No matter how successful you are, change is always good. There can never be a status quo. - Billy Beane
We are runners. Clarifying that fact and avoiding labels, in my opinion, opens more doors for success. We aren't a marathon runner. A 5k runner. A miler. An ultra runner. We run races, and we train to run races to our best ability, whether that race is five minutes long or five hours. To be a runner requires a range of skills, and the courage to address weaknesses and make those weaknesses better. It's scary to work on weaknesses because it might mean failing, being out of our comfort zone, or struggling in a way we might deem foreign, but it will help you improve and become a better runner.
The most often over-looked piece of the running puzzle, at least based on my anecdotal experiences from Impala to Impala, is maximizing basic speed and optimizing our finishing kick. All the aforementioned races benefit from some kick, and training for one should never be neglected.
"But Pete, at the end of a race I always get out-kicked. Doesn't that mean I have no speed?" No, person I made up for this article, it doesn't. Perhaps you have no kick because you've never worked on one, but there is always room to improve and maximize our own personal ability.
Why might a kick be important?
There are a few ways to see a value in the kick, but for clarity, there is zero value to kicking hard if you can't get through the majority of the race at a strong pace (in other words, kicks don't matter if you don't have race fitness), but if your aerobic strength is dialed in, you've done a healthy dose of LT runs, long runs, and all things Impala Tuesday, you can get to the closing meters of a race and maximize your race with a nasty Nancy Thomas like kick. That is assuming that in addition to your overall fitness as listed above, you've also trained yourself to kick. A strong kick can swing your overall place by several spots, but it can also swing team scores. The NCAA Division I Women's Cross Country Championships, for example, was determined by one point this year. The fifth runner for Oregon out-kicked the fifth runner for Michigan, swinging the score two points in Oregon's favor. (Maybe if you had worked a little harder, I wouldn't have to do this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0E7EaRLmSI&feature=youtu.be&t=163 )
It can also make a big difference in race time. Let's say you have a goal of running 6 minute pace for a 5k on the track - 18:45. You run 11 and half laps at 90, but if you can kick, say, a 38 for your last 200, you've likely moved up places, but you've also run 18:38 instead. That's a dramatic shift in finish time.
Okay, I'll buy in. How do I Improve my Kick?
Your kick can improve, and here are some ideas to integrate into your training to maximize ability.
First, there are things we already do, now and again, at Tuesday practice, and we will continue to do these things. Have confidence that these are helping you kick, but also see how you can integrate the hill sprints and strides into your week on non-workout days.
1. Michigan Miles. Those final reps, especially the 400, are intended to run at a high end speed while suffering from a substantial amount of workout fatigue. While it's not exactly like a race (in races you can't rest before kicking), there is some simulation. It's an aid in improving your kick to learn how to run fast while fatigued.
2. Ethiopian Miles. Like a race, a kick is shifting down pace while already running fast. This is my favorite element of the Ethiopian mile. While you're running fast, switch gears and finish faster. That's one of the intentions of this workout.
3. Golden Gate Park hill sprints. A major advantage of these hill sprints (ideally about 15-25 second bursts) is that it reduces the risk of injury because you aren't going as all out as you can on the track, you're generally on a softer surface, and despite the lower speed you're mimicking a sprint because, according to Steve Magness, sprinting uphill results in an increase of muscle fiber recruitment. These are ideal in the early stages of a training cycle. As we get back into the swing of things over the next couple of weeks it would be worth working these back into your training regimen.
1st week: 2 sets of 3 x hill sprint
2nd week: 3 sets of 3 x hill sprint
3rd week: 2 sets of 4 x hill sprint
4th week: 2 sets of 5 x hill sprint
You can do these on your own during some other day of the week as part of an aerobic condition run. (translation: do these on your own!!!)
4. Strides. It's easy to mail these in, but they are a useful tool in developing basic speed. Do them often, and take them seriously. Do them before workouts (6 x 100 meters at a relaxed but fast pace). Do them after an easy run (4-6 x 100 meters (or 20-25 seconds) at a fast but relaxed pace). Here are some other more challenging options:
200 meter floaters: Spend the first 100 meters building up speed, starting closer to 5k pace and work down to mile race pace. As you approach 100 meters to go, nearing that mile race pace, accelerate down to 400 race pace (you know, like the gear you find when you have to run down a Muni that's about to drive away from the curb) and hold for about 50 meters. Wind down with about 50 meters to go and float over the line close to the pace you started.
