It’s officially crunch time if you’re training for the Honda LA Marathon. You’re into your long runs of 16-22 miles, hard tempo runs, and, hopefully, some speed work. Let’s talk about that last part for a minute. You may have heard speed work variously described as “intervals,” “track workouts,” or “fartlek.” (That’s “speed play” in Swedish). However, all of these words are essentially describing the same thing: training your legs to move fast by moving fast. The idea is to actually run faster, for short periods, than you will run in your marathon race. By training this way periodically, your body adjusts and acclimatizes to the needs for increased oxygen uptake and muscle fiber recruitment demanded by increased leg speed. Let’s call it pushing the envelope.
After repeating speed work on a weekly basis for a month or two, you will really start to see the results. That goal marathon pace just doesn’t seem as difficult anymore. It’s important to note that this type of training is beneficial to any runner, not just competitive athletes. It may sound intimidating, but it’s actually a lot of fun, whether you’re running 12-minute miles or 6-minute miles.
Last week, I joined Coach David Levine and the LA Running Club for their Wednesday night track workout at the Santa Monica High School track. David is a terrific coach with a deep understanding of marathon training, and he’s got about 50 runners out there on a given Wednesday evening (workouts start at 6:30 pm). There are all levels of runners there, and it’s a welcoming, inclusive, and fun atmosphere. One of my favorite things about track workouts is the social aspect. It’s an opportunity to inject group energy–like a spinning class or a master’s swim workout–into your running week. I find a track workout to be tremendously energizing. David lead us through an extensive stretching and warm-up routine, which is a good way to ease your body into the workout and avoid injury. We then ran four 7:30 intervals at 5K pace, with 2:30 rest in between. He had the stopwatch, so all I had to do was worry about running. Kind of liberating, actually!
Furthermore, running around a track with a coach is a great opportunity to actually get some coaching. One problem with running by yourself all the time is that no one gets to look at your running form. And that’s important. Running is actually a complex biomechanical movement, and it takes an expert eye to help you develop an efficient stride. Last week, David gave me tips like “knees higher!” as I ran by on the track. It’s really no different than learning a smooth golf swing, or tennis stroke. Once you get some feedback, then you can practice on your own.
Anyway, I highly recommend the Wednesday night track session with Coach David Levine. See the LA Running Club website for more details. If you can’t make that, find out about a track workout in your area–there are tons of them. Good luck and good training!