Thursday, we finished up the second week of Trackside, our track & speed training at GHP (included in your small group PT membership). It was distance day and our crew was full of youth cross country folks.
The Thursday workout has been 1.5mi repeats at 5k goal pace + a nice bonus finish. As you can imagine after reading that sentence again, that was a hard workout. I often remind our athletes that running fast requires focus.
Sure, you can just go out and run fast and let the time be the time -c'est la vie. But if you want to train hard, you have to focus.
A hallmark for maturity as a runner is the self awareness to have an understanding of how fast you are going. It’s multifactored as mood, fatigue, weather, pressure, etc can be variables, but all in all, especially while you are running week to week, you should know what a given pace feels like - be it 6:30, 7:30, 9min, 12min/mile. The variables just affect the perceived effort to run at a pace.
Ask yourself. What does an 8min/mile feel like when I am fresh on a nice fall day? How about on mile 4 during a hilly summer 10k? What about during a windy day?
Much of this comes with experience running over the years, but it also requires you to be paying attention, something that we all know most humans struggle with - expectedly at 13 and to our (at least my) annoyance at 33.
While I’m not particularly fast, I do have a strong awareness of my own pace and can factor in various factors as well as predict how I’m likely going to feel in the coming miles.
Simply, it comes down to measuring my overall effort relative to RECENT past experience on these 3 things. While I’m running, I generally cycle my focus between these 3 things. Without the focus, I can slow down due to perceived fatigue, or speed up because I feel really fresh, which I pay for later in a workout or race:
Being mindful of my breathing is crucial. I count the time of my exhales and inhales against my step cadence. The cadence I want depends on the speed and distance of the run. In the case of Thursday’s 1.5mi repeats, I try to keep it to 3 left steps per inhale and 2-3 per exhale.
How controlled you breath out can have tremendous effects on your feeling of calm and energy use. Focus on getting full exhales. The more CO2 you can get off, the more Oxygen you can take in.
When you exhale fully, your body naturally takes a bigger inhale.
There’s much more nuance, as much can be said about breathing. Focus on your breathing and be intentional about how deep you breath and how fast you are breathing, at any given pace.
- Leg Cycling and Cadence
Pay attention to what your legs are doing:
- How high is your heel coming up with every step? A higher heel can be more powerful, but takes more energy so be sure it is appropriate for your pace.
- How quickly are your feet getting back on the ground?
- How much bounce do you have with your stride?
- How much effort is your current pace costing you?
These are things I check through while running. There is a sweet spot combination of these for your body for each pace to be as efficient as possible.
- Arm Swing
If you watched the USATF National Championship this weekend, you saw a stark difference in the 100m performance of Fred Kerley & the 800m performance of Athing Mu. For the entire 100m, Kerley’s arms have a big swing distance, to generate a lot of power in his legs, as the body is connected. He ran a blistering 9.76
Mu maintained a very low arm swing to conserve energy until she sprinted hard the last 100m. Her arm swing was low enough to look like a 5k type of run, though her 1st 400m was under 60sec.
Your arms and legs work together, as your arms set the speed and power of your legs. You should be checking in about:
- How fast are your arms swinging?
- How big of an arm swing do you have?
- Is this the rhythm I want to be at for this pace?
These are 3 things I aim to focus on while I’m running, especially during training runs and races.
Admittedly, once at the 10k or half marathon distance - or during an easy run, my #4 & 5 focus becomes admiring the scenery and the random spur of ideas that hit me. Those are the beautiful parts of running that make it enjoyable. I often do many of the creative things I need to after a run.
What do you like to focus on while running to keep your training hard?