No-Burnout Workouts

I’ll say this repeatedly: Goal Number One is to keep doing what you love. One of my Goal #1 heroes, Andriette, said, “The main thing is to keep showing up. At lot of people just quit showing up.” She said that to me as I was venting some frustrations about slowing down despite working painfully hard. Her guidance, along with that of other friends and teammates, has brought me to this year’s other goals: Simply to run the races and, Goal #2, keep it fun.

The tricky part is that injury can sneak up on you even when you think you’re not overdoing it. Six years ago, I suffered a second metacarpal stress fracture and was sidelined for two months – grueling months of physical therapy, swimming, crying, and gathering my resolve to avoid future injuries. After healing, I ran some more PR’s, but when my performance started to decline, I was wary of pushing myself too hard. Even Grete Waitz said “I can’t go on forever” with regards to winning year after year. And bottom line, being injured is no fun.

Still, fast is fun, so I’m keeping some of my favorite workouts in the mix for weeks when I’m not racing. I call them “No-Burnout Workouts.” In my experiment of one, these can substitute for crazy-hard workouts that carry an increased risk of injury, while still keeping me in the running, so to speak. These are the two I did this week.

Workout #1: The Fast-Is-Fun 10 x 200

Warm up, do some dynamic stretches, then run 200 meters at about mile-race effort alternating with jogging 100 meters slow. Repeat ten times.

I did this midweek over a lunch break. The fast 200’s and the slow 100’s took about the same length of time. If you were looking for pure speed, you’d want to lengthen the recoveries and run the 200’s faster; If you were working on your 5K, you could shorten the recoveries to 30 seconds and run up to 20 x 200. The 10 x 200 is just to provide a little speed to sharpen up for the weekend’s race or second hard workout. I find that if I don’t do anything at one-mile speed, all my race paces up to 10k slow down, but that if I do a lot of work at mile speed, I can run a fast mile but not a fast 10k (in 2015, my one and only PR was in the one mile).

For me, the other benefit of this little workout is that I can get it done in under an hour, which is all the time I get for lunch. I return to work refreshed and can do as I please after work – usually an easy 20-30 minutes on the elliptical and a snack at happy hour.

Workout #2: Favorite (5-4-3-2-1)2 Fartlek

Warm up, then run intervals of 5 minutes, 4, 3, 2, and 1 minute, with recoveries of up to as long as the interval. Then, YAY, you get to do it all over again, for a total of 30 minutes of speed. Run by feel: The longer intervals should feel comfortably hard; the shorter ones can push you out of your comfort zone if you’re feeling it.

I did this today in the glorious springtime sunshine! My warmup running to the river road was almost 2 miles. From there, I’d go out and back on the river path. It looked clear. By now it was 10:30, when most runners were already done and fed. I felt good. My recent race pace has been 7:20, so I figured I could use that as a starting point, staying mindful not to use up all my energy on the first set. I planned to run the recoveries by feel also. My heart rate recovers quickly, but at least a one-minute jog is important to prepare for the next interval, so I made myself do that even when I was raring to go again.

It went like this:

5 minutes at a 7:19 pace
(1:02 jog)
4 minutes @ 7:06
(1:04 jog)
3 minutes @ 7:05
(1:44 jog)
2 minutes @ 6:46
(1:12 jog)
1 minute @ 6:29
(1:58 jog, turn around, jump for joy a few times)
5 minutes @7:11
(1:15 jog)
4 minutes @ 6:57
(2:29 jog; going uphill, getting a bit tired)
3 minutes @ 6:57
(1:21 jog)
2 minutes @ 6:44
(1:16 jog)
1 minute @ 6:34

The jogs were mostly around 9-9:30 pace. With the warm-up and cool-down, it came to ten miles, so it also counts as my long run, and I can take it easy for the next few days. Yes, if I did this workout every week, I would in fact burn out, but it works well for where I’m at right now – pretty fit, but not quite ready for 6 x 1 mile repeats. I felt great for most of it. No strain, and after some stretching and rolling, my slight case of runner’s butt is none the worse and maybe a little better. I had a slightly harder time wrapping my mind around the 4- and 3-minute intervals; interesting that the 3-minute efforts weren’t faster than the 4-minute efforts, and by the second 3-minute I was channeling my inner tiger to stay on pace. Though I promised myself I’d run by feel, I probably pushed myself to go sub-7 just because of that obsessive numbers thing so many runners do.

How fast should you run them? That depends on your goals, the conditions, and how much fun you want to have. If you’re a beginner, stick with the traditional ONE set of 5-4-3-2-1; it’s plenty. If you’re a marathoner, you might like the idea of alternating 5 minutes at marathon pace, 5 minutes at half-marathon pace, and so on. There’s a lot of room for flexibility in this workout. The purpose is to learn to run completely by feel rather than reaching for a goal pace. Running by feel becomes more important as time goes on, but is also useful if you’re coming back after time off or if you’re under stress. Fartleks are good for weeks when you feel physically fine to do a workout but mentally sapped at the idea of sustaining your training pace for very long.

Afterward, I made sure to take care of nutrion and general health. Enjoying lunch with Alan, fellow Unitarian and Capital City’s 2018 Runner of the Year, Still running strong in his 70’s.

Based on all this, I figure I can safely begin 10k training at about a 7:00-7:10 pace. On the weeks when mile repeats sound cryingly boring, I’ll go back to a No-Burnout Workout. I’ll throw in some pure speed when that sounds good, and keep running races to motivate myself for a sustained effort. See you at the Get in Gear 10K!


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