Monday, November 13, 2006

The Perfect Mile

Sure, there are times when you feel like hammering a speed workout, combining intensity and volume in a flurry of intervals that leave you exhausted (and I mean that in a good way). But if you do that the week of your favorite 5-K, you'll leave your race right there on the track. The latest studies indicate that the best way to prepare for a race is to reduce the volume of your running (read: cut mileage), but keep up the intensity. The Mile Breakdown does just that. It's the perfect speed workout to do on a Monday or Tuesday when you're planning to race that weekend. Challenging but short, the Mile Breakdown leaves you race-ready instead of weary.

Breaking It Down
Warmup: Run easy for 2 to 3 miles to a track. Do a few light stretches, followed by 4 x 100-meter strides at slightly faster than 5-K race pace to loosen up your legs.

The mile: Run four laps at 5-K race pace (assuming you're on a 400-meter track). Starting with a mile right off the bat may seem daunting. But keep in mind that this is the longest interval you'll run, and it's done while you're still fresh. Since your 5-K race pace is about 90 percent of your max-VO2 pace, recover from the mile with 4 to 5 minutes of easy jogging.

1200 meters: (That's three laps for the metrically challenged.) Once you've recovered from the mile, run your 1200 at the same 5-K race pace. By running the same pace for this shorter distance, it's as if the governor has given you a reprieve from the executioner. In other words, you get to stop before things get really tough. The same aerobic and anaerobic systems get worked during this interval as with the mile, but for a shorter time. Recover with 3 to 4 minutes of easy jogging.

800 meters: By now you've probably picked up on the trend. Run your 800 (or two-lapper) at the same 5-K race pace as the intervals before it. You've already run a four-lapper and a three-lapper at this pace, so your two-lapper feels like you're on cruise control. The joke is on your body, though, because the work you're doing is still close to max-VO2 pace, where the greatest physiological gains are made. Recover with 2 to 3 minutes of jogging.

400 meters: Since you've done such a good job keeping your pace steady as the distance has decreased, go ahead and open up a little on this last interval. Try to run this lap about 5 to 6 seconds faster than the laps that have preceded it. Why go faster now? This interval is so short you can run it a little harder without building up lactic acid (which could compromise your race later in the week). And from a neuromuscular standpoint, this fast finish helps stimulate more fast-twitch muscle fibers. You'll end your workout at a pace that's faster than your weekend race pace will be, so the start of your race will feel very comfortable by comparison.

Cooldown: Cap off the workout with an easy 2-mile jog.
The total volume of fast running in the Mile Breakdown is 2.5 miles, as opposed to the 3 to 4 miles of fast running recommended for a regular speedwork day. Yet the intensity of the workout is still high enough to boost your aerobic fitness and improve your speed. Here's to a personal record this weekend. a

Ed Eyestone, a two-time Olympic marathoner and men's cross-country coach at Brigham Young University, has a master's degree in exercise physiology.

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