Speedwork has always been a mystery to me. When I started running a few years ago, I checked a few books out of the library to learn more about proper mechanics, nutrition, whatever about my new passion. The section on Speed Work was filled with strange terms that I only vaguely understood. Fartleks, yassos, strides, tempo runs. So, I ignored the chapter. I figured, mostly, I just want to get out there and run, I'm not going to be fast, I'm not trying to win any races.
When I was running my first half marathon, I used Runner's World's "SmartCoach" to create a training plan. I entered my race day, how many miles I currently ran, and my one 5K time from six months before, and SmartCoach spit out a calender for me. Each day an activity was listed: run so many miles on Tuesday and Thursdays, crosstrain on Wednesdays, rest on Mondays. Made sense, more or less. But beneath the "Run 5 miles" there would be strange numbers listed. Pace 11:52 I would be directed. 4X400 repeats would be listed. Tempo run. I didn't know what it meant - I mean, I read the definitions, but I didn't know what running a tempo run - or yasso or fartlek - felt like.
Three years later, I'm still not trying to win any races, or even get too much speedier. But, I've finally stumbled across what a tempo run feels like and how to fit one in periodically.
A tempo run feels uncomfortably fast - running faster than I'm used to, but not an all out sprint. And a tempo run is a pace I should be able to maintain for a mile or two before I'm sucking wind so badly I need to stop the pace and bring it down to my turtle trot.
I discovered this by pure accident. One afternoon, I knew I should run, but I was feeling a bit scraped thin. Claire was demanding a huge amount of attention I didn't have and a level of patience that was completely lacking. Mercifully, the time came when I was to bring her to the Enrichment Class at a local preschool, giving me a blessed hour to myself. This is normally the hour I run, and I usually run 3-4 miles during this time. Well, I had a case of the dontwannas. So I sat in the sun and read my Runner's World magazine for about 20 minutes. I then proceeded on my run, but when I looked at my watch, I thought, holy crap there is no way I'm going to run these 2 miles and get back in time.
So, I pushed it, fast. I ran 2 miles in 19:11, which is like lightening fast for me. Or, as I later discovered, my tempo run pace.
Speedwork is an idea that I continue to flirt with. I don't do tempo runs all that often, or intervals, or fartleks, though once or twice a month I do think about doing something like that. I wonder if just thinking about trying to be faster will make me faster...probably not. So, I'll just keep trottin' on!