Building run speed, fast!

Only four weeks to the Gold Coast Half Marathon, and I’ve got some serious confidence issues. My PB is 1:28:10 set last year, and I want to go under that.

Last year I was on track for 1:24ish (4min/km pace), after running a 15K race 6 weeks out in 60 mins (4min/km pace). But then I got injured and had 4 weeks off running leading up to raceday.

run fitness jun 2012

So I figured this year I’d be able to go under 1:28. I started my build in January but once again injury struck and I had six weeks off running in March/April. When I came back I focused on triathlons through April/May. Now I’m back running – mostly steady paced running – building up to a 2hr long run. There’s been with very little fast running.

This time last year I could run 5K in 18:11. This year? I have no idea!

And that’s part of my problem. I’ve not been doing regular benchmark testing, so I have no idea where I’m at! Not only that, regular 3km or 5km tests are a great way to build speed, especially if they are races. Last year I ran five 5km races in two months and brought my time down from 20 mins to 18 mins.

parkrun results

Without being able to compare to last year, I have no confidence that I can better last year’s time. I need to go into this race with two things: a sensible pacing strategy, and the confidence that I can achieve it. Right now, I have neither!

So with 4 weeks to go, how can I build some pace, measure my pace, and determine what pace I should race at?

1. Building Speed

I’ll build pace by doing run intervals. I’ve been loosely following Pat Carroll’s Gold Coast Half Marathon training programmes. They’ll have me doing two speed sessions a week: one set of shorter intervals (e.g. 10 x 30 seconds with 30 seconds Jogging Recovery), and one set of longer intervals (eg. 6 x 2mins with 30sec JR).

pat carroll training program

2. Measuring Improvement

I’ve got two obvious options. Run a 3km time trial or use the 5km parkrun races.

I ran a 3km TT five weeks ago, so I would get an immediate pointer to how much I’ve improved in the last 5 weeks. BUT, I never ran any 3km TTs last year, so I can’t compare to last year.

Last year I regularly ran the 5km Main Beach parkrun. I could run the parkrun this year and immediately get a feel for where I’m at compared to last year. The course has changed slightly since then I ran it, but not significantly. If I can run under 19mins, I’ll feel that a sub 1:28km half marathon is possible.

I’ll try to do both of these – perhaps the 3km TT this week, and then the 5km race next week. Regardless, both of these are good training sessions that will help me get faster!

3. Determining Race Pace


Once I’ve done my speed work and got my benchmarks, setting a race pace is pretty straight-forward. I don’t think I’ve ever thought too much about it. If I feel I can have a crack at my 1:28 PB (4:10 min/km), then I’d find the 1:24 balloon and try to sit at the back of the bunch and let them move slowly away as I run at 4:05 min/km-ish pace. At the turnaround I’ll know whether I can increase my pace for the negative split or maintain it. If I can’t do either, then it’s survival mode!

BTW. I use the free PaceCalc app on the iPhone to quickly work out what pace achieves what time, and vice versa. Simple. Handy.

Don’t Blow It!

I weigh around 70kg right now. If I race at 68kg that could be a minute right there. Free speed! As long as I don’t get sick and miss training. So the usual pre-race mantras apply:

  • eat sensible amounts
  • eat lots of fruit and vege
  • avoid stress
  • sleep well (my 30 day sleep average is 5 hours – 7 would be nice)

I typically fail at all of the above!

Walking the Knife-Edge

Once again I’ll be walking the knife-edge: trying to get faster without getting injured. It’s a knife that’s cut me several times in the last few years. I’ve got to back-off when the calves get too tight and give them time to recover. The problem is that “too tight” is subjective. Right now, they are tight after every run; more so after speed intervals. But so far they’ve always loosened within a day or two, and I haven’t run long or fast on tight calves. YET!

Can I Say No?

Tomorrow I run a 3km TT. If my calves are still tight two days later, will I postpone my long run? I just don’t know… If there was no immediate race goal, I’d postpone it for sure. I think I’ve just answered my question. I need to take a long term view. I’m sick of training myself to injury and then starting again months later!

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