Mindless Moments - One Mile
Fri, 22 Jan 2010 00:57:26 -0800
I’m training to run a mile. I know. Anemic. Pathetic. Feeble. Who cares? I know.
What kind of life changing experience am I going to get out of running a mile? Who is going to be inspired by anyone running a mile? Everyone can run a mile. Hell, Oprah ran a marathon. One mile. Please.
I don’t care. I’m going to run a mile as fast as I can and here’s why.
When I started all this nonsense I couldn’t imagine running a mile without stopping. Then I saw a television show about the marathon narrated by Al Greenspan with Abebe Bikila winning in Rome – barefoot - on cobblestones. I knew I had to run a marathon.
My sister talked me into transforming my male teenage couch inspiration into reality. I started “training”. I ran a mile – without stopping – in Converse High Tops. Hey, don’t laugh - those were athletic shoes in 1977. Anyway, I finally ran a mile…straight. It was a big deal. A milestone. Yes, pun intended.
There were a lot of miles in between then and now but running one mile has never been far from my consciousness and maybe yours too. Think about it. Country mile. 55-Miles Per Hour. Thousand mile stare. Three Mile Island. The Green Mile. Mile marker. Mile high. Mile high club. Eight Mile. The Miracle Mile. Going the extra mile. Gas mileage. Journey of 1000 miles. People will come from miles around. Miles Davis…ok, I know, that’s pushing it.
The bummer is that now, under the guise of moving into the modern age, we’ve all gone metric. Right, I know, getting in sync with the rest of the world and all that. So, now high school distance events are in meters… 400 meters, 800 meters, 1600 meters, and, yes, you can see the pattern, 3200-meters.
I know that there’s a good percentage of the running world that has no idea what their pace per mile is in a given running event because their reference is kilometers. I don’t care. I’m talking about one mile. Not 1600 freaking meters either. One Mile. Not a converted 1500 time. One mile.
I often talk to athletes from the Colonies who actually ask me what pace per kilometer I run for 5km or 10km or whatever. What? Pace per kilometer? That sounds so gay. No, not gay like that but gay like, oh, never mind. I know. I’m getting old. I have a hard time being politically correct. Pace per kilometer. Please.
Does anyone talk about how many sub-4-minute 1609.3 meter races Steve Scott has run? Uh, no. (136 by the way) No, it’s about the mile. It’s about Roger Bannister & John Landy. Herb Elliott & Peter Snell. Jim Ryan, Marty Liquori & Filbert Bayi. John Walker & Kip Keino. Eamonn Coghlan & Steve Scott. Sebastian Coe & Steve Ovett & Steve Cram. Noureddine Morceli & Hicham El Guerrouj. Alan Webb.
Ask any former high school track and field distance runner what they ran for a mile was and, false humility and feigning memory issues aside, they’ll give you a time quicker than if they were asked their age. I’ve always joked about the universal male athletic bench mark of the bench press (really, no pun intended there). “So how much can you bench?” Well, in the world of high school distance running, the mile is the gold standard. Yes, a fast 2-mile will garner a lot of respect in the same way that a blazing half mile will impress those who lack any measure of genetically imparted speed but the mile is the standard by which all are measured. “Really, you ran distance? What did you go for a mile?” Then an E.F. Hutton moment follows as all present are all ears in anticipation of the response.
Anyway, back to running a mile and why. There are things you notice as you drift through your forties. If you come from a long history of endorphin abuse, you’ll inevitably notice that the kinds of aches and pains that used to be called “injuries” are now status quo. You realize that, “wow, that’s one really achy knee.” Then, you think to yourself, “hey, if my knee felt like that 15-years ago, I’d not only be seeing a doctor and taking a week off but would surely be crying myself to sleep because I’d be missing the next workout and/or race.”
Because you’re now more experienced with the relationship between abuse and aches, you now realize that the pain you’re experiencing isn’t going to stop and, therefore, not going to stop you from doing anything. You can not only run on that achy (pick one) knee, hip, ankle, foot, shin, back, etc. but likely won’t be any worse for it – for a while anyway. Yes, you might be a little sorer the next day but pain is all relative now. What are you going to do? Sit on the couch? Besides, there’s always vitamin I.* Aches and pains that you used to whine about, obsess about, and get endless excuses from become part of the landscape. Once you’re past 40, you’re a walking excuse. It’s kind of nice.
Along with the aches comes the uncanny ability (AKA intelligence, confidence, patience, maturity) to allocate the cause (OCD generated repetitive motion) of your suffering more reasonably relative, not just to better fit your time constraints, but according to your body’s ability to handle it. You used to run 7-days a week – religiously – through illness, injury, and life deadlines. No one ever said that “youth is wasted on the old,” did they?
Now you’re wise (ok, old). Now you know that it’s much more enjoyable (pain free) to run 3 or 4-days a week and substitute an alternative endorphin substitute like cycling, swimming, walking, yoga, paddling, strength training, horse shoes, SUP, shuffle board, etc. that doesn’t stress the running specific joints and muscles in quite the same way but gives you your fix. You learn to take a week’s worth of training from your 20’s or 30’s and spread it out over two weeks.
You still want to run a 5km, 10km, half marathon and/or marathon and you still need the requisite training but you’re on the descending part of the bell curve of training volume/intensity. It doesn’t matter really. You might still be ahead of what you did as a beginner and even getting better results. I guess you become more recovery focused and less training focused. This must be what everyone keeps referring to as “muscle memory”. The usual line I hear is something like, “Oh you don’t even need to train – you’ve got all that muscle memory.” Uh, ok. Whatever you say. I can’t wait ‘til you have to get through a race on “muscle memory”. Good luck with that.
