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August 31, 2006

The Power of Two

Before today’s post, a couple of thoughts came to me while I was stretching in the gym and watching music videos after this morning’s track workout:

1) Apparently Justin Timberlake claims that he’s bringing sexy back. Which struck me as odd, since I didn’t realize sexy ever went out. I don’t recall anyone ever complaining, “You know, people just don’t respond to sexy things like they used to.” Then…

2) As if reading my mind, the very next video was Beyonce’s “Ring the Alarm.” And, um … wow. That girl just keeps bringing it.

Watching Beyonce and thinking of Justin, I wanted to paraphrase LL Cool J’s famous line: Don’t call it a comeback – sexy’s been here for years. Her name is Beyonce.

OK, that’s out of my system. Thanks for your patience. On with the post…

I’ve written before (like here and here) about my love-hate relationship with doing tempo runs.

When I’m targeting a specific race, there’s no better way to build my fitness than to spend 20-25 minutes dancing on the periphery of my lactic acid threshold. Done consistently, this run gradually increases my body’s tolerance to running at higher speeds, which in turn makes my race pace over a half-marathon or marathon feel easier by comparison.

It all makes perfect physiological sense. Unfortunately, it also hurts like mad.

My routine tempo run is a gently rolling 4-mile route through the one-road village of Carmel Valley. In all the years I’ve lived here, I had always done the run by myself. It wasn’t for lack of trying to find partners – but let’s just say it’s not easy to recruit someone to a workout that makes you feel like throwing up if you’re inadequately prepared. People are surprisingly sensible sometimes.

Then two weeks ago, I had myself a taker.

One of the newer guys in our running group is a formerly blazing-fast 10K runner who is working his way back into shape for a possible marathon attempt next spring. We also happen to live in the same neighborhood – so it’s convenient for us to get together in the early mornings.

At least, that’s what I told him. I didn’t mention the possible throwing up part.

10 days ago, as we did our warmup jog to the start line, he asked how fast I typically do this workout. I replied – truthfully – that it usually takes me around 26 minutes, give or take 30 seconds either way. An average of 6:30 miles, with the first few miles faster and the last (mostly uphill) mile slower.

We took off from the line, running stride for stride at a pace that seemed slightly harder than usual, but not unbearable. As we hit the one-mile mark, I looked at my watch, saw the 5:46 split, and said “Whoa – we’re way too fast.”

I eased off the pace and settled into a comfortable rhythm (at least, as comfortable as you can get on a tempo run) before struggling through the final mile. I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch to read 25:13.

Wait … what?

It was my best time of the year – including when I was peaking for the Big Sur Marathon last spring. There’s no way I should be running PR times lately, given how I’ve been dragging myself through two workouts per day for the past several weeks.

Thinking of it later that day, it seemed like a fluke thing that this great workout just popped out of me one day. Obviously I was happy with the time, although I didn’t think I’d be able to duplicate the effort. But in the meantime, I could think of myself as a faster runner – which is always nice.

So I was a bit reluctant to meet up with him this past Monday to do the same workout again. If my time was slower, that would confirm my fluke theory, and my suspicion that I wasn’t as fast as it appeared last week.

I also knew that we ran the first mile way too fast last week. This Monday, we purposely took the first mile a little slower – and still hit the split in 5:57.

For the rest of the run I felt fairly strong, and maintained a steady effort all the way to the finish. My final time was 25:15 – only two seconds slower than last week, at an effort that felt much more controlled. How about that.

While my training has certainly played a role in the faster times, the more obvious factor was that I had someone accompany me on these runs. Of course I already knew that training with somebody else makes you go faster, but these workouts illustrated just how dramatic the difference can be.

Here’s the strange part: the new guy wasn’t pushing me on these runs. Each week, he hung beside me for about 10 minutes before falling back to a slower pace. So it’s not like I was drafting him or straining to keep pace with him (although given his credentials, it won’t be long before he catches up).