200 meter accelerations: Similar to the floaters, start at a fast but relaxed pace, though closer to 1500 pace. At 100 meters to go, accelerate down and run faster through the last 100 meters. The intention of this is to both train yourself running fast, but to also practice that gear shift you'll need to make in a race.
To be a complete runner you need to be able to switch gears and kick at a race. It will only help. Don't neglect this part of training because it's out of your comfort zone, or it's not an element of training you enjoy as much. Make the effort to get out of your comfort zone and improve your basic speed, improve your kick. I'll allow the Fife Dog (RIP) to draw a conclusion from this post: "Can I kick it? Yes you can." Though like most things, it won't be easy. You'll have to work for it. If you like running (I'm guessing you do), then it's certain you won't have a problem with that.
The topic of threshold has, perhaps, been discussed ad nauseam at this point, so let's move on to another workout of choice: In/Out 400's and In/Out 800's. Warning: While seemingly entirely different from LT training, the In/Out workout is actually another way to target and improve lactate threshold, and a particularly more effective way to do so especially for race distances half marathon and shorter, so really I just tricked you into reading even more about lactate threshold.
For most of us we think of the tempo run or the LT run as the definitive workout to do to improve our lactate threshold, though there's more than one way to skin a cat (more vegan friendly and less gruesomely stated, more than one road can lead to Rome). So the intention of these in/out workouts is to improve our lactate threshold, though it's a different approach than a continuous run. There are a number of reasons why it's actually a more preferred method of improving threshold (in my opinion). Here are a few reasons:
1. While stressing the cardiovascular system in the same way a continuous effort LT run can, the in/out workout also allows us to get some work at race pace, which is beneficial from a neuromuscular standpoint. Practice at the pace we race while still improving LT. The overall in/out workouts average LT pace, but unlike an LT run, you learn race pace. This is an important skill. To race your best you need to know pace.
2. In/out workouts teach and reward discipline with pace. Discipline is almost everything in running. If you don't execute the in/out paces appropriately, the workout will likely blow up. This is not unlike a race. Getting the in right is as important as the out. The entire workout requires discipline to know your body, to know pace, and to show the ability to display discipline for multiple 400's. This is a skill that carries over into racing and every other aspect of training.
3. The in/outs teach you how to switch gears and adjust speeds on the fly (while not the exact same way, many races, especially championship track races, are run in this way). A foot race is a competition woman vs. woman, and while knowing pace is important, racing and beating the field is almost always the objective (especially in cross country).
4. In/outs teach you how to recover with running. Most of us associate intervals with a set number of reps with specific walking/jogging rest, but the in/outs train us to actively recover while running, rather than standing around. You can't stop and rest during a race, so we like that aspect of this workout for that reason.
5. Most importantly, and rather than writing my own specific thoughts, here's straight from the mouth of a highly respected coach and exercise physiologist, Steve Magness (as also said by world class coach, Renato Canova) -
"We tend to attack this (threshold) problem by continually doing threshold or tempo runs to slowly improve our ability to get rid of the lactate. The first drawback with this method is that it does little to teach the body to clear lactate at faster race paces. The second issue is that, when doing tempo runs, lactate clearance is relatively constant so the body is never stressed to the degree that it needs to be to figure out a faster way to get it out of there.
To get around these shortcomings, two workouts can be used. Both work on the principle that instead of keeping lactate steady, it should undulate (editors note: like in/outs!), meaning that a segment of faster running to increase lactate production should be followed by a slower segment that allows for clearance of the previously produced lactate to take place....Alternations consist of a continuous run where segments of slightly faster running are alternated with periods of slightly slower running. For half marathon and shorter races, the goal is to have one segment at race pace and one slightly slower than a traditional tempo pace."
This is why we do the in/outs. Personally I'd like to think we are ahead of the curve in this regard. The continuous tempo run has value, but especially for the half marathon and under, we need to train our bodies to more quickly process and clear lactate from the blood, and science shows us that in/outs are the best way to do that.
In conclusion, in and outs. They are neat.
- Pete Cushman
LT. Lactate Threshold. Tempo. Whatever you choose to call it, it's the type of workout that shows up most often in the early weeks of these six month training cycles, and doing them correctly can be as challenging as saying nice things about Maggie. While it is difficult for competitive athletes to do these properly, it doesn't mean it's an insurmountable task (Maggie, sometimes you tell me to go home and let you finish your workout in peace. That's always what I prefer to do, but I can't leave unless you say I'm free to go. Thanks for that. (See. A nice thing to say. Not insurmountable)).
