If you know me at all, you’re probably aware that the ultra distance (50km-100mi) is my predominant focus when racing. In the past seven years I’ve only run a few non-ultra distance races, and only one of those on pavement (2009 Horsetooth Halfmarathon). After several weeks of rest this fall I decided this would be a good year to test myself with some ‘speed’ work, and get back to running flat, fast and on the roads. I set my sights on setting 5k and 10k PRs this winter, race distances I hadn’t attempted since 2005 (or never for a 10k).
You might ask, isn’t a 5k too easy? Well, yes and no. As ultrarunners we often are so focused on going slow and long that we don’t do any speed work, which would help us become well rounded runners. But I never run a 7min/mile in a race, why train that way? Because not only does it make those slower paces feel much easier, it helps you get stronger and faster. So starting in early November 2013, with the help of a few friends (thanks Ginna, Kate and Jason) I started to consistently do focused speed work twice a week, while still doing moderate trail runs the rest of the week.
Tuesdays I would do a flat 5k tempo run, focusing on even pacing, then Thursdays I would do 400m or 800m repeats to work on leg turnover and the speed side of things. It was encouraging to see my speed improve week after week, but it also made me realize how far off I was from the days when I was more a speed and power athlete (volleyball training). On December 8th I joined a few friends at the Jingle Bells Arthritis fund raiser 5k in WashPark, Denver. A fairly low key race, but it would be my first official 5k since running at sea level back in 2005. With temps in the single digits and some snow on the road I wasn’t expecting a PR, but rather a good test of the fitness.
In spite of the conditions I was able to run decent splits (5:59/6:13/6:20) and finish 4th overall in 19:12, just 7seconds off my recorded PR. With two more weeks until I attempt a 5k/10k combo as sea level (Pleasanton Double Road Race), I’m very hopeful for solid PRs at both distances. By no means am I becoming a road runner, but it is good to get ourselves outside of our comfort zone every once and a while to truly test our physical limits. For each person how hard you push yourself will be different, just pick a goal, enlist a friend to help, and see what you are capable of. For an ultrarunner, this means running so hard you’re out of breath and being done with your race in time for brunch (rather than breakfast the next morning). The trails are still what I love the most, but sometimes it hurts so good to push the body and build up a little lactic acid. Run fast, run healthy, but mostly run happy.