Yet merely knowing he was on the same road at the same time, and doing the same workout, was enough to make me raise my game. It speaks to the power of having good running partners, and having some accountability for doing quality workouts.

It doesn't make me enjoy these tempo runs any better, though. Thank goodness I'm tapering next week.


Annette 8/31/06, 11:20 AM  

Nice work on your tempo runs. Makes me wish I had someone around my pace to help push me!

By the way, I enjoyed your commentary on "bringing sexy back." Love the song, but I did recently comment to my husband that I didn't know sexy had left. :)

Deene 8/31/06, 12:00 PM  

i thought of your vh1 posts this morning while channel surfing, saw fergie and quickly moved on.
good for you and the new guy!

Anne 8/31/06, 12:41 PM  

I'm not surprised you aced both runs. I firmly believe tempo runs are best "enjoyed" in the company of other runners.

olga 8/31/06, 1:08 PM  

I hate tempos even more than speedwork...and I can't even do it properly without someone setting a pace for me. So I call it tempo anytime I run for over 30 min close to out of breath:)
And for last paragraph - thank God it's taper next week!

Richard A 8/31/06, 3:38 PM  

Glad I could help. After two sessions I'm not sure I'm going to ever be side-by-side on that last uphill mile, but I'll keep trying.

One of the best memories from racing was from a five-miler in Jacksonville FL. Five runners came together after a shake-out mile, and we ran stride-for-stride for the next four miles, all tightly packed like a peleton. All alternating sharing the lead, and barely hanging on. Even though we were competing, it was with regret that two dropped away before the final furious stretch.
What could we accomplish as a community, a nation, a world if we could cooperatively compete and share/gain energy and motivation from each other!

robtherunner 8/31/06, 5:16 PM  

Man I hope to get back to doing workouts like that Donald. I need to find some faster training partners though, sorry Michelle.(I should note that I run with Michelle for our conversations and not as training) And Yes, I don't think sexy ever left either.

Sue 8/31/06, 11:57 PM  

Hey, what you trying to do to us girls - Beyonce? That is a body to dream for! It is for that I get out there and run - can't see the benefits yet, lol,... probably left it a few years too late!

Well done on your tempo runs - they sound like hard work but very satisfying.

backofpack 9/1/06, 7:46 AM  

Gee, Donald, now you've got Rob thinking of speed and he's going to desert me...I mean, it's all fine and good for you to run fast way down there in California, but up here in cold Northern climes, we've got to move a little slower, maybe even relate to the infamous NW slugs...

olga 9/1/06, 9:33 AM  

BTW, I found your time for Firetrails - geez, now I see the meaning of your comment to Matt! Good Lord, speedy, you're kicking! Not that we didn't know it:)

Sarah 9/1/06, 11:50 AM  

Great job on the tempo runs! I'm a slacker when it comes to speed workouts. But I've found that training with a partner who is a bit better than me always leads to improvement.

Hey...if you'd like a gritty tasting gel, I have one left I can send ya.... ; )

Robb 9/1/06, 2:10 PM  

Very nice tempo runs buddy. Speedy stuff. I've run a little bit with a faster partner and it does cause you to dig deeper and push yourself beyond what you normally deem as 'safe' training ground. Excellent!

Darrell 9/1/06, 8:30 PM  

Very cool that you've got a willing partner to share the tempo joy with. It sure helps.

jeanne 9/2/06, 7:41 AM  

5:wha....???? Surely that's a typo! I can't even in my wildest dreams imagine running that fast. Excellente, mon ami.

teacherwoman 9/2/06, 7:13 PM  

Hahaha! The comment about Justin Timberlake made me laugh out loud! Mostly becuase I don't even find him sexy, and the thought of HIM bringing sexy back makes me laugh. But, I do like the song! Oddly enough!

Mike 9/4/06, 10:49 PM  

speedwork, tempo, track...not a big fan. Your post is inspiring though...i need to raise my game- Embrace the pain right!?

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