Treadmill Speed Work: How can you tell improvement?

I’ve been doing speed work of 12 intervals of 400m (0.25 mile) each every other week during this training cycle. I completed my last 400m speed day last week (still have one more 800m day), so I thought I’d compare and see if I’ve improved.

I’m not including the first one that I did back in December because I timed it different, so it’s not quite apples to apples. However, the other three were all measured and timed in the same way on the same treadmill with same shoes. Here are the results:

speed work comparison

The most recent is on the left and a month ago is on the right. You can see that I did improve on each speed interval each time I did these.

The problem is, I don’t know whether I really improved or did I just push myself faster on the treadmill each time? Is there a difference?

I always start out more cautiously because I don’t want to burn out, having to go through twelve of these things. I didn’t, at any time on any interval, slow down my speed, so I think that has to count for something. Although, my notes for the January 7th run say, “Actually felt like I probably could have either done these faster or with less recovery time.” Because of this I started jogging part of my recoveries on the other runs.

I would be interested in repeating these one more time on an actual track or flat pavement and seeing how they compare. Would I burn out early or would I push myself harder?

Anyone out there do speed work on a treadmill? How can you tell if you’re improving or just pushing yourself harder?

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Week of 12/29/14 – 1/4/15: Tom King Half Training, Week 7

week of 12/29/14 to 1/4/15

Monday: 6 miles easy (11:45 avg pace)
Tuesday: rest day (Preds game)
Wednesday: rest day (NYE)
Thursday: 5(ish)x800m fast – 3.4 miles total (10:42 avg pace)
Friday: rest day
Saturday: 4x1mi tempo – 5.6 miles total (10:50 avg pace)
Sunday: 9 miles (10:41 avg pace)

This was not an easy week.

Thursday’s speed work was uggh. I was supposed to do six intervals, but I had somehow forgotten to take my asthma medicine that morning, so I called it quits after about 3/4 of the way through the fifth interval so I wouldn’t, you know, die. You can tell I was getting progressively slower too; my average pace for the intervals were as follows: 9:00, 9:04, 9:16, 9:20, 9:25. Still, all faster than my prescribed 9:30-9:45 pace, which is kind of amazing considering how dehydrated I was after the previous night’s festivities.

I didn’t fare much better on Saturday. The training plan called for 5x1mi at tempo pace, which is 9:45-10:00. I struggled to reach that, despite being paced by Jonathan, and ended up stopping after four intervals. The paces for the ones I completed were 10:03, 9:39, 10:25, and 9:57. Can you guess which two had the hill?

Despite the rough time I was having, I did really well on my nine miler on Sunday. It was cold and rainy, but I managed to run my fastest run of the week and my fastest long run ever. My knees didn’t even ever hurt (possibly because it was mostly flat…my knees seem to act up more on hillier routes). I feel pretty confident that I will, at least, get a PR at the Hot Chocolate 15k next month.

Week of 3/24/14 – 3/30/14: Country Music Half Training, Week 11 (the one where I run 14 miles and don’t die)

I started out this week saying, “If I can make it through this week of training, the rest is all downhill.” It was my mantra. This is because this week was the highest mileage I had planned for the entire training cycle. (We’ll ignore that the next two weeks are roughly the same mileage before I start my actual taper.) And all capped off with the farthest distance I’ve ever gone (and ever plan to go, as far as I’m concerned, unless I get hit by a crazy truck and decide to train for a full marathon): 14 miles.

week of 3/24/14 to 3/30/14

Tuesday

I decided to move my goal pace runs to Tuesdays and my easy threesy to Wednesday so that maybe my legs won’t be dead for my Thursday runs in the coming weeks. This week was a not-too-terrible two miler. I will admit that my legs were still a little sore from the weekend’s runs. (“Sore means getting stronger!” – another mantra.)

I might have had another ulterior motive, since I needed to hurry up and get downtown for a Preds game. So the shorter, faster run won out over the slightly longer and slower run.

Oh, yeah, and it had been snowing all day. Really, winter, what is your problem? Go away. No one likes you anymore. I donned the tights once more (thought I was safely into shorts and skirts weather, sigh) and headed out.

Since I was kind of in a hurry, I didn’t do much of a warmup. I jogged while I set up my watch and then did about 0.15 miles of warmup after I started the timer. I just went into beast mode after that and quickly spit out 2 miles. And by quickly, I mean I didn’t stay in my half goal pace. I went to tempo and ultimately 5k pace. Oops?

mei running in my neighbor totoro

I envision chasing chibi totoros when I run.