Okay, back on track. The tendency for a competitive athlete is to find limits, or, rather, push them. A workout, in the mind of an athlete, should take the body to the brink. It should create excess fatigue, it should be exhausting, it should be as hard or nearly as hard as a race or it was a failure. It's the only way to get better. Beat yourself up. Rest. Repeat. LT runs, when run at pace, don't seem to leave the competitive athlete feeling anything other than exhilarated, certainly not exhausted, and it's the tendency of the athlete is to think 'if this pace is good, a little faster pace is better.' While this seems intuitive and accurate, to achieve the true purpose of the lactate threshold run, it's false.
Runners love to run themselves to death during lactate threshold runs, but by doing so you don't fully achieve the purpose and intention of the workout. Don't kill yourself. Run comfortably hard. Run at your threshold.
What is lactate threshold exactly, and why are the LT workouts that litter the training cycle so important to our training? That's an excellent question person I made up for the sake of this article. Gather 'round and I shall tell you....
As your work rate increases, work rate meaning an increase in pace or a climb that puts greater stress on your cardiovascular system, your blood lactate concentration will ever so gradually increase. So long as the pace is mellow enough, the concentration will stay at a manageable, low, and steady level (this is the desirable result of every aerobic recovery run or steady state). There's a point (let's call it, ohhh, I don't know, a threshold) where this lactate blood concentration spikes. Associate this spike with the onslaught of pain and fatigue you'll feel in a race or an interval at paces faster than LT pace. Training right at that or just below that threshold has an element of discomfort (comfortably hard), but you know there's another gear if you needed to use it, and you could run this pace for an hour without falling off.
Lactate Threshold in graph form
Training at your LT pace allows you to adapt, and ultimately become more efficient, thereby allowing greater workloads before reaching this threshold. If your LT pace is 6:30, and you do, let's say, 4-6 up/down miles at this pace or effort, and follow that up the next week with 3 miles at LT and so on, you'll see that your trained LT begins to improve. The workload can increase while the effort level remains the same. In time, 6:20 pace feels like what 6:30 pace used to feel like, and this improved efficiency translates to all other paces. Essentially you've improved your ability to more efficiently intake oxygen, deliver that oxygen to your working muscles, and run at faster paces before the spike in lactate blood concentration. Now your workload must go higher to accomplish a pace that's relative to 10k effort, which is beyond that threshold. As you maximize your threshold during a given cycle, you improve your ability to get more out of paces and races that go beyond LT. Think of your LT as the foundation of your house, which you must put down before you start building the structure (The 19 years of Catholic education wants me to tell you that you can't build a house without a sturdy foundation - don't build your house on sand!). When doing an LT workout, if your workload goes beyond the threshold, even though you're running faster, you're not improving your threshold, which is the intention of the workout.
In conclusion, sometimes less is more. The lactate threshold run is an important building block to race fitness, but it's important to do them properly. Save your race efforts for races, and remind yourself prior to each workout the purpose and goal you're working to achieve.
by Ruth Rainero
In the summer of 2014, Angela Broad and I, both serving as Impala Board members, began developing an initiative for the team to give back to the community at large. Our sentiment was that, although the team has donated to various worthy causes over the years, we've never piloted and completed a project that would share our many resources with the community.
We rolled out the program in September, 2015, holding 10-week sessions in the fall and spring. (see Winter 2016 newsletter for fall semester recap) We had much less attrition spring semester, were better organized ourselves, and were all very sorry to say goodbye to these junior runners whom we'd become so fond of. Workouts were held on Wednesday afternoons, usually on the asphalt play yard, but occasionally we'd take the girls to nearby Pelaga Park. Each session included warm-up drills, tag games, a 10-minute run or relays, cool down, and stretching.
Both semesters culminated in a 5k race in Golden Gate Park organized by GOTR (Girls On The Run). We were proud of the eleven girls who, together with five of their teachers and a herd of Impalas, ran the May GOTR.
Although Angela and I spearheaded the program, we couldn't have done it without the support of so many of our fabulous teammates. Many Impalas volunteered for the Wednesday afternoon workouts, even if they could only show up once or twice, and a core group signed up for numerous sessions in the spring semester.
