I dreaded the workout as I stepped onto the 400-meter black composite track with the yellow and white lines sectioning it off into seemingly manageable lengths.
It had been almost 10 years since I had attempted a track workout. If speed is relative, then in my case, it is a distant one. The years and an almost steady diet of trail running interspersed with the occasional 50- or l00-mile ultraraces combined to erode what speed I once had. This year's time of 4:14 in the Boston Marathon attests to that. It was one hour and 19 minutes off my marathon best. It gave me little solace that my best time had been run 18 years earlier.
Turning It Up a Notch
My running had clearly stagnated. Upset with my Boston performance, I decided it was time to either pick up the pace, so I returned to the track for some interval training. Regardless of age or genetic makeup, you cannot expect to run well in a race if you do not condition your body to run faster. While jogging is perfectly suitable to achieve aerobic conditioning, it takes anaerobic training to run faster. You have to be willing to push it.
Hitting the Track
Back at the track, I jogged an 8:30 mile…and then another as I gathered the resolve to endure what once would have been an easy workout: five quarter-miles interspersed with a slow recovery jog of a quarter mile. I finished the second warm-up mile and went over to the nearby bleachers for water and stretching.
Do not rush things, I told myself, and jogged another mile. Back at the start line, I returned my stopwatch to 00:00:00. Ten years ago a tough workout would have been 10 quarters, all run between 68 and 72 seconds. Not blazing speed, but respectable. Today, I would be happy with five quarters, all under 90 seconds.
Off I went. I checked my watch about half way: 37 seconds. And my form was still reasonably respectable. Not bad. I can do these from memory, I thought with unabashed bravado. But my legs began to get heavy as I made the final turn. Any semblance of proper form evaporated as I struggled over the final 25 yards. I fumbled with the stopwatch as I wobbled across the line.
Seconds later, I was sufficiently recovered to check my time: 1:23:32. After a half-mile recovery jog, I ran a second interval: 1:22:01! This was too easy. Not really, but my form actually improved over the final three intervals and I was able to limit my recovery to one lap. Five quarters all under 84 seconds. It was faster than I had expected. I completed the workout, which is always a nice feeling.
I have since increased the intervals to eight per session, with each averaging under 80 seconds. I probably will never approach 67-second quarters again, at least not without a lot of work, but my training runs are noticeably faster, easier, and more fun. And I'm looking forward to my next race.
A Change of Pace
Speed training, whether it be track intervals or simply picking up the pace between utility poles on a training run, can easily reinvigorate a tired running regimen. But, there are other ways to spice up your running.
Join a Club
The companionship and stimulation from club members is something to look forward to while slogging along uninspired on a solitary run. I enjoy running alone, but I still look forward to the camaraderie of the Saturday morning runs with club members. Most clubs have members with a wide range of talent and speed. You are sure to find someone looking to run your pace.
Run a Race
Racing can be fun, at any speed. Too much racing can leave you injured or continually tired, but an occasional race can bring a fresh perspective to the sport. Race schedules are full of 5K races, a distance that is doable and sufficiently challenging for most runners.
Change the Perspective
Do not allow your running routine to become boring. Even the most favorite run can become boring if run exclusively. Try runs of varying lengths and terrain. Mix in some hills or some trails. Keep it interesting.
While running is usually the best training for the runner, adding another sport or fitness activity to your workouts can provide welcome variety…and a welcome respite for tired legs. The new activity may even help tone muscles not targeted by running. Mountain biking or inline skating, for example, will use other leg muscles and still provide excellent aerobic conditioning. And they are fun.
Change the Scenery
Plan a running vacation in a scenic locale. A week running along scenic seacoast roads or in the view of majestic snow-capped mountains can energize both your spirit and your running. And the trip provides something to dream about before and after a tough workout.
Take a Break
Sometimes the best way to jump-start a tired running regimen is to stop altogether. A mindless string of consecutive daily workouts does not usually translate into better running. It can leave a runner tired and vulnerable to injury. A few days off the road or trail can sometimes be the perfect way to get back on track.