Wednesday

Can this count for next week’s three mile goal pace run? Because that’s what I ended up doing. I really didn’t mean to. I just started out feeling so good that, even when I saw I was 30 seconds to a minute speedier than I should have been at the end of the first mile, I still kept going at that pace and didn’t stop to walk. I’m sure this won’t catch up with me at all…

Thursday

This week’s track intervals were 1200m (that’s three laps around the track) at 5k pace with 400m (one lap) of jogging recovery, repeat four times. And, yes, I actually made it out to the group run on the track this week. My goals for this week’s intervals were the first two at 10:30 pace, the third at 10:15 pace, and the last as fast as I could muster (at least 10). Or interval times of 7:52, 7:52, 7:41, and 7:30.

We started out jogging (okay, probably everyone else was jogging…this was faster than an easy run for me) down to the track, then everyone started out by doing a one lap warmup. Except their warmup pace is apparently my 5k pace (actually they were faster…I was already last), so I just used that as my first lap since I knew they’d be waiting on me in the end anyway. The first interval was a little bumpy, since I started a little fast, so I slowed down a bit about halfway through to come in closer to goal. The second one was a little smoother, and the third was as smooth as melted chocolate (and a little faster than goal too!). My recovery intervals were all a little faster than what I thought they should be (the last one was under an 11 min/mi pace!) but I did recover well enough, so I guess that’s all that matters. I really pushed on my fourth and had a nice finishing sprint while everyone waited for me to be done.

My final times? 7:56, 7:56, 7:39, and 7:15. Woohoo!

The plus side to being the slowest and everyone waiting on you is everyone cheers and applauds when you are done.

I do think it was a little easier this week than last because of actually being on the track and being able to say to myself, “Only one more lap!” We were also fighting against 20 mph winds (and it started to sprinkle on my last interval), so my times are all the more impressive to me because of that.

Saturday

I was in a hurry on Saturday. I thought I had to be somewhere at a certain time (turns out it was canceled), so I blasted through my mileage for the day. I had planned 5 miles easy, of course, but, in an effort to speed things up, I cut it half a mile short and basically did the whole run at 5k pace with one 2 minute walk break around the 2.5 mile point. Yeah…I’m not sure I can call that my 5k pace much longer.

Sunday

Fourteen miles. 14. How do people train for full marathons? How do people run ultras? I will never know because I doubt I will ever make that attempt based on the fact that I hate long runs and think they should all die.

Despite those lovely sentiments, I had spent the whole week visualizing the run in my head. This will be fun! I am going to kill this run! 14 miles? No problem! That’s less than the distance from my house to…uh, well, not work, that’s closer. And not downtown Nashville either. Um, well, it’s definitely less than the distance from my house to Disney World! I actually, at one point, had psyched myself up for this run so much that I considered signing up for a marathon. The brain is an odd thing.

I did, however, resolve to try out some fueling strategies during the three hours I would be pounding pavement. I looked up to see what they would be providing us during the half marathon and when so that I could mimic that during this run. (With the thought that if that didn’t work, I still had next week’s 12.5 miler to figure something else out.) Except the website doesn’t say. What the heck, people? The site doesn’t even mention how often water stations happen. Anyway, after a bit of googling I found out that last year it appeared there was possibly only one GU station on the half course, at mile 10. So I decided if I wanted to fuel earlier than that, I was going to have to bring my own.

I’ll detail this all out in a future post, but I basically just went to Fleet Feet and got a few things to try based on what the guy who works there told me. For my 14 miler, I decided to try a tri-berry flavored GU at mile 5 (roughly an hour in) and a blueberry flavored Huma at mile 10 (roughly 2 hours in).

In an attempt to see if the gels actually helped, I kept the same 5:2 intervals that I attempted last week. The first few miles were fairly uneventful with most of my running intervals done at easy pace. At mile 5, I trudged up the bridge that crosses the river from Shelby Park to the Stones River greenway and got my first taste of GU when I got there. It wasn’t bad. Mile six was pretty hilly, but I was flying by mile seven. If you recall, by mile seven last week I was practically dead, but here I was running 5k pace. Score one for the gels.

