Winter Running Update: A Focus on Foot Speed

Finishing a run at Houghton’s Pond in Canton, Ma.

It took me a long time to realize it, but the thing that truly drives me — that gets me out of bed every day with genuine passion and fervent excitement — is competition. The strategy, the test of character, the never-ending process of trial and error — competition heightens all of these challenges and rewards those who revel in their most painstaking details. I love everything about competition, and I’m not truly happy unless I’m competing in some capacity.

Running just so happens to be the most competition-dense sport in the United States. In no other sport will you find hundreds of adults lining up every Saturday and Sunday in every city across the country looking to compete. There is always a higher level to reach as a runner, always a new threshold to cross. My plan is to climb the running ladder until my body forces me to fall off. The only lines I won’t cross are drug use and training at a rate that significantly compromises my long-term health.

December and January Training Recap

For someone who focuses so much on running fast, I was born pretty slow. I’ll never forget an around-the-bases time trial I ran at a little league tryout, where I finished more than a second behind every other kid in my town. On the flip side, I have strong natural stamina, which is far more important as a distance runner. Still, in order to take my times to the next level, I need to not be that slow, pudgy kid awkwardly stumbling around the little league diamond.

On December 12th, I went to the King Phillip track in Wrentham to run my first speed workout since late October. I knew I was in for a rough day. Not only had I lost fitness in recovering from the marathon, but I also had a classic case of “marathon legs”, which had recruited more slow-twitch muscle fibers than ever before. I fought to a 5:02 first mile, then managed a few quarters and 300-meter accelerations, all of which made my legs scream. Though painful, the workout served as a great first step to training at faster paces.

Over the next few weeks, I did more speed work — including a Wim Hof breathing-fueled fartlek in Rhode Island — and even began throwing in some 40-yard dashes to improve the neural firing patterns to my legs. Some of these sprints were done on downhill slants, allowing me to reach even faster leg turnover.

I raced for the first time since the marathon on January 1st, taking first in a bizarre 5k in Norfolk. The course was incredibly hilly, with a 50-foot drop in the first 400 meters followed by roughly 180 feet of climbing in the next 2k. The course then dropped a massive 100 feet over the course of the next kilometer and finished with yet another massive dip and climb in the final half mile. Considering the hilliness of the course, my only goals were to win and break 17 minutes, and I reached both of those with a comfortable 16:51 finish.

The elevation profile of the New Year’s 5k.

Without any additional races to look forward to (the Massachusetts road racing circuit is very quiet in January and February), I decided to put in two weeks of hard training with the sole focus of improving for my next training block. My goals were to continue my foot speed development while getting back to my fall mileage levels. Mixing speed and volume is a very dangerous game, but I need to continue to take risks if I want to reach the lofty goals I’ve set for myself in this sport.

I ran some very encouraging workouts over those two weeks. On January 6th, I took advantage of the New England weather and ran some speed intervals in the snow. Having to pick my legs up higher to maintain a fast pace was challenging, but it’s that type of variety that my body seems to really respond well to. I despise the snow, but to get this type of stimulus again, I plan on doing some sand-dune running in Cape Cod this spring with my buddy Dave, who is a boxer and absolute freak of an athlete.

On January 8th, I finished a 15k treadmill run with three progressively fast miles (5:36, 5:33, and 5:18). The progression wasn’t too difficult, and I’m feeling good about my chances of running a sub 1:12 half marathon this spring.

And I did my first real long run of 2017 on January 11th, running 14 hilly miles over Norfolk back roads in 86 minutes. This workout was incredibly encouraging, as I never left my aerobic heart rate zone, despite running a faster pace than my marathon effort a few months earlier. My foot speed training seems to have a direct effect on my aerobic threshold, so I’ll continue to put in six-week speed blocks every winter for the next few years.

As expected, the two weeks of speed and volume gave my legs a good beating. To recover, I’ve been resting more than usual and doing a lot of easy-paced running to flush out all of the junk that’s built up since December 12th.

My next training block starts February 6th.  I’ll be upping my mileage again past my fall marathon volume, hopefully knocking out a few 75-mile weeks. The training will serve as a nice base for my half-marathon specific runs, which I’ll begin introducing in March.




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