James and I kicked off our “running relationship” the way I like to start every first official meeting with a client… over a cup of coffee. We sat down and went over all the things I find to be important when helping someone with their training. There are the obvious questions like what are your goals, what are your PR’s, what has your mileage looked like in the past… those are the numbers questions. However, running is about a lot more than just numbers. Running is an activity that doesn’t always add up. You can’t simply plug in splits from a workout and predict the outcome of a race in two weeks. Sure, you can get a general idea of what someone is capable of based on observable data. But we are humans, not robots. There is an intangible element to this sport that can’t be written on paper or collected from a Garmin watch. It can only be felt.
Distance running requires an understanding of your body, your emotions, and your tendencies. That is why I ask the other questions… why is it that you want to get better at running, tell me about your injury history, what do you feel like you do well, what do you not do so well, what requires time in your life outside of running? It’s important to understand someone as a person before you start trying to write training or coach them. And from my first meeting with James, I knew one thing for sure… James is a pusher. James pushes in races, James pushes in workouts. One can easily observe this in his chronic habit of letting the first mile of a 5K be his fastest of the race. My first goal in working with James is not to get him capable of hitting some arbitrary split in a workout, but rather to help him understand how to “feel” his efforts and gauge himself more effectively. That goal will be the driving force behind everything we do for the next several months. It will be reflected in the type of workouts we do, and it will be harped on during our weekly conversations in person, on the phone, or via text.
For James’ first quality session or “workout”, I decided to have him hit the track for some rolling 800’s. It’s a rather straightforward session that simply entails a handful of 800m repeats (seven in this case) with a short, 200m jog rest. The goal is to keep the effort relatively moderate, around “tempo pace” or something that you could race hard at for about an hour when you’re fit and rested. Typically, I have individuals avoid that track while I get to understand their current fitness level and instead opt for fartleks where the intervals are based on time instead of distance. However, I wanted to see how well James could execute this particular session for several reasons:
I wanted to see if he could stay cool for the first few intervals and not go out too hard. The speed is not super-fast and the duration is not very long. As a result, the first few intervals will feel relatively easy during a session like this. It requires self-control.
The track allowed James to practice repeatedly settling into a specific rhythm. We know what his tempo pace should generally be based on recent race times. I wanted him to practice understanding what that pace/effort feels like by running it repeatedly in short durations.
The short rest in this workout allows us to make some mistakes. If James executes the appropriate effort, the short rest will be adequate enough for him to get his breathing back under control during the brief 200m jog. If he runs too hard early on (in classic James fashion), he will suffer, but it won’t ruin the entire session and result in some epic blow up.
We went over all this in detail before James ever jumped on the track. We also managed to sync up our runs so that I was able to watch the entire session while doing a fartlek myself in the outside lanes. James actually did a really nice job executing this first workout. We chalked it up to a solid day and prepared to move onto the next one!
When I construct a training plan, things are personalized and I really try to help people take a holistic approach to running and understand that there are many pieces to the puzzle. For me, it’s all about helping people put the puzzle together and encouraging them to have fun with the process of getting better. If you do that, usually fast times follow. James will be no exception.