I kept 5k pace on my run intervals throughout the remainder of the run. That’s right. I actually sped up the whole run and ran the second half faster than the first. My legs didn’t even really start to feel tired (okay, they felt a little tired from the beginning because of my speedy run the day before) until about 12.5-13 miles in. That’s nuts. I ran through the 13.1 distance in 2:42:27. Considering my overall goal for the Country Music was 2:45:00, I’d say it’s time to set a new goal if I can best that in training. My final time for 14 miles? 2:54:16 or roughly the same time it took me to run 12.5 miles last weekend.

All in all, this was a HUGE confidence building week!

Week of 3/17/14 – 3/23/14: Country Music Half Training, Week 10

week of 3/17/14 to 3/23/14

First of all, I just want to say that this week I surpassed the total amount of mileage that I ran in training for the Disney half (180 miles). And there’s still five weeks to go. So there’s that.

Tuesday

I wanted to make sure I kept this one extra easy, since this would be my first week running three days in a row in a long time. I didn’t go run with the group, since I wanted to stick with three miles at an extra easy pace. So I decided to try low heart rate training. I’d been reading a lot about it, but was kind of dubious about the “run slow to run fast” thought process. Specifically, I’d been reading about the Maffetone Method. I’ll go into all of this later, but the gist is that you keep your runs at an aerobic pace so your body becomes more efficient at burning fat for fuel, instead of carbs. It is also supposed to cause lower chances of injury. (Which makes sense. I was barely moving. How could I get injured?)

Maffetone has a formula to calculate the upper end of your aerobic heart rate, which is 180 – your age. He also provides some fine-tuning, like subtracting another 5 if you’ve been injured in the past couple years, etc. I just went with 148 because I’d be walking if I subtracted another 5.

So I set my Garmin to alert me if I went above 148. And alert me it did. It has this really annoying sound that plays when you get out of your heart rate zone. And I went out of it. A lot.

At first, the watch wasn’t recognizing my heart rate monitor. I trotted along at my normal 11-12 min/mi pace waiting for it to pick it up. I stopped to walk briefly to tell it to rescan. Finally, six minutes after I started my run, it found the HR monitor. And immediately sounded the alarm. My heart rate was already up to 163.

I walked until it got down in the correct zone, then slowly started to jog around a 15 min/mi pace. Which WOW is slow. I can walk a 15 min/mi pace. In fact, it’s more efficient to walk at that pace than it is to run. Anything faster than that? Alarm. A hill? Alarm. I had to walk slowly up every hill. I was normally walking up one and the alarm went off. Yeah…

The point of all this is if you consistently train in your low heart rate zone, eventually your pace will get faster at the lower heart rate. That can just take a few months. A lot of people give up on LHR training because of the incredible slowness you have to start at. I’m going to actually try it consistently this fall (when I go for a month long streak) to see if I get any improvements out of it. For now, it’s just a way to keep me extra slow because I didn’t even break a sweat. In fact, I was cold the whole run, despite it being nearly 60 degrees.

Overall, I finished 3 miles in 46 minutes with an average HR of 149. Yes, not only was it slow, but I didn’t even manage to average within the correct zone. We’ll see come this fall if this really works, but for now I remain skeptical.

Wednesday

My first goal pace run! My goal half marathon pace is between 11:15 and 11:45 min/mi, so this was a fairly easy pace to keep for just a mile. I did a half mile warmup, then the one mile at goal pace. These are going to ramp up in difficulty in a few weeks, though, since I top out at a five mile goal pace run.

Thursday

Week two of track intervals! Well, it was supposed to be, anyway. I didn’t quite make it to the track. As I mentioned before, in order to make it to the Thursday night group, I have to pack up all my running stuff and change at work. I packed up all my running stuff on Thursday morning…and then left it at home! Oops. So I was going to be way too late by the time I got home and changed and drove out there. I’m already the slowest, so I didn’t want them to have to wait on me an extra 20-30 minutes. So I went to the park to complete the workout.

This week we were doing five intervals of 1000m at 5k pace with 400m jogging recovery. I didn’t know if I should adjust my 5k pace down after my PR last Saturday. I have been training with a 5k pace of 10:15 to 10:45 min/mi, but my 5k time would suggest I could alter that down to 9:45 to 10:15 min/mi. I decided to aim for 10:30 min/mi for the first two intervals, 10:15 for the next two, and around 10:00 min/mi for the last; or, 6:30, 6:30, 6:20, 6:20, 6:10 for my interval times.

