Going Nowhere to Run Fast
by Sue Aquila
I am a bit of an oddity in our local running scene. We live in a spectacular area for running with the beautiful Indiana University Campus and a new City of Bloomington rails to trails route. With all these options available, one day a week you will find me running in circles. Lots of circles.
Sometimes it will be a local track (if I can find one open) but most often you will find me running around the IU football stadium. I will do this for anywhere from one to three hours. Why? Because I want to win.
I started 10 years ago as a runner and only a runner. Five years later, a friend suggested I take up triathlon to mix up my training a bit. Despite not knowing how to swim and having very little bike experience, I fell in love. I gradually transitioned from short course races to long course races. In the process I moved from back of the pack to the “pointy end.”
I found out that I love to race. I love the training but there is nothing quite like the exhilaration of going fast and passing other people. When I get to the run, I know this is my time to move to the front of the pack. Running in circles has been a big part of my “secret recipe” to go fast.
Bloomington is hilly. When I run I work hard uphill but I often “relax” and coast down hill. This allows my aerobic system to recover. Hills are a great part of my training but they also limit my training. Being able to run a flat short or long race requires practice.
When my coach (Gordo) suggested I insert one flat run a week, I was a bit skeptical. What possibly could this do for my running? So I tried it. It was eye opening during my first run. The work was constant (no downhill recovery) and my hip flexors ached from the repetitive movement. I found my body and brain missed the variability of running uphill.
The marathon I was running that year was the Indianapolis Monumental. One of the flattest marathons in the country. After my first experience running circles, I decided to do all of my long runs at the stadium.
I realized in a short period of time that this type of training was excellent for my body and my run economy. More importantly I realized that I was really training my brain. Running long is hard mentally and physically. The hardest part for most of us is the mental fatigue of running long and fast. I found by running in circles at the stadium that I was really strengthening my mind, my aerobic system and my brain for the focus needed to run fast.
One of the best parts of running in circles at the stadium is that you can set up your own aid station on the back of your car. Great practice for hot races. I had ice in a cooler, drinks etc.
How did my marathon go? I easily qualified for Boston as a result. I continued this program for Ironman Louisville last fall and ended up with the sixth fastest amateur women’s marathon.
Here is a great workout that I learned from professional triathlete and coach Marilyn McDonald to train for your next marathon. You will need the following:
Let’s assume your marathon time is three hours and forty-five minutes (3:45). Your per kilometer pace is five minutes and twenty seconds (5:20). You would run 800 meters (two laps of the track) in three minutes and forty-five seconds (3:45) and then you would run 200 meters in one minute and thirty five seconds for some recovery (5:20-3:45=1:35). You immediately start your next 800 repeat. The first time you attempt this workout start with 10 total repeats (make sure you warm up and complete a few strides). The next week bump it to 13, then 15, etc. If you miss your goal pace twice on the 800 segments, stop the workout and cool down.
This is a great workout to see if your pace is one you can maintain and if you are fit enough to race at that pace. Some triathletes will do this for a full track marathon.
If you feel like your running is going nowhere or you find that you lose focus due to fatigue at the end of the race, perhaps you should just start running in circles. You can go nowhere fast!
Sue Aquila is a USAT Level 1 coach who balances her ironman training with running a successful business that she built from the ground up. She blogs regularly at fewoman.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @fewoman.