complete the workout, it was time to improvise.  So we did.  We figured the empty high school parking lot was big enough (and relatively flat enough) to make do.  A quick math-on-the-run calculation and we had our new marching orders:

Original workout: 2 mile warm-up, 2k (6:45/mile), 1600m (6:30/mile), 1k (6:25/mile), 800m (1:35/400m), 400m (FAO = HARD) ea w/ 400m easy to recover, 2 mile cool-down

Actual workout:  2 mile warm-up, 1.25 mi (6:41), 1 mi (6:27), 0.7mi (6:17), 0.52 mi (6:03), 0.28mi (5:39*) *downhill on this part

Around and around that parking lot we went - sneaking glances at our watches as we wove in between the deserted rows of spaces.  We left the parking lot with a strange sense of satisfaction from having not only completed the workout, but having refused to let the closed track defeat us.  I don't know how long the track will remained closed.  Weeks?  Months?  Indefinitely? But I do know that I can get in my workouts without it.  It may not be as pretty, but they'll get done.  So for those of you who are in the same boat, take heart:

How to run track workouts without a track

  1. Find the flat:  Flat road, that is!  You'll want to find a section of road that's relatively flat for you to do your intervals.  If you are forced to run somewhere with changes in elevation, try to ensure that you can complete a circuit of the road to incorporate both the uphill and downhill areas. If you can't find a flat place to run don't stress, but do realize that you'll have more variation in the paces you'll see on your watch.
  2. Convert the intervals:  The standard track distances don't line up exactly with the distances in miles, but it's pretty close.  For ease of use I've made a chart (slightly rounding up/down as needed to make things simpler) that can help you make the conversion: Slide1
  3. Utilize the "Custom Workout" feature on your watch: I LOVE this tool on my Garmin.  You can set up each interval and rest time in between and then just run.  Each interval is different you say?  No problem - Garmin has you covered.  Your watch will beep when you start/end each interval, removing the need for you to keep glancing at your watch to check distance.
  4. Swap shorter intervals:  Once you get down to around the 400m range or shorter, watches are notoriously fickle.  It's such a short distance that it's difficult to get accurate pace and distance on the road.  Your best bet here may be to swap out the 400m repeats with a set time duration (i.e. run 90 sec HARD) or swap 200m repeats for strides (30 sec HARD, 30 sec recovery).
  5. Run longer intervals:  Since shorter intervals are so fickle on the watch, it's a great opportunity to have your workout include some longer intervals.  For marathoners, these are likely more useful anyway in encouraging the desired adaptations in the body.  Half mile or mile repeats are great ways to get that "interval" feel on the road.
  6. Understand the limitations: When running intervals on the roads, unless you are on a measured course you are relying on your watch (and its communication with satellites...which are ridiculously far away) trying to pinpoint your location and calculate distance and pace accordingly.  I know that my watch is always "faster" than what I actually run.  When I use my watch on the track I'll hit the "Lap" button for each interval so that I'm getting an accurate time since my Garmin always measures that I've run longer than the actual distance I've run on the track.   So I need to take that into account when running intervals.   I'll often go a little longer on the roads (0.53mi vs. 0.5mi) to try and account for the margin of error.
  7. Train your brain:  Your brain is tricky and will regulate the intensity of exercise so that you never fully exhaust yourself.  This is why even if you feel miserable and slow dramatically in the last mile of a race, once that finish line is in sight your body is able to summon an extra kick and speed over the line - your brain has realized the end is in sight and removes the body's limitations on recruiting more muscle fibers.  On a track, the end is always "in sight" - and you can push harder on intervals since your brain knows exactly when you can stop.  (How many of you do what I do and manage to "make up" time on that last 200m on the track?  Yes? :)) On the roads, without such visual cues you are forced to overcome the brain's governing abilities and continue to push even when your brain is telling you to stop.  This skill pays dividends in races as you push through those middle miles.

And finally, don't despair.  While the track is a wonderful way to practice pacing, and provides an even, softer surface, the reality is that most races we are training for are run on the uneven, unpredictable roads.  So when you are running your 40th loop around the stupid parking lot, tell yourself this is awesome practice for your next race.




Week in Review - T-minus 1 week until taper! (8/17/15 - 8/23/15)

Early morning run on the Gettysburg battlefield So. Close.  I'm allllllmost to the taper.  This past week was the peak for the season - 96 miles for week.  Why not make it an even 100, you ask?  I was tempted, but on Sunday by the time I ran 8 miles, then ran 2 more at the gym, then taught BodyPump, then came home and did yard work for 2.5 hours, I was beat.  I decided that the 100-mile-week milestone would have to wait one more season.