I don’t know if it was the added 200m per interval, the addition of a goal pace workout the day before, or the fact that I wasn’t doing it on a track so I didn’t have any visual feedback to know how much distance I have left to cover, but this seemed way harder than last week.

I still went out too fast on the first interval (although not nearly as bad as a week ago) and did the first 1k at a 10:11 min/mi pace. I walked a bit on my recovery to change some settings on my watch, then jogged the rest. I felt pretty good at the start of the second interval, but part of the way through I felt a side stitch coming on. And it was nearly killing me by the time I finished the 1k. I was practically in tears. I slowly walked my recovery period, using every trick in the book I knew to get the side stitch to go away. I could still feel it on the third interval, although not quite as bad, but it still was my slowest at a 10:42 min/mi pace. I walked about half my recovery to try to work it out some more and jogged the rest. The fourth interval was better and I did it in about the same time as the first. I jogged the entire recovery after that, then floored it for the fifth interval, finishing up at a 9:32 min/mi pace.

I’m not going to lie. It was a hard workout. But it was supposed to be, as I kept reminding myself. I do think not being on the track made it harder, since I only had my watch to tell me how much distance I had left but no real visual “finish line”. I may also experiment with switching my goal pace and easy runs to see if that helps, because those goal pace runs are only going to get more tiring.

tiana exhausted

My final 5k interval times? 6:21, 6:28, 6:38, 6:18, 5:54. I think the first four would have been more consistent if not for that stupid side stitch!

Saturday

The threat of rain on Sunday made me move my long run to Saturday this week. 12.5 miles, the longest I’ve gone in training! But it was very hard fought, and I wouldn’t really call it a “good” run by any stretch of the word.

I had decided that maybe a change of scenery would help, so I went up to the Hendersonville greenway, which I haven’t run on before. I also decided to do 5:2 intervals to keep it easy and make sure that I didn’t burn myself out at the beginning and have nothing left at the end. Spoiler alert: it didn’t help.

I started off strong, and the scenery change did help for about 4-5 miles. The first hour flew by, and I was feeling good. However, by the start of mile 7, it was all going downhill (not literally, unfortunately). I ended up taking an extra walk break up a hill, and the extra breaks just kept coming from there, even walking one entire run interval (so 9 minutes total). Soon I modified my intervals to 3.5:3.5. I maintained that until mile 12, but I swear the last half mile was nearly impossible to get through. I just couldn’t get my legs to go anymore.

A lot of this was due, probably, to the fact that I was really hungry but hadn’t brought any gus or other food with me. I’ve never really had to fuel myself on a run before, but I guess it’s time to start figuring that out because these nearly three hour runs kill me. After I was done running, I immediately drove to McDonald’s for a chocolate shake and fries because I felt like I might pass out if I didn’t get some sort of something in my stomach, besides the 2 litres of water I drank while running. (Yes, it was a lot of water.)

Sunday

After Saturday’s tiring run, you might think I skipped out on Sunday’s. But no! I went out to the park Sunday morning with the intention of doing my five easy miles. But my watch decided to die 1.2 miles in (with no walking, by the way). So I went home, charged it, and then headed back out to finish, doing 3.8 miles slightly faster than easy pace and only taking one brief walk break about 2.8 miles in when I pushed myself up a hill a little too hard against the wind. It ended up being more of a goal pace run, which is fine with me. I’ll take as many of those as I can get. I was honestly amazed I felt strong enough to do that after the day before, but maybe my body is learning to recover faster.

Week of 3/10/14 – 3/16/14: Country Music Half Training, Week 9

It’s week nine! That means this is the first of four weeks of 5k pace intervals for speedwork, and the last week of training to consist of four days of running (well, if I had actually run four days this week). Every week after this will have a bonus goal pace run smushed between my easy three on Tuesday and my speedwork on Thursday for a total of five runs per week until race week (when the goal pace run gets cut out again). That must mean we are getting closer!

week of 3/10/14 to 3/16/14

Tuesday

Despite what I said last week, I made it out to run with the Mt. Juliet group again this week. It was nearly 80 degrees outside (yeah, let that sink in since I was running in the snow less than a week prior) and daylight savings meant the sun was still out. I love spring! No more treadmills for me (until the thunderstorms show up). They are a super convenient group to run with because I can take my time getting home after work since they don’t start till 6:30pm, and they usually run 3-4 miles. Perfection for Tuesdays. A lot easier than my Wednesday/Thursday group who start at 6pm and are in the complete opposite direction from my house, so I have to change clothes at work.