If you’re like most endurance athletes, you started with a single sport and took it through every distance over the course of a decade or more. You then progressed to another discipline or combined disciplines and took this to its upper end of its addictive potential. By the time you arrive at the end stage (marathon and/or Ironman/ and/or ultra-marathon and/or 24-hour+ adventure racing), you’re left with one of three options: 1 – keep on going – albeit more slowly; 2 – move to the couch; 3 – regress. I’ve chosen to regress. One mile.
Think about it. It’s a no-brainer really. While the next generation of endurance nincompoops is rabidly consuming training volume like cruise ship passengers at the buffet, consider going back to the purity of 4 laps around the track. Actually, in most cases it’s actually 4.0058125 laps because of the advent of 400-meter tracks and the necessity of adding the 9.3-meters to the start of the 4-laps in order to measure a true mile. Whatever, right? Well, no. It can only be a mile when it’s measured correctly. I know. I’m getting old. Still, it’s important. Nothing worse than some poser telling you how fast they ran a mile when, in fact, it was only 1600-meters. Weak.
The idea came from a friend – let’s call him Keith Simmons – who had buddies back east who were all past the 40-year old mark and, while all had run very fast in their youth, like most of us, had gotten jobs and/or had families and/or both. As their kids got older and/or they were more established in their chosen professions, time constraints loosened as mortality closed in resulting in that perfect storm known as the “midlife crisis”. Staring the last vestiges of youth square in the face, they realized that this might be their last shot at going under 5-minutes for a mile. They wanted to form a “club” of sorts. The “Sub-5 Club”. I can feel the derision of every young, fast distance runner scoffing at such a lame and desperate attempt at “going slow”. That’s ok. Age humbles all in the end. No one gets out of here alive.
So, one of my neighborhood recess partners (we’ll call him Jason Tuffs) said, “why don’t we do that?” After a lot of “yeah, right” responses, at least three or four had committed. Even in those who wouldn’t commit, you could see the light in their eyes and watch smiles of anticipation form. That was back in early November. Race day was set as December 20th. That meant we had a solid 7-weeks to train.
The excuses started almost immediately. “I’ll be on the road for 25-days in November blah-blah.” Or “I’ve got the kids and school blah, blah.” Or “I don’t know – I’m just coming off an injury blah-blah.” Everyone looked at everyone else and we all just shook our heads. It was pathetic. We had just finished talking about training to run a mile as fast as we could like 10-year olds talk about Christmas vacation and, upon finally nailing down a date, performance anxiety fueled an unlimited supply of excuses. An independent observer might think we were going to Iraq. Pitiful.
Each went his own way and began “training”. In my case, I knew I’d be working on an Ironman in Tempe, Arizona and then decompressing while trying to tie up all the loose ends that only 2500 Ironman athletes can generate. That’s when training for a mile becomes such an appealing distance – exactly because it’s not an Ironman…or a marathon…or a swim across the English Channel. Those are all incredible and worthy (not just nutty) goals but there are only so many hours in the day and mere mortals need most of those for work, family, and, hopefully, a little me-time to stay sane.
So, here was my weekly training program:
MONDAY – off (I like this already, right?)
TUESDAY – Threshold Strength – Eg: 3xMile (1-mile warm up, 3 x 1-mile with 200 jogging recovery after each, 1-mile cool down); Reality - Run ¾ of a mile to ASU track, run 2-laps of straights and turns (run at workout pace on the straights and jog the turns as extended warm-up, run 3 x 1-mile descend with 200 jog after each, run ¾-mile back to hotel.
WEDNESDAY – off or 20-min easy ride or run
THURSDAY – 30-minute jog easy
FRIDAY – Anaerobic Race Specific – Eg: 6 to 8 x 400 (1-mile warm up, 6 to 8 x 400meters at or close to race pace with 200 walk/jog recovery after each); Reality - Run ¾ of a mile to ASU track, run 2-laps of straights and turns (run at workout pace on the straights and jog the turns as extended warm-up, run 6 to 8x400 with 200 walk/jog after each, run ¾-mile back to hotel.
SATURDAY – off
Sunday – “Long” run – 45min to 75-minute easy jog
That’s a total of approximately two hours and thirty five minutes to three hours total of running each week. Yes, I tried to ride my cross or mountain bike for an hour each week as well but, especially in November, that was tough.
Consider that I started from just about nothing – nothing, that is, specific to this kind of a race for the past 6-months. I’d been running from zero to 3-times/week with my dog at about 9 to 10-minutes per mile for maybe 3-miles at a time. I rode my bike once a week and tried to go for a stand up paddle or swim 3 times a week. I’d gotten up to 195lbs. Not exactly prime fitness to run a mile.
Here’s approximately what the progress (in terms of times) looked like for the threshold strength and anaerobic race specific workouts looked like:
3rd – 3xmile – 7:15, 7:00, 6:45 (ouch)
10th – 3xmile – 6:50, 6:40, 6:28 (still ouch but noticeably better)
17th – 3xmile – 6:40, 6:20, 6-minute effort on road not measured (actually felt much better – still hurt but going faster helps)
24th – No miles…ran 2x(300, 200, 100) first set in 55-seconds, 40, 19 and then 52, 38, 17 – ouch.
1st – four mile fartlek run with one 4-min effort and 1-mile in 5:59 on a mild uphill grade the whole way.
2nd – yeah, I know it’s not smart to back up hard workouts but recess partners Jason & Andrew invited me. 3x(400, 300, 200, 100 – 100 recovery walk/jog after each): 1st set: 78, 60, 40, 20; 2nd set: 75, 58, 39, 18; 3rd set: 72, 56, 37, 18. Brutal. Absolutely brutal. Felt like sprinting the whole way & not getting recovered.. There’s no way I’ll go under 5-minutes for 4-laps straight. No way.
8th – 3