Saturday, June 29, 2013

...some thoughts on intervals, speed, and calling yourself a runner.

…and I’m gonna start with that last part first.  

If you are reading this, and you are going out to run, at any pace, for any length of time, any distance, you ARE a runner.  That is all. 

If anyone tells you you’re not a runner because you don’t run fast enough, or because you take walk breaks, or because you haven’t run a race or whatever, just smile.  No need to argue, because there really will be no winning with someone in that mindset.  The good news is, their mindset doesn’t matter.  YOURS DOES! 

And if you are out there running, in any way, shape or form, 

…about running intervals.   If you’re new here, this is basically just inserting planned walk breaks during your run.  This is where some people will tell you that you aren’t “really” running if you’re taking walk breaks.  Ignore them. (see above)  The fact is, there are a LOT of very real benefits of interval training vs. steady state training.  Interval training (of any kind) refers to alternating between high intensity and low intensity activity.   Google “benefits of interval training” and you’ll find pages of articles on the subject that will tell you about how interval training is more efficient, burns more fat, boosts your metabolism, etc.  PLUS, the effects of interval training linger long after your workout, even more than a high intensity steady state workout.   For runners, a huge benefit is that you can avoid injury, progress in distance and speed at YOUR own pace, and you can literally run just about any distance if you can train yourself to run intervals! 

I usually suggest you start out running for a brief interval, followed by a longer walking interval, either using a timer and running for 1 minute, walking for 2 or 3 minutes, OR using music, run for the first verse of a song, then walking for the rest of a song.  You can find the whole explanation here. 

After you do that for at least one week (3 days of running), you may feel like you want to increase your running intervals.  AWESOME!!  And here’s the great news—there is no single correct way to increase!  So you can increase your run to 90 seconds, or 2 mintues, and continue with a 2 or 3 minute walk.  Or you can run the first verse plus first chorus and then walk the rest of the song.  You may want to try 1 minute run:1 minute walk intervals, or 2:2  or whatever combination feels good to you!  In fact, when you first start to increase, you may not be up to increasing the run intervals for the whole workout—NO PROBLEM!  Increase for just the first interval (or two or three…) and then go back to last week’s intervals for the rest of the workout.  Customize your workout so that you increase your activity at a pace that works for you.  I still find that the first mile or two of my run is always sort of wonky—I feel like Pinocchio until my "wooden" legs get warmed up!  But if I make sure to start out slow and easy, by the end of the run my legs feel great, and my running intervals are always faster than when I started out.  Remember—the most important goal of any workout is that you finish feeling like you could have done a little more, and you’re ready to come back for the NEXT workout! 

…and last, but by no means least, speed.  This is what everyone’s talking about, right?  I’m not gonna lie, I love when I finish a run and see that my pace was better than last time.  But, honestly, that is never really my goal.  And I think, especially for beginning runners, obsession with speed can lead you into all sorts of trouble, and eventually injury.  A few thoughts to consider…

Apparently, not everyone is built for speed.  I can tell you with 100% certainty that I am not.  If running has taught me anything it is that on any given day, I can only run as fast as I can run.  I can’t choose an arbitrary pace before my run and expect to hit it, or I’d be disappointed most of the time.  I can start running and see how I’m feeling that day and have an idea of what I might be able to do if I push myself a little, but it’s never a sure thing.  I’m just not there at this point.  What I DO know is that if I’m patient with myself, I can cover ANY distance I set out to cover, and often even a little more than I planned, as long as I’m willing to find and stick with a reasonable pace. 

I don’t do any speed training at all.  No tempo runs or speed drills or any of that.  I hear about them all the time, but I have to remind myself I’m working on building a distance base.  For me, it’s not about speed.  If you’re just starting out, even if you’re not training for a half or full marathon, you’re doing the same thing.  You’re working on building your endurance base, and you need to focus on that, not on speed.  I know, you can read all over the Facebook running pages and blogs about runners doing speed work, and that might make you feel like you should.  But I’ve heard from several experienced marathoners that until you are comfortably running 6 miles without stopping, you really don’t need to be doing speed drills.  So, there ya go—if you’re not comfortably running 6 miles without stopping, you don’t need to be worried about your speed!   Yes, there are lots of opinions and training plans out there that will tell you otherwise, but this is what makes the most sense to me.

And here’s one last, and very important thought about speed:  if you have any struggles in your running, the solution is very likely this,  “slow down.”   
Having trouble breathing?  Slow down.  
Can’t seem to increase your running interval?  Slow down.  
Knees (feet, hips, ankles, back) bothering you?  Check your shoes, check your form, and then, slow down.  
Struggling to increase your total workout time?  Slow down.  
Want to be able to cover more distance?  Slow down.  

Literally, almost any aspect of your running you’d like to improve, slowing your pace will help. 

And here’s the cool thing:  while you’re working on conditioning, endurance, and form, your pace WILL improve!  Speed will come on its own while you’re not even paying attention, I promise!  And you don’t even have to get injured or frustrated in the process!! 

Let me know how you’re doing, either here in the comments or on my Facebook page:  Real Mom on the Run 

Happy Running, Friends!! 

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