Before I started heart rate training, I took a pace test to see where I was. I repeated the same test almost two months to the day. So a warning: this is going to be a geeky, numbers-centric post.
As always, I write my numbers with a big fat caveat: this is where all of me—fitness level, my genes and physiology, athletic experience—puts me today. It may be faster or slower than you, and my pace, like your pace, is nothing but a reflection of how our bodies work at this moment.
The tests are in two parts: a tempo-ish run, followed by 800’s. On my first test, I was by myself on a Sunday morning, and I knew exactly what I needed to do. On my second test, I was with a small group on a Wednesday evening, and the test was revealed on a need-to-know basis. The second test turned out to be similar, but not the same, as the first round.
Test in November: Part 1: Go 15 minutes at the fastest pace you can sustain.
Average paces: Mile 1: 8:12; Mile (almost) 2: 8:23. I ran 1.86 miles
How I felt: I liked being on the track on a Sunday morning when the sky was blue. I don’t remember much about the running.
Test in January, Part 1: Go 20 minutes at the fastest pace you can sustain.
Average paces: Mile 1: 8:05; Mile 2: 8:09; last bit: 7:55. I ran 2.47 miles.
How I felt: Pretty light and springy in the leg department. I felt like I was cruising. Working hard, but not crazy hard. We were commanded to pick up the pace with five minutes and two minutes left to go. (I did! Evidence? See: 7:55 average.) When I ended, I immediately placed my hands on my knees in the I-might-vomit-or-pass-out, dramatic way runners do, feeling like I had given it everything.
That said, I do think, with an additional sprinkle of mental toughness, I could’ve sustained that pace for another 2ish laps, which would’ve brought a blazing-for-me 5K.
Test in November, Part 2: Do 6 x 800 with 2 minutes rest in between each interval.
My times: 3:53, 3:48; 3:47; 3:54; 3:52; 3:55.
How I felt: Psyched when I had two 800s that registered in 3:4x And I remember running in different directions on the track with each 800, mixing it up, hoping the wind, which seemed to be blowing in random directions, would help. My left hip and glute were obnoxiously loud, and my right foot wasn’t immune to complaining either.
I was also being giddy about the prospect of a new training cycle with its main idea being, I rarely, if ever, have to run this hard.
Test in January, Part 2: Do 6 x 800 with 1 minute in between each interval, then take rest just 30 seconds before the last 800. (The last interval is called “The Hammer.” Yeesh.)
My times: 3:55, 3:52; 3:57; 3:57, 3:56; 4:03.
How I felt: The first 800 was awful: legs were just screaming and it was getting darker out. My mood was following suit. I couldn’t believe I was going to willingly do five more of these. I thought about doing three, then calling it good. When I pressed the lap button and saw a 3:55, I was bummed. Even though I had not checked my 800 times from November before I hit the track—it was on my list, but I was busy getting the boy to his first band practice—I had in my head that I was going to run 3:42’s. Why? No idea. But that was what I was going to do.
Demoralized for no real reason except for uncooperative-seeming legs and no mental grasp on reality, I lost a little umph as I went into the next 800. I couldn’t see anything, it was cold, I didn’t bring a headlamp or gloves, I leaked a little in my capris. Poor me. So I went into my survival running mentality: One thing at a time. One straight, one curve, one straight, one curve, one straight, one curve, one straight, one curve. Done. And legs didn’t feel as bad that time.
One minute off.
Do it again. Wow: nothing really hurts, except for, you know, my legs and my lungs. No lower back ache, no left hip muscles seizing up, and my foot feels like I’m strolling around Costco, not running 800s at a high school track littered with goose poop on a cold, dark Wednesday night.
One straight, one curve. Fire off a snot rocket. Done. Another minute off.
And so on until the hammer lap. Thirty seconds between two 800s is brutal; it’s even worse than just, truly, finally falling asleep and then hearing your kid cry. Still, I did try to run my fastest. I hit a 6:30 pace in there, which feels badass just typing that. During the 800, though? I had no feeling except this: For the love of all that is good in the world, just let me get to that last curve.
Verdict: Despite my not seeing an 800 in the 3:4x range this round, it’s clear heart rate training is definitely working. The January test was harder with less rest, and I was clearly stronger in Part I and held my own in Part II.
I can’t explain them well, but I can say, when she analyzes them and I pretend like I understand, they’re definitely pointing towards a wide, expanding cardiovascular base, perfect for the Superior 50K . And as I pointed out in my previous post, Heart Rate Training is essentially an exercise in patience. It’s been eight weeks, with a week of mostly holiday sloth thrown in.
The best part? I’ve made these gains by running slow. I’ve got a weekly run where I do a 20-second pick-up every mile and on the long runs, I’ve recently added in a handful of four-minute surges, but other than that, it’s pretty much been bobbling along at <140.
Plus, testing, by definition, will always be hard. There are different kinds of hard, though.
November’s test for me was physically harder but mentally easier. January’s test? The opposite; physically easier but mentally harder. I’ll be dialing it up again in about two months, and if nothing else, I’ll be waiting to see how the physical/mental balance shakes out that round. (But I’m perfectly fine waiting for two more months. Totally, perfectly fine.)
My next (way more fun) test? Pacing my ultra friend Katie in the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler this weekend. I’ll be accompanying her on the fourth of her five, twenty-mile laps.
I’ll have a (less geeky) report next week: Stay tuned!