Monday, July 20, 2009

Speed Thrills

Niko came with me to the track today, riding his bike. After taking some pictures for a while, he decided he wanted to do a lap alongside me as I worked my way through 2 x (6 x 400) in 1:24 w/ 1:30 rest intervals and a 2:30 rest between sets. I was in lane one, Niko in lane two, on his bike. Around the first curve, he said, “Hey, you’re going 11 miles an hour,” a note of surprise clearly detectable in his voice. Heading into the homestretch he passed me shouting, “Going against the wind is tougher on a bike than when you’re running.” That was his way of saying he was having to work pretty hard to finish ahead of me.

I still had a few more 400s to do and Niko went along for the ride on these as well. On the last one, I cranked up the pace. Halfway through, Niko shouted, “Over 12 miles per hour!” I finished that 400 in 1:15. The workout done, we hung out in the shade having a drink of Nuun and splitting a Larabar. “I can’t believe how fast you were going,” Niko said. “And that was running, not on a bike! I didn’t even know you could run that fast.”

Sure it’s cool, as a 46-year-old dad, to impress your 9-year-old son with your ability to run “fast.” But what made me feel even better was that I had inspired in Niko a wonder at what we humans are capable of doing, at our physical potential—and the interesting thing about that was that it took speed to do it. Triathlons, marathons, ultras—Niko has always been great about listening to me yammer on about that stuff, but I could always tell he wasn’t feeling much of a connection. Dad ran 50 miles up and down Mount Hood one afternoon? Oh, uh-huh, pretty neat. That Dad could run fast, however, time and time again around the track, wow, that was cool. I think it’s cool, too. There are layers and layers of mystery that a long run or triathlon peels away, but there’s nothing as exciting as the primal act of going fast. That’s what I love about FIRST, I think: how it’s all about how fast you’re going. Obviously this is true on the track and on tempo Wednesday, but even on the long runs, which so many of us automatically think must be slow—it’s so driven into runners’ minds—you have to make an effort to push the pace, sometimes a lot, sometimes just a bit, but always there’s the push.

It’s great to feel this excitement about FIRST now, because a week into the program I wasn’t so sure. I honestly thought it might be too hard on my body. Yeah, I know, that doesn’t make sense. FIRST is sold as a way to do the marathon without beating yourself up. It's not just "Run Faster," it's "Run Less Run Faster." Uh-huh; run less but also run so hard your eyes fall out. I feel for the newbie who, meandering the aisles of his local Barnes & Noble—that very effort his most strenuous exercise since he struggled through a 5K six weeks earlier—sees on the back cover of the book that FIRST is a program that "makes running more accessible and limits overtraining and burnout." That might be true if you’re extremely conservative in assessing your fitness before taking on the program. Maybe then, the paces you are required to maintain in your weekly track repeats and tempos and long runs won't be punishing. My guess, however, is that most people do what I did—err on the side of excessive ambition, seduced by the idea of a PR or at least a time that won't embarrass them when they post it on Facebook. The cruel irony is that it’s the less experienced runner who is especially vulnerable to the pain FIRST dishes out. Me? The first week was a shock, but my foundation of several years of tons of running (and other stuff) clearly helped me hold it together, physically and just as importantly psychologically. And now I’m totally digging it. My legs have felt fresh for the last four run workouts, and the rides—I’m on the bike three days a week for at least 75 minutes, spinning fast and occasionally also spinning hard—feel great, like I truly am filling in the gaps that a three-day-a-week run program leaves.

Today's 400 splits:




  1. So true about FIRST... I did the exact same thing as you, picking a goal time that's anything but conservative. For me it's 3:10, my Boston qualifying time, and the workouts have been brutal. In fact, I got injured during my first attempt to train with FIRST, when I tried to squeeze the 16-week program into 12 weeks.

    And you're right (in your first post) that the appeal is not in the "Run Less" part. Those who are interested in that are probably not interested in working as hard as FIRST requires for improving their times. But as someone seriously interested in the "Run Faster" part, I'm really glad that I chose this program so far (I'm on Week 5).

    Your blog is really interesting, somehow very different in writing style and attitude from other running blogs I read (a good thing). But I must ask, what's the deal with Geb?? Very cryptic...

  2. NoMeat, thanks for the visit and comment.

    Geb has set new marathon world records at Berlin in each of the last two races and has vowed to do it again this year. I'll be running at Berlin in September, too, and my vow is to beat my PR by more than Geb beats his. Thus, Chasing Geb. It's pretty silly, but there you go!

  3. I'm sure Geb will be running scared and that will help him PR. He knows your plan and is working hard to foil it, but I know you will triumph over him!