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May 3, 2015

Working toward a faster pace can be fun

I mentioned last week that, with the hot summer days approaching, the emphasis in running should go from quantity to quality and developing some speed workouts in your weekly schedule.

It is hard to convince some runners of the value of speed workouts. The standard reply is that “I just run for fun and am not concerned with running faster.”

Running faster during a training run definitely takes a runner out of their comfort zone. Running faster is harder work, and not necessarily a fun workout. The fun part of a speed workout comes later, when you set a new PR (personal record) in a 5K race some weekend.

There are a couple of points to make about a speed workout. One is the advice from Allan Besselink, author of RunSmart, that running faster may be a little painful because of the extra work many of the muscles are now doing.

The key is to understand the difference between “hurt” and “harm.” Your run will probably create a little hurt, but should not go beyond the point where you will do harm to the muscles.

The second point is that speed workouts do not necessarily have to be hard and not be fun. There are a few speed workouts that can be fun to try and be enjoyable at the same time.

One that comes to mind is the “leapfrog” routine; some runners call it the “rabbit sprint.” The point is that, if you are going to “suffer through” a speed workout, it is more fun to not have to suffer alone.

It works best if you can get a group of four runners together, so that you can all suffer while having a good time. The way “leapfrog” works is that the training takes place on a quarter-mile track.

As an example, the average speed will be an 8-minute-per-mile pace. Divide the track into four sections: one is the 50-yard line; two is between the goalposts; three is the opposite 50-yard line, and four is the other goalpost.

This way, each section is 110 yards (or 100 meters) long and each section will be run in 30 seconds. Run a few laps to get your timing down and to get all four runners on pace. The leapfrog portion will start after a warm-up of a half mile to a mile.

When you reach the first 50-yard line, the last runner sprints out and passes everyone to take over the lead before they reach the first goalpost section. At the first goalpost, the next runner who is now last will sprint to the front of the pack. This goes on for all four sections, with each runner running fast for 110 yards of the quarter mile.

Running four laps like this will give each runner only four fast sprints in a mile distance. The key to this is that once that last runner now becomes the lead runner, it is imperative that that runner can now back off on the speed and go back to that original 8-minute-per-mile pace.

The tendency to run faster is hard to overcome; and if the lead runner does not go back to that 8-minute pace, the last runner may not be able to pass the group when it is their turn to sprint to the front.

The second portion of the “leapfrog” training session is to go outside that comfort zone a little. For the second mile, try to run a 7:40 pace per mile. This means that each 110-yard section is run 5 seconds faster, or 25 seconds per section.

Five seconds doesn’t seem like much; but taking 20 seconds off a mile pace is harder than a runner might think. The point of only running fast once each lap - and maybe making a few comments to your fellow runners as they pass you - keeps the fun in the workout.

The level of the group is important to try and have a close approximation of pace for all of the runners. There might be a few seconds difference where a slower runner will have to pick up the pace a little more and the faster runner will need to back down a bit to the pace of the pack.

Faster runners might set the pace at a 7-minute or 6-minute-per-mile pace, and go from there. Slower runners might even make it a 10-minute-per-mile pace.

Either way, they are getting a speed workout in and will find that running faster is just as fun as running slower.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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