Run For Your Life (or yet another reason why 5Ks rock!)

I’m not quite there yet, but I can imagine a time in the not so very distant future when I have to accept that I’ll never set another PR, and change my running mindset. There will always be age group awards, of course, and the general thrill of competition, but I’ve begun to imagine what it would look like if I were to eventually quit running for records and started running for health. Or, more specifically, what would my training be like if all I cared about was maximizing the health benefits of running?

Looking over some recent studies, I’d suggest that the answer is that it would look pretty much just like training for a fast 5k.


In other words, weekly workouts when running for health would include a close-to-even mix of high intensity intervals, weight training, and slow and steady running.


High intensity intervals have shown a huge range of benefits, generally beating slow and steady running in several areas:

But, intervals are hard and can take a toll on the body, so most people suggest no more than two (maybe three) such workouts in a week. I’m capping out at two. One of those will certainly be my all time favorite, the 30/20/10.

Weight Training

Maybe the biggest danger of any workout is injury, and intervals might be especially dangerous there. If you get injured, you’re off the road for a long while, and any running is better than no running. So the top goal of any plan must be to stay healthy. How to do that? Strength training.

Strength helps when you’re young and is one key to speed (by improving economy), but when you’re… not so young, strength training is absolutely essential. Sure, it’ll keep you fast(ish), but more importantly, if you don’t do it you’ll lose muscle mass every year, and sooner or later—probably sooner—you’re going to be staying home and nursing an injury instead of getting in your miles.

So to my two intervals per week I have to add two strength sessions, with plyometrics, (probably on the same days).

Slow and Steady Running (marathon pace)

So far we’ve got four workouts, but only two days per week. What about the other five days? Well, most of those should be the slow and steady runs, which do a few things.

  • They are “recovery runs” (kind of an oxymoron, but let’s ignore that), letting your muscles have a light day to adapt to the intervals
  • They develop slow twitch muscles, adding capillaries and improving lactate clearance
  • They prevent me from going insane. It’s nice to get up and know you’re scheduled for an easy run sometimes.
  • There is increasing anecdotal evidence that top runners tend to spend a lot of time (70-80%) at this pace.

And Don’t Forget to Rest

I’ve come to believe in a five day per week schedule. When I get hurt or busy, I don’t even mind dropping that to four (maybe a walk or a bike ride instead of a slow run). But days off of running are sacred. Not only do they keep you out of the doctor’s office, they are when your body actually improves. Exercise stresses; rest builds.

So the moral of all this, is that I don’t have to choose between speed and health. So long as I’m sticking to my favorite race, I can train from PRs for the rest of my life, and if I don’t get those PRs, at least I’m getting years of happy life.


A Tiny Update

I’m back to teaching–and more to the point, I’m back to grading papers–so that explains the super light posting schedule.

But, just a few quick running updates:

I’m on week 13 of my plan, which should be my first 40 mile week. The increased distance hasn’t actually been bad, but the time involved is really sucking up my free time (rhetoric research time, blog time, etc.).

The 12×400 interval session, with my current pace being just a shade under 90 sec per, with about the same rest period, is the toughest one by far. I dread those.

I’ve come to think three speed sessions per week is one too many, and that I need to replace one with a long tempo run. I’ve done a couple short tempo sessions at 5k pace + 30 sec/mile or so (2 mile, or 2×2 mile with one slow mile in between) . I think I’ll try a longer slower session. Maybe 6 miles at 10k race pace + 30 sec/mile? But I’m not sure which speed run to bump. I suppose I should rotate, but getting rid of those 400s is awfully tempting. (But no–the fact that they hurt so much likely means they’re precisely what I need.)

I’m not convinced all these long slow miles are really worth it. They add a huge chunk of distance to my totals and make the numbers look a lot better, but are they making me faster? I don’t know. Maybe they’re at least keeping me healthier, as I haven’t had an injury. Then again, maybe that’s a bit of a post-hoc fallacy right there. Hard to know. They do seem to work as recovery, at least.

The weather is finally just beginning to drop away from sweltering. Still some 80 degree/90% humidity mornings, but there are now frequent 70 degree/90% humidity mornings. I’ll take what I can get.

The plan is almost over. I have three hard weeks and a taper week left. Then two races in consecutive weeks to see if the last 16 weeks got me where I needed to be.

After that… I’m not sure. A bit more 5k training, maybe, as the weather cools. Then probably a move to a 1/2 marathon plan for the McAllen half in January. 1:42 is my time to beat. Pretty sure I can without too much trouble, since I slammed into the wall at mile ten last year.

Oh, and the rhetoric research comparing the narrative forms of Bernie & Hillary is looking like it’ll lead to some great results. But a ways to go there yet.

