Breaking 5:00, Part II

One of the most consistently eye-opening experiences a runner can experience is the difference a handful of seconds per mile can make to your comfort level during workouts. At the beginning of my third week training with Formula’s new coach, Pat Gomez, we met on the track and he got me oriented for two rounds of 6 x 200 meter laps hard/200 meters easy. This was the first workout in the cycle dedicated to riding and then going past the line separating interval pace from repetition pace, with (I suspect) the long-term goal being to provide me with a kinesthetic memory of the effort necessary to maintain a 5-minute pace for an appreciable amount of time.

Pat’s instructions called for me to hit 40 seconds per 200 during the hard intervals in the first set, take four minutes rest, then resume and aim for 38-40 seconds on the hard intervals. The first set I was dead on the pace, knocking out between 39-41 seconds per lap on every hard 200. After the break I came back and hit 36 seconds and change on the first interval. Blazing. A little too blazing. That extra two seconds per 200 had me breathing much heavier and feeling “that feeling” in my obliques.

I was able to recover and dial it back in to the 37-39 second range for the subsequent intervals and made sure to focus on my form, check that I was bringing my heels up far enough (which I was able to do visually thanks to having the sun at my back on the portion of the track where I was running hard) and counting out three steps per second to make sure that I wasn’t sacrificing frequency for knee drive.

The workout confirmed a lot of Pat’s suspicions regarding my current fitness level and what we need to do moving forward. It also contained (in the form of that too-fast interval on the second round) my signature move.

Proper Pacing. Not My Strong Suit.

Pat and I sat down together before launching into our training to talk about the big picture; where my fitness was at the moment, what my goals for the upcoming year were, and what races I had on the calendar. I walked him through my various goals for the anniversary of quitting smoking (<5:00 in a mile, <18:00 in a 5K, and <80:00 in a half marathon). I also shared with him my recent history of forever going out either too fast or too slow in races.

Going over the training plan, very studiously.

Going over the training plan, very studiously.

Exhibit A; at Josephine’s Village 5K in August I studied the course (rolling hills over the first two miles with a gradual downhill finish) and “had a plan”, the plan being to ease into the race and turn it on toward the end. I got the taking it easy part nailed; my first two miles were slower than my pace for the last half marathon I ran. I had to kick it into a full on sprint to beat the little kid that was coming up on my shoulder with 400 meters to go (I put a pretty big gap on him).

Exhibit B; at the Community Bridges 5K I went the opposite direction and went hard from the jump. I held on to my target pace for the first mile. Then the elevation kicked back on me, and I positive split the second two miles like it was my job.  It was still a PB, but I left some meat on the bone by being overly aggressive (the little kid that I outkicked at the previous race was able to leave me safely behind in the third mile).

Formula Coaches. Never Not There.

I’m lucky enough to live and work in the same town as Pat, and sometimes even get to do workouts at the same time as he does. Our first track workout together he had me doing “rolling 800s” (2 laps around the track at tempo pace, with a short 200 meter recovery). He directed me into lane 1, then rotated over to lane 7 and commenced his own workout, instructing me to call out splits to him whenever I finished one of the 800 meter intervals (he gave me thumbs-ups when I was on target and made the ‘slow down’ motion if I was going too fast). At the same time, even if he weren’t with me on the track that day, Pat’s set up a robust digital communication system so that he can track my workout data from afar.

Pat and I share training notes via a shared Google Doc that outlines workouts by day of the week. He’s included a column with notes on how to approach that day’s workout, columns for splits and mileage, a column for notes by me about how the workout went, AND a column for a reply by to my notes on the workout.

This setup has already headed off a potential problem at the pass. Last week I was experiencing some discomfort on the top of my right foot while running. I made a note about it in the training doc, and Pat suggested loosening up the laces on my shoes. I’ve always cinched up my laces especially tight to prevent them from coming undone on runs, but it turns out I may have been overdoing it on that score, because I loosened up the laces on the tongue of the shoe and dang if the pain didn’t pretty much disappear. My first workout after trying this was a Focus class where my instructions were to ‘get after it’, and I was able to do so without my foot bothering me at all.

Pat’s put a boatload of thought and effort into writing my training program, and working with him these last couple of weeks has reinvigorated my mindset and enthusiasm when I lace up to workout. He’s also provided a level of support beyond workout programming and advice; he regularly calls me after quality workout days, (especially when I’m doing outdoor workouts where I don’t have the support of the coaches in the studio) to ask how everything went and debrief on what we learned from that days session. Working with Pat I’ve learned new things, relearned some things I’d forgotten, and generally feel myself becoming a stronger, smarter runner.

The author, being natural.

The author, being natural.