Custom Search

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How I train: How I run

Welcome back to my wholly self-centered, barely-masked bragging about going from a 4:15 marathon to a 3:09 in under 2 years. And still sucking at the 5k. 
Yesterday I covered how much I run. 
Day three of How I Train is about the type of running I do. This is just to describe my every day running. 
The beautiful Audubon Park running path

Surface and routes:
I run a lot on asphalt and some on paved sidewalks. I don't do trails. I also don't do hills, but it's not my fault. I live in a completely flat area. In fact, I often download or look at training plans that have hill workouts weekly and I just shrug and give up, just like that. I know I can't do hills, so why even bother trying the training plan?
I run in Audubon park a lot, because it is gorgeous (and it's about half a mile from my house. My house, around the park once, and back home = 3.2 miles on the dot).  I sometimes run along pretty routes like St Charles avenue or on the levee (side note: running up the levee is a possible form of hill workout, and I have done that on occasion. Sorry if we flood next hurricane because I wore the levee out). New Orleans is a very picturesque place to run and I'm blessed to run here. I work my routes around water fountains; one thing that has never changed for me is that I must drink water while I run. I am amazed and impressed by people (like my little brother Abe) who can do double digits without any fluids. I stop for water even for 3 miles most of the time!
I never run on a treadmill. If you do, more power to ya. I get bored and the double impact (the belt AND your foot are moving) hurts my knees. I think treadmills do outstanding things for endurance and perseverance, and I totally think you could train for a marathon entirely on a treadmill. I, however, am too ADD to take it!

Distance: Generally, I run 3 - 7 miles a day with a ten miler once a week and a long run once a week. The long run is 13 - 16 unless I have a marathon coming up. Lately I have been bad about getting in that 10 miler, though. Sometimes it becomes nine.
If I am training for a marathon, I try to get in a 16, 18, and two or three twenties. I don't do more than 20 miles because I would get bored. This year I worked in two marathons as "long runs" and this got me my 20+. That worked very well for me; I didn't run them all-out but I pushed a little. It was great practice that I wouldn't have done all alone in the park.
In fact, another dirty little secret about me: I do not like the long run, it always intimidates me, and I almost never have a good long run. I'm talking about walking, hitting the wall, feeling queasy, quitting early. I suck at distances over 16!
I think my weekly ten miler has done me a lot of good, which is why I intend on getting that back. It's a manageable mid-week distance that trains your mind to consider double digits an average distance.
When I started running more seriously, I realized that distance had to be a part of my improvement. Before that, I would do one loop in the park - 3.2 miles - every time. To increase my endurance I knew I had to change that. Now, I rarely do just 3.2 miles: maybe I'll do it on Sunday when my day is very busy. Instead my basic short run is 5 or 6.2 miles.

Speed: Last year I never did any speed work. In fact, I did none at all until this October. This fall I started joining a group that does speed work on Monday nights. I've improved since then (marathon and half marathon PRs) but if you do the math, I have actually improved less than last year. See, my Feb 2010 marathon and my Nov 2010 marathons showed a 14% improvement, whereas from Feb 2011 to Nov 2011 I only improved 6%. Of course, I do realize that time improvements become smaller as you get faster - it is easier to take 15 minutes off your 4-hr marathon than 5 minutes off your 3 hour marathon.
Speed work is kind of awful, but being with other people holds me accountable to complete the workout.
When we do speedwork, we are given assignments that are based on specific paces - like so many 400m reps at 5k pace, for example. To determine that pace we use a mile time trial or a recent race and plug it into the Mcmillan calculator. Here is where I cheat a little, though. I do not use my actual mile time trial or my actual race time. Instead I take my best race and knock a couple of minutes off of it, and I use that. this makes my speeds faster and is a sure recipe for injury or overtraining. Like I said, don't copy me.

Pace: I am not a big fan of the long slow distance. I run my long runs around marathon pace plus up to 30 seconds - that is an estimate. All I'm saying is I don't slow down a minute and a half per mile. I run lots of mid 7's and I think 7:40 is my sweet spot. If I settle down to a comfy pace and don't think about it, that is my pace. However, this comfy pace changes! If you asked me last year, I would have said 7:55. This year it is already trending toward 7:30.
I know a lot of people like to run their fast runs fast and their slow runs slow, but that didn't work for me. All it did was reset my idea of "fast". If the majority of your time is spent at 8:30 pace, then a 7:30 pace for three miles feels crazy fast! But if you usually run 8's, then 7:30 isn't that fast anymore. You'll aim for at least 7's.  To run faster...I ran faster.

Music, Garmin, and the like: I used to run with music all the time, but I got out of the habit when my ipod was malfunctioning. Now I only use music for races. I think this has helped give me an extra boost during the race, since I'm used to having to set my own rhythm. I listen to a huge variety of music, most of which I don't particularly like, just because it has a good beat! Right now my favorite running song is "Break your Heart", even though I'd rather be caught dead than be observed listening to Ludacris otherwise (hello, his name is a misspelled word, so offensive!). If you want to get pumped up for a race, though, you cannot beat that opening!
BTW I do not have an ipod right now. I got a replacement 6th generation nano after my first generation was recalled, and I hate it. So from here on out I'm silent.
My Garmin 305 goes on for track workouts, long runs, and the ocasional ten miler when I need to make sure I'm home in time for work (yeah, sometimes I wake up late). Normally I run without it. I don't feel the need to obsess over my time or pace most of the time, plus I'm a pretty accurate judge of speed so I generally know how I'm doing.
Before I got my Garmin, I would bring pace bands for races. I still think pace bands are the BOMB for distances over 13.1! However, I don't use them anymore, as I would feel like my puny little arms were overloaded with ipod, pace band, and Garmin.

Next up: Racing!
Please...ask any questions in the comments! 


  1. Thanks for sharing all these. I would love to hear details about your eating habits. Thanks. Looking forward to all your posts :-)

  2. Excellent info. And beautiful scenery that is making me optimistic about the possibility of us being stationed in New Orleans! (we shall see... outta here in about 1-1/2 years)

    I'm rethinking my long runs. May need to take it up a notch. Maybe shoot for 8:30s-8:40s this next cycle...

  3. I don't get how you think you suck at distances over 16 miles and yet run a 3:09 marathon. Clearly you don't actually suck - is it that you don't like going so far.

  4. Like reading about how you train! I know it's different for every runner but I really appreciate the honesty.

  5. I'm so with you on the long slow distance. I'm not fast by any stretch of the imagination, and the paces that online calculators give me for long runs and recovery runs are just ridiculous. I have seriously tried just for kicks to run at that pace recently, and it felt so AWKWARD.

    I'm really enjoying this series of posts!

  6. WOW!! Best resource ever. I loved reading this. I can't believe you took over an hour off of your marathon in two are my hero! Love that you worked in two marathons for your long runs...that is awesome!

  7. I loved running in New Orleans. My favorite place to run is Audubon park! You are lucky to live so close to it; I used to drive unless I was doing a long run, and then I would do an out and back. I lived in the lower Garden district.

    Thanks for the advice! It seems like we all do things a little bit differently! I carry water, since I hate being thirsty and NOT having a drinking fountain handy!

  8. Love the idea of the 10 miler in the middle of the week, in addition to other weekly shorter things plus a long run on the weekend. I may have to try this next time I'm training for something!

  9. to run faster I ran faster....that sounds so obvious right?
    well not to me at first but I changed that because well that makes sense and it worked! I PR the next race on a hard hilly course. I dont train for marathons yet, half only for now but I do like you and have a mid week longer run and it does help a lot...I am glad I am able to comment again here, I was not able to for a few days

  10. love love loving these as I find time to read. Thank you!

  11. ok so my last post was have added speed work. Yay YOu! have you tried any 5ks since you have added the speed work? just curious

  12. I was honestly totally fascinated by this. We approach running so very differently..I am one of those FAST/Slow runners, but am just starting to see the value of MP in training. It has felt so ambiguous to me before... Had a smile at your disclaimer in the speed work department :)
    Thanks for sharing this Gracie!

  13. Interesting reflections indeed. I disagree with your over-emphasis on mileage alone as a nearly sole-contributor for improvement; especially speed-improvement. Although you do point out - quite correctly so - that the rate of improvement decreases with time, this alone does not point out that mileage is better than speed-work for speed. Actually, mileage is good for mileage, and speed-work -for, eh, speed work!

    Anyway, I'm hooked :)