Sunday, May 13, 2012

An Investment in Intervals is Paying Dividends

Several times I’ve mentioned that my training has been influenced by a book called Heart Rate Training. One of the most informative aspects from it was related to interval training. The authors made the point that the interval is actually the recovery period. In other words, how long between hard sets you need for your heart rate to return back to Zone 1 which is 60% to 75% of your max heart rate. As a coach and human physiologist, their contention is that you can train your body to be faster overall by really pushing the hard sets past your most optimistic race time and then slowing down afterward until you cardiovascular is ready for more.

I’ve been doing this with mixed success on the bike since March. I have had a hard time hitting my goal speed, because so often it is very windy when I’m riding. It’s clear that a power meter that would measure how much work I’m putting into a ride (regardless of how fast I’m going) would be a big help. However, buying a tri bike this year was enough of a financial hit.

The wind can also be a factor on the run, but less so, I think. I’ve also benefited from having less windy days when I’ve been doing the run interval. So how’s it going? Actually, pretty well.

I did my first set at the track at the local high school. There was a rugby practice going on in the infield, but I was the only one out on the track. I did 5 X 1 mile sets with a half mile recover between each one as well as a warm-up and warm-down set. Much to my surprise, I ended up running 8 miles. Better still, I ran at an average pace of 9:08 which includes the recovery time.

I repeated the workout off-track four days later (and with shorter warm-up/warm-down intervals) and improved the pace per mile time by five seconds.

This past Tuesday, I did my third interval work-out, but this time doing 6 X 1 mile. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself doing most of the miles in the low 8:00 range. Keep in mind, I’m notoriously not fast. Even at a much younger age and leaner frame, I’ve never had the right composition of fast-twitch muscle fibers to really tear it up. At my age, 8:00 per mile feels pretty damn good!

When the longer interval was over, I had done 9 miles in 1:20:21 which works to an average pace of 8:56 per mile.

All of this has me thinking about the implications of such a run as a strategy for longer races, most notably the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in September. If we take what I did in the last interval run and extrapolate that out from 9 to 13.1 miles, it would actually have me done in 1:53:18 which blows away my current PR. Of course, it’s not as simple as that, and it would be foolish not to expect my pace to degrade on both the full miles as well as the recoveries, but it does raise some interesting possibilities.

If I were to add 30 seconds to each mile, still puts me at just under two hours which is more than I could have hoped for after my less than ideal finish at the Horsetooth Half Marathon. Barring a major course change, which I think is unlikely, the R&R also is much flatter and smoother than either of the two half marys I’ve done since last October.

A lot can happen between now and race day, but I’m encouraged and pleased to have found a possible strategy that can help me do a faster run.

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