Unauthorized 5k Plan for Old(ish) folks, Key Workout 1: Circuit Intervals

Running Science is big on strength training: whole body to start, then moving to more running specific and explosive drills. Strength is always a good thing, but drills like this are great for an old(ish) runner like myself because they combat the tendency to lose muscle with age and also help prevent injuries (like the one I’m recovering from now, hopefully).

The book has two straight strength sessions (and really, let me here again suggest you go get the book yourself!), but in the 5k section there’s a circuit session that is combined with intervals. Unfortunately, that plan is built around a track (i.e., do a 400, do three exercises, do another 400, etc), and I just don’t want to go to a track; I want to run in the park near my house. Plus, the park has those little fitness stations.

So this post is going to be about turning a highly organized and scientifically proven circuit training plan into something I can do at the fitness stations in my park, situated on a .7 mile trail, and likely designed by a city worker during the lunch hour.

And before I start, let me say the book’s plan would be a bruising workout. For instance, there is no recovery time at all—or rather, the recovery time from running is spent doing the strength circuit, and the recovery from the circuit exercises is spent running. So I’m going to have to tone it down, I can tell already.

As I see it, the big issue is how to fit in the 400s. If I run a 400, I’ll miss half the stations. If I hit each of the stations in turn, I’ll never run much more than about 100-200 meters at a time. And there’s no way I’m running a full lap, almost 1200m, between each station. For the moment, I’ll just have to settle for running from station to station.

So my first try—a “still-recovering-from-injury-and-also-still-not-in-shape-for-this-circuit-thing” try— should go something like this.

  1. 2.5 mile warmup
  2. 400m at current 5k race pace (about 98 seconds, or 6:30/mile right now)
    • Then do each station below, running at 5k pace between them (a total of .7 miles)
  3. Push ups (15)
  4. Chin ups (5ish) (man I hate chin ups)
  5. Monkey bars (I’m going to skip this one for another few weeks while my shoulder heals)
  6. Pogo hop (short quick straight-leg hop, driven by ankles)
    • This isn’t a station, but I’ll do it instead of the silly ladder-climb thing they have
  7. Sit ups (with Russian Twist) (20?)
  8. Leg lifts (laying on back – ab exercise) (15 each leg)
  9. Leg lifts (standing – quad/hip exercise) (15 each leg)
  10. Step ups (15 each leg)
  11. High Lunge (10 each leg)
  12. Hop over low bar (12)
  13. Jump up to high bar (15)
  14. Run one lap (.7 miles)
  15. And then… another???
  16. Cool down run – 1.5 miles

I’m missing one-legged squats and bench dips from the book plan, so I’ll have to work those in later


And a day later, the results:

I made it around. Once. Or, phrased more positively, I made it through steps 1-13, plus step 15. Also, I’m still slow from the injury so I didn’t hit 5k race pace.

All in all, it is absolutely astounding how tiring these exercises are!  I always thought runners were the only ones panting with exhaustion after a workout, but how wrong I was! Going straight from one station into a fast run… Wow. This is an oxygen intensive session! I was probably breathing a bit harder after my 30/20/10 sprint session, but then again I had to cut this circuit round short with the injury.

On the bright side, I’ve got plenty of room for improvement.

Get your sprint on: the 30/20/10 sprint workout for distance runners

The 30/20/10 workout seems simple and quick: jog for 30 seconds, run at 10k pace for 20 seconds, sprint for 10 seconds. Repeat four more times. Walk for 2 minutes. Then do the whole series (5×1 minute runs + 2 min walk) two more times. Twenty-one minutes total.

Okay, not really 21 minutes. Sprinting, especially at first, seemed likely to leave a “masters” (read “old”) runner like myself writhing on the ground clutching a pulled (torn? shredded?) muscle in some particularly sensitive area. So I added a 2.5 mile warm up jog, and a 1.5 mile warm down. Along with the 2.2 miles or so covered during the workout itself, this make for a 6.2 mile day, or a nice even 10k, and takes me a bit over an hour with some lunges and other dynamic stretching after the warm up. (And do yourself a favor: get a programmable running watch for this. My old Garmin 220 works fine.)

What’s so great about the workout? Simple: it’s the best way to spend time at maximum heart rate I’ve encountered. It ramps up your heart and breathing in no time flat, and gives you just enough rest to let you keep going, but not so much that your heart rate drops back into the zone of blissful rest. Basically, you’ll spend three separate five minute periods panting and gasping, but you’ll get better fast. Really fast. Plus, you get to sprint–like you haven’t done since you were a kid!

You can see the technical studies on the workout here.

Lately, I’ve replaced my interval day with this run, and it’s been great. I’m running well, feeling strong, and am in the middle of the longest (basically) injury-free stretch I’ve had. I think I owe quite a bit of that to this workout.

My last 5k: 20:10. So close.