Anyway, I ran with the same two ladies doing 3:1 intervals. I actually had my Garmin with me, but failed to turn the GPS on. *facepalm* We ended up doing a little over 4 miles in under 50 minutes. Nice and easy, but my legs were still tired from Sunday’s tempo run! They were sore and heavy the next day, which is unusual after a Tuesday run.

Thursday

So speaking of my Thursday group, this was the week. The speedwork was being done on a track, and I have no access to a track otherwise. (Except for the gym’s indoor track, but you have to go around that thing like 20 times to get a mile, and I don’t really trust its accuracy.) So this probably makes me a terrible group member that I am just using them for their track access and have failed to show up every other week. To make it even funnier, someone commented that people always start dropping out when the track workouts start. I commented, “Drop out? This is the first week I showed up!”

So this week we did six intervals of 800m at 5k pace (between 10:15 and 10:45 min/mi for me) with 400m jogging recovery. Warmup consisted of a 0.35 run to the track. We all started the first interval at the same time, so I was lumped in with everyone else, the majority of which ran 7-8 min/mi pace. This means that I started at 7-8 min/mi pace because I got excited (7:40 min/mi to be exact). I recognized this and tried to slow down, but after the first 400m I was still doing a 9 min/mi pace. I ended up doing the first 800m in 4:34, which equates to about a 9:13 pace. *facepalm*

Then I hit the stop button on my watch instead of the lap button and didn’t realize it for 0.6 mile, so my first recovery interval looks short and my map looks like I cut across the field.

I calmed after that. The next four intervals were all done within my 5k pace. My times were 5:11, 5:11, 5:05, and 5:02. On the last one, I pushed it, hoping for my fastest and came up with 4:40. Six seconds slower than my first one, but not too shabby! That’s still about a 9:30 min/mi pace! And I did jog (no walking!) all of my recovery intervals. I actually ran them faster than I meant to, with the fastest one being “jogged” at an 11:45 min/mi pace. Yeah, that’s faster than I run my easy runs.

One of my running-with-groups fears came true though: I was the last to finish. To be fair, I only had about a lap further than the next to last person, and a few people said they cut theirs short and only did five intervals. So I can be proud that I completed all six, even if everyone did have to wait on me.

Saturday

Woohoo, race day! I love race days. Especially those where the race doesn’t start until 10:30am. Take that, 3am Disney wake up call.

I had decided that I was going to put in my 11 miles on Saturday, instead of Sunday. This mainly had to do with the fact that there was a 70% chance of rain all day Sunday, and I would rather do five miles in that rather than 11. Yeah, it would probably be better to do the miles all at once, but I still have three +/- 13 mile runs in the next three weeks. Plus it’s not like there were hours between the miles. Just a couple 30 min breaks or so.

The first of these miles was a warmup mile in the half hour before the race started, which was an easy peasy 13:30 mile.

The next three were the race itself. I’ll have the full race report up soon, but I’ll just say, for now, that, yes, I PRed, and I PRed big. Speedwork works, people.

I then attempted to finish off the remaining seven on the downtown greenway following the race. This didn’t really happen. First of all, I ran the race way harder than I had originally planned on (hence the PR). Second, I ate lunch after the race and then attempted to go run immediately afterwards. This is a Bad Idea.

I started off okay, figuring I’d take walk breaks every 4-5 minutes or so. My legs were still trying to be kind of speedy, so I ended up doing the first mile in 11:46, despite the walk breaks and trying to be slower. It all really went downhill from there. My walk breaks shortened to every 3 minutes. Then every 2. By three miles in, I was needing a walk break every 30 seconds. I can only imagine this is what hitting the wall in a marathon feels like. My legs would just not run. On top of that, I was having mad stomach cramping from not waiting to run after eating. 3.2 miles in, I called it quits. Unfortunately, I was doing an out and back route, which meant I had to walk 3 miles back, and the cramping never let up. In fact, a shower, a nap, and a Predators game later, I could still feel the cramping. Not a good run. But I couldn’t be too upset about it, considering I just had a major PR.

Sunday

You can probably imagine that after six miles of 5k pace running over the past few days plus an additional however many easy miles that my legs would be shot. And you’d be right. They actually weren’t terribly sore, but I wasn’t really in the mood to do a long run, especially not one in 40 degree rain. So I ended up taking a rest day. I don’t feel too guilty about it, since I had two quality speed days this week. Next week can be more about the mileage.