I'd like to give a shout-out here to Impalas who went above and beyond in making the program successful.
Looking ahead to the longevity of the program, we have made strides helping secure MLK school as one of the sites for GOTR. The GOTR program has their own curriculum; workouts take place 2x/week for 75 minutes over 10 weeks, with 3 coaches per workout. Although GOTR generally requires coaches to commit to both workouts every week, we've been given permission for each volunteer to sign up for 1 workout per week. We are cautiously optimistic that this will ensure the MLK program will not only continue, but thrive. We hope that Impalas will continue to support the program, too. We look forward to forming an alliance with GOTR, a step that will hopefully open up more avenues (outside of MLK) for Impalas to serve as roll-models, mentors, spokespersons, etc. to young girls. An all-women's running team + a young girls running development program = a win-win for all.
Having a hand in both the collegiate racing world and the life of a PA athlete, there's one specific element of racing as part of a team with a number of different focuses that is very challenging, and ultimately counterproductive to successful running if you're not careful and deliberate with your plans.
A college athlete has it relatively easy. Their coach makes a schedule in the fall and one in the spring, they do the races that are asked of them, and all have some clear and concise goal for each of those two seasons. Everyone else on their team has essentially the same goals, and they all, more or less, do the same races. They even drive or fly to each race in the same car or plane, and do most every run, workout, or weight room session together as one unit. The plan is mapped out for them, and they share that exact plan with 20-30 other women. Easy.
The life of a PA runner, however, isn't so clear, and the seemingly limitless options and opportunities can make it challenging to focus. The PA circuit is packed with races from cross country, to ultras, to short road and long. There are marathons, there are road miles, track races, 10k's, 5 milers, and relays. On and on the schedule goes, and that's just the PA portion, never mind the Olympic Trials, Boston Marathon, Tufts, Master's Track and Field Championships, Bloomsday, Chicago Marathon etcetera etcetera. For the typical PA athlete (psssst, he's talking about you!), the life of racing is not unlike a kid in a candy store with a $10,000 credit. If you're not careful you've eaten the entire store and all you have to show for it is type II diabetes. Have a goal. Eat the good chocolates and avoid those mystery Valentine Day chocolates filled with toothpaste that just put a bad flavor in your mouth and somehow make the combo of peanut butter and chocolate, which alone is probably the greatest combination of flavors ever, taste mediocre. Don't be silly. You don't need any candy that tastes like chalk. What's the purpose of eating those? The point is, I have a sweet tooth problem.
Lots of things work. The question is, what's the most practical and efficient way to train for a certain task? - Again to Carthage
Our training, as you've likely noticed, is set up into two six month training cycles. The intention of these cycles is to allow us to periodize our training, meaning we have an opportunity to create building blocks that lead to some season ending goals. The best time to pick your goals is at the start of each training cycle, allowing your racing schedule and training regimen to be dictated by that goal, giving the season and each training session a specific purpose. Running aimlessly without a goal makes it more difficult to focus on the tasks at hand, it makes it more difficult to be deliberate with your training, it makes it more difficult to race with purpose. The six month cycle should serve as a road map for your goals, and each race or practice functions as one of those building blocks to some greater end goal.
If your goal, for example, is to race fast at CIM, might it be useful to schedule a half marathon 4-8 weeks prior? Probably. Might it be useful to run all 10 cross country PA races? Probably not. Allow your goals to dictate the entire season of racing in a way that aids you in being your best during your goal races. While all running is seemingly the same, a 50k in the Headlands is probably not a constructive building block if your goal is to race fast in the Freedom Fest 5k and San Rafael Mile. Racing a half marathon one week before the NYC Marathon will probably hinder your performance. Racing every single weekend will probably create some staleness, which makes it difficult to run your best when it matters most. Map out a plan in advance so you can avoid mistakes like these. Talk to Tony if you want great racing advice or me if you want to talk about how good mint chocolate ice cream goes with Belgian chocolate (or racing goals too...I can be of service there too).
So, for most all of us, we are at the start of a new training cycle. New beginnings, and a new opportunity to dream of big things as an athlete. There are new goals out there, new opportunities. Take the time to examine the full schedule of races, and consult with coaches, teammates, friends about mapping out a racing plan that can be fun, challenging, productive individually and for the team, and ideally something a little new and fresh. Think ahead, plan, and allow yourself to be deliberate with your training. In conclusion, goals. They're neat.
- Pete Cushman