I still remember having this epiphany.. in order to run fast, you have to practice running fast. It took me more than a year into my running career to realize this basic truth. At the time, I subscribed to the theory that if I could run 6 miles at my average pace, I ought to be able to run 3 miles fast. Right?
I really thought speed would just show up if I kept plugging away at the miles. In fairness, I did make some gains in my average pace by just plugging away at the junk miles, but once I hit 10:00 minute miles, I was pretty much stuck. I’ve often said that I could run 10:00 minute miles forever, but stringing together three 8:00 minute miles would kill me.
I actually adore track work. I ran the 100m and 100 hurdles in high school and loved running fast for a short distance. I hated the mile warm up and whined whenever the sprinters were sent out on “long” runs of 2-3 miles.
My first half marathon was the first time I followed a real training program. I used the beginner half marathon plan on Cool Running. This was my first introduction to speed work since I’d started running again, and I loved it. (Also, if you’re looking for a beginner training plan for the half, I had really good luck with this one.)
In Cambridge, I lived just over a mile from a gorgeous local track. My run to the track was the warm up, and then I’d do my intervals. My “active recovery” may have included hyperventilating while hanging onto the water fountain, instead of jogging a slow lap, but I still found myself getting faster. I liked running fast for the short distances; it was way easier to put up with burning lungs for 400 or 800m than for miles and miles. I totally ignored the suggested paces, since at the time my 5k pace was probably a 9:00/mile, and I was pushing through 97 second quarters.
At the half marathon, I ended up blowing my anticipated finish time (2:30) out of the water, and running an unbelievable (to me) 2:05:10 in that race. I attribute a lot of that improvement to speed work, and training to run fast instead of just piling up the junk miles. I set my PRs in both the 5K (25:07) and the 10k (52:36) shortly after that race.
I’ve been frustrated with my last two half marathon times. While I’m thrilled to be running the distance pain free again, I know I have a sub 2 hour half marathon in me. I guess it’s time I relearned the lesson about having to train fast to run fast. Good thing I like all those sprint intervals
Do you do speed training?