This past week can be described in two words:  tired and slow.  I think all of the miles caught up to me this week as my body was feeling pretty beat up for most of these runs.   While I complain about it, I secretly love peak weeks like this.  There's something about knocking out each of the long runs (and double runs!) on the schedule that makes you feel invincible.  I also really enjoy being able to eat tons of food to fuel all of the miles.   I try to make most of it quality food, but I'll admit I allow myself a few more treats than usual to celebrate a high-mileage week.

Pumped to knock out 12 miles at pace!

Let's recap it up!  I started the week coming off of a really great run.  I was up in Gettysburg with my family visiting my in-laws over the weekend and had to do my last pace-mile long run up there.  Let's get something straight:  I did NOT want to do this run.  I was nervous about having to do an 18-mile run w/12 miles at pace solo and on unfamiliar (and hilly) terrain.  In the days leading up to it I even emailed a few of my running friends to get their opinion:  push the run to the following week so that I'd have company on the pace miles?  Move the run to two weeks from now to be able to do it on a flatter course in more of a true Erie marathon course simulation?  It took a good friend of mine about two seconds to figure out what I needed:  A good kick in the pants.  He saw through my excuses and knew that I needed to get over my anxiety, gather my courage and just go do it.   Once he refused to give me an out, I knew he was right.  I just needed to go and get it done.   So I ran 18 miles, on my own, on a hot day up in hilly Gettysburg - and had my best pace-mile run to date:  18 miles with 12 of them at an average 6:40 pace.  I was stoked.   So with that awesome run to kick off this week, I got to work.

Monday:  10 miles, 8:06 avg. pace.   The high from the awesome Saturday run had worn off by this point and I felt like this one was more tiring than it should have been.   A tendon around my ankle was killing me and I started panicking that the hills and severely cambered roads in Gettysburg had wrecked my foot.  Made a quick appointment to get it looked at.  Taught BodyPump later this afternoon and felt like I was digging deep to find the energy.

Tuesday: 11 miles, 8:27 avg. pace  2nd run: 7 miles, 8:57 avg.   Ran a few miles on my own and then ran a friend's 5x1000m workout with him at the track.  Then met my mom at the Y for an easy 7 on the treadmill.  Had Graston & ultrasound on peroneal tendon in ankle later in the day and was extremely relieved that it seemed to help.  The tendon felt much better, but still a bit strained. Pushed my track workout to Thursday in hopes it would give it a bit more time to heal.

Wednesday: 12 miles, 8:12 avg. pace  2nd run:  4 miles, 8:57 avg.   So thankful for a friend's company on the first run of the day.  The humidity was killing me and I had to remind myself multiple times that this was still preferable to the icy cold 20-degree runs of last winter.   The ankle tendon was still bugging me but it thankfully felt much better.  Whew.  Ran the second run of the day at the YMCA before my core class.

Thursday:  12 miles, 8:16 avg. pace.  5x600 today on the schedule and Pfitzinger's book must have read my mind because that's all these tired legs could handle. Didn't even have a pace in mind - just set out to do them at an uncomfortably fast level. Thankfully I had my rabbit (my speedy friend Kevin) again to make sure I didn't wimp out. My legs were TIRED for this one (taught BodyPump at 6:30pm the night before) and if it's possible, the humidity was worse than yesterday!!! This was one of those runs where you think to yourself on the warmup "how on earth am I going to run faster than this?".   Managed to get out a few solid intervals (paces for the 600s were: 5:57, 6:08, 5:54, 5:40, 5:40) but it wasn't pretty.

Gotta save room for some peak week treats!  Sugar Shack donuts - the sea salt caramel (bottom left) was my favorite.

Friday:  22.2 miles, 8:38 avg. pace.  Starting at 4:18am made for an early alarm but I got in 7 miles on my own, then met Kevin for 2.5, then ran with my Dad for 10 miles at his pace, then finally ran a few on my own to finish up. Whew. Had a giant waffle at my house afterwards (carbs!!!!!) and it was SO GOOD.  Needed to get this run done today since I had to leave early on Saturday to get to my nephew's birthday party in DC!

Saturday:  8 miles, 7:57 avg. pace.   This was all I had time for before hopping in the car to DC.  I felt sluggish on this one but the cooler morning (60 degrees!!) made my legs feel better than expected.

Sunday: 8 miles, 7:58 avg. pace.  2nd run: 2 miles, 8:57 avg. pace.  Don't let the average pace fool you:  I felt like I was barely moving on this one.  So very tired.  Ran laps around the track just for some flat ground. After a long day yesterday I was wiped out this morning. Had a coffee after the run and prayed it would kick in before my 2 extra miles at the Y before teaching Pump!   As I mentioned above, I was sorely tempted to make this an even 100 miles for the week, but was beat.  It'll have to wait :)

Total:  96 miles

Overall, I'm feeling...optimistic.  And anxious.  I'm a bit paranoid that something random is going to take me out at the last minute (twisting an ankle steeping off a curb, pulling my back taking groceries into the house, etc.)  and all of the hard work over that last 6 months will have been for naught.  I am sure that all marathoners feel the same way as they get to the end of the season - there's nothing worse than having something crop up at the last minute that derails all of your training!   My poor family is going to be in for a rough ride the next few weeks as I try to temper my anxiety and pent-up energy as we creep closer and closer to race day.

I've got one more week of moderately high mileage and then I hit the taper.  I'm so close, you guys.  I'll take all of the good vibes, thoughts, and prayers you care to send.  I just want a shot at it.  18 days to go!!



Hold the Vision, Trust the Process

Focus_QuoteT-minus 5 weeks to go until Erie, folks!   I'm still standing, albeit on very, very tired legs.  We've gotten to the part of marathon training where I feel like I have to start tapping into all of the mental reserves I can muster.  Though I am mighty sick of the 4:30am alarm setting and the suffocating heat and humidity that seems to follow me on every run, I am extremely grateful to still be healthy and running.  I can feel myself getting closer to my goals - now I just need to hang on and put in a few more weeks of hard work. The marathon is a strange beast.  To truly race it well, to run it while pushing up against the very limits of your current fitness, requires laser-like focus.   Not only focus on race day, but constant focus over the course of the season to keep yourself on track.  It's not the hard workouts, early alarms, or higher mileage that proves to be my nemesis, but the sheer mental effort required to maintain this level of focus throughout the season.  THAT'S one of the reasons why marathoning is so challenging.

I've hit up against this issue of maintaining focus in a couple of ways this past week.

1)  Focus within a workout:  This Thursday I had 5x1200 on the schedule.  I managed to talk a speedy friend of mine into running them with me and at 5am we made our way over the the track in the dark.  I was dreading this workout - DREADING IT.  I knew I'd be running on tired legs from teaching BodyPump the night before and I just...wasn't feeling it.  I had dead legs on the warmup over to the track and my mind quickly searched for excuses not to complete the workout.  But I talked myself into (in part thanks to not wanting to look like a wimp in front of my friend), and started the intervals.  On each one, I found I had to really work to maintain focus to keep up the pace.  The middle lap was the worst - I'd start out fast on the first lap, then my brain would want to mentally check out on the second.  The toughest part of the workout was really having to work to maintain my turnover and intensity on that second lap - and even then it was still my slowest lap for each interval.   It was great practice for being aware of the mental work that was required and not giving up.  With each rep I practiced being focused on each lap and staying committed to the workout.  I'll need that focus on race day when I have the tendency to "check out" in the middle-to-late miles of the race when things start to hurt and yet the finish line is still so, so far away.  At Tobacco Road my pace tanked by a full minute when I stopped paying attention - I will not let that happen at Erie, and these kind of workouts are great practice.

2)  Focus on the schedule: The second area that can be difficult to maintain focus is on the marathoning schedule as a whole.  It's all too easy for me to get overwhelmed with how many weeks I have left to go when instead I need to be focusing on nothing but the current week that I'm in.  Taking it day by day and workout by workout can help prevent that overwhelming feeling of "will I ever reach the end of this?".  I know this, and yet I often struggle to stay focused on the day's run and purpose of that run.

3)  Focus on the peripherals: (diet, PT exercises, core work, sleep, etc.)  I must admit: This is the first area where I'm likely to lose focus.  It's all too easy for me to slack off on the core work or the healthy eating when other things (my young daughters, errands, housework, distractions like Facebook...) are clamoring for my attention.  But I know that if I don't maintain focus on doing these things (eating right, getting enough sleep, keeping up with my core work and PT exercises) I'll pay for it down the road.   I've been writing myself little post-it notes around my house to remind me to maintain my focus on these things.  Only 5 more weeks to go, right?  I can do it.

But the one thing - the most important thing - I've been trying very hard to keep in mind, is a focus on the big picture.

Getting to that starting line healthy with a season of hard work behind me, will give me the best shot at running that sub-3.  And for the next 5 weeks, I will do all I can to remained focused on that big picture. This means listening to my body, praying daily to stay healthy, trusting the process and the plan, holding on to the vision of sub-3 and maintaining as much focus as I can muster.  I can do it.  I WILL do it.   I'm coming for you, Erie.