Ever since I started exercising with 2 Fat Nerds, I've been dabbling in what I'd call "casual jogging." According to our tracking system, I've put in 101 outdoor and 23 treadmill runs over the past two years, which comes out to an average of about one running workout per week.
With spring and this year's B.A.A. 5K just around the corner, I decided that I'm going to step up and actually make a concerted effort to improve my time, since I was just about the only person on the team to not put up a PR last year. So, taking the advice that Jon gave us back in this post, I just started Bupa's intermediate-level 5K training program. Or programme, I guess, because they're British!
This is the first time I've ever committed to following a structured training schedule, and it's already very different from my usual approach to running. With one week down and five to go, what have I learned so far?
I've been doing interval training the wrong way. I've known for awhile that the treadmill is helpful for intervals, since it tells you exactly how fast you're running, and you can even set up automatic segment timing on most machines. But what I didn't realize was that the paces I was using for my "fast" intervals were nowhere near ambitious enough to yield improvement. The key to the Bupa system is understanding how they divide running activities into intensity or "effort levels." Thankfully, they provide a helpful table to break it all down. The program differentiates between "tempo" running and "speed" running. Tempo pace is an extra level of effort beyond typical jogging -- they call it "brisk, challenging running" -- but at a pace that you can sustain for a good chunk of time, anywhere from five or six minutes as a beginner all the way up to 20 minutes, or even more, at the intermediate level. Speed pace, on the other hand, is basically the fastest pace you can manage in a controlled manner for a full minute, or two minutes at most. (I say "controlled" to distinguish speed pace from sprinting, which is more like the fastest burst of running you can physically manage, however unsustainable it may be.) It turned out that I had been plugging my tempo pace (for me, about 9:40/mile right now) into a two minutes fast/two minutes slow treadmill program and leaving it at that. Following the Bupa guidelines showed me that I really needed to increase my top speed intervals, which I was able to do at a 7:45/mile this week.