Thursday, February 25, 2010

Just the Right Tempo

In the running online community one can meet a wide and varying array of individuals. One of the helpful and interesting aspects of getting to know these fellow athletes is the benefit of learning about trials and tribulations without actually experiencing it yourself. So many events in our lives have a way of turning out good despite an unfortunate beginning, as evidenced by the following episode. Several weeks ago one of my friends expressed frustration and disappointment following a running injury. In the course of describing the injury, she made the comment she was in the midst of training in the FIRST or Run Less, Run Faster program which has been touted among other places in the Runners' World magazine. She had been following the training program when an injury put her out of commission for a spell. It is always disappointing when a fellow athlete has to endure the pain of an injury and the resulting decrease in fitness level when training is interrupted. But, if we can learn from their experience, it turns failure into success.

As I explored possibilities for my training I took a look at the program my friend had been using and even purchased the book at a local book retailer. The authors of the book and founders of the Furman Institute of Running & Scientific Training (FIRST) make the point that one does not have to run a lot of miles to get in proper shape for a running event. What the runner must do, however, is run efficiently and at the proper tempo in order to properly develop one's cardio-respiratory system. The idea is to mix weekly running sessions with cross training sessions so appropriate running muscles can rest and recover. Some die hard runners may refute the worth of the program on the basis that running less interferes with a true runner's desire to run at any given opportunity. Despite this, however, there seems to be a growing interest in this type of training.

In my personal running experience I have suffered various injuries I feel have come about because of over-training. Though I have taken in pride in logging a 55-60 mile week, I have often been left with a bittersweet aftertaste because of pain and soreness. The FIRST program appeals to me for this and other reasons. So just two weeks ago, I began training for a 10K using the program. One of the premises of the programs detailed in the book is that runs are done at a fast pace. No more of this going out and doing a 9 to 9-1/2 minute mile. The philosophy of the FIRST program is to develop a runner's ability to run faster and then give them a chance to recover the next day. The point is made repeatedly throughout the book, however, that just because there are only three runs a week doesn't mean they are easy runs...not by a stretch.

So, this fine late winter morning, I found myself on a planned 6-7 mile run trying to keep up the tempo as ascribed in the training plans for a 10K race. Today's scheduled run called for a 1-2 mile warmup run and then 4 miles at an 8:15 pace and then 1 mile cool down run. Some of you seasoned runners may laugh at the idea of running a paltry 8:15 pace but for us slugs this is a major accomplishment. Armed with my Garmin Forerunner strapped to my right wrist, I made an attempt at trying to maintain this pace. There is a huge difference between running an 8:15 and an 8:30, that I promise. There is a significant output of energy required to keep a body moving at 7.3 mph versus 7.1 mph. My winded self can testify to that fact as I struggled to keep up the tempo. My "gas" mileage for the morning took a hit as I burned energy at a much faster rate.

It remains to be seen if I can properly train for races this way. My plans are to do a late spring 10K, two or three summer triathlons, a fall marathon and an early 2011 marathon. Until I discover otherwise, I am going to continue the FIRST programs and find out if running less can get me to my goals. In the meantime, if on a visit to Columbus, GA you come across a seriously beleagured runner struggling to keep up the right tempo, know you have found me, aiming for that next PR.


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