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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Negative Splits

There are a few things about my training that I should tell you in order to give today's post more meaning.

First, I have a second goal within my first goal, and that is to qualify for the Boston Marathon by the time I'm 30 and run it by the time I'm 31. It'll take care of Massachusetts, and it gives me a strong focal point for speed training. The time I need to qualify right now is 3 hours, 10 minutes. That's roughly 7 minutes and 15 seconds a mile. This pace, and anything faster, is what I refer to as Boston Pace.

Given that I've never actually trained for a marathon before, I do not expect to run this speed right away. It will probably wait until number 4 or 5, but I'm determined to do it. In the meantime, my goal for this upcoming marathon is 3 hours, 30 minutes, or roughly 8 minutes per mile. I call this Race Pace.

Now, my longer runs, of course, are more difficult to do at or better than race pace. On Sundays, I really just want to make sure I get the miles in. If I manage to do it within a certain amount of time, that's great, but really I'm just pushing for distance.

So, on Mondays and Thursdays, I push myself for speed, which means treadmill workouts. The general opinion on treadmills drastically changes from one person to the next. Some love them because, compared to road racing, they're fairly low-impact. Some hate them because they're really, really boring. Some people don't even consider them actual running.

I used to hate them, too. As a cross country runner in high school, the thought of running in one place for an extended period of time for any reason other than inclement weather just seemed like a waste of effort. Now, though, I find them useful for one thing - speed.

There are two reasons that I find it difficult to do speed workouts outside. First, I can mark on my maps where my mile markers are going to be, but only to a point, and in between mile markers, it's difficult to maintain a pace. Second, I live on top of a big damn hill, so any run I take ends with me running up that hill. Not only does it slow me down, but the knowledge that it's coming makes me feel like I need to conserve energy before I get there, slowing me down some more.

So, I use the treadmill to ensure that I am running at or above Boston Pace for my shorter runs. Today, I was scheduled for a 6 mile run, so I decided (midway through) to go 6.2 and make it a full 10K. My first 5K was 22:10, and I resolved at that point to go negative splits.

"Negative splits" occur when your later times are faster than your earlier times. It's counter-intuitive, because one would think that as time rolls on, the legs should get more tired, and the time slow down. However, I find that pushing myself harder later in my run increases stamina, strength, and confidence. If I can make myself go faster when I'm more tired, then I can do just about anything.

And this is where I love the treadmill. Every quarter mile past the halfway point, I thought to myself, "I can make it one more quarter mile at this speed, and then I'll slow down for a bit, but pick it back up at the end." I'd get to the next quarter and decide I could go one more. And one more. And the reason I could do this was because I didn't have to convince my legs to keep going and my lungs to keep breathing and my arms to keep swinging. I had to convince my finger not to change the speed on the treadmill.

That was it. If I didn't push the button, my legs had no choice but to continue their pace. I'd have to keep breathing and swinging my arms. I stared at the wall instead of the display, and I let Better Than Ezra push me through the pain. I even managed to speed myself up 0.3 mph on the last tenth of a mile. My time for my second 5K was 21:51.

Now, if I can only do that whole thing four times plus another mile and a half, I'll be ready for Boston.

Today's Run:
6.2 Miles
44 minutes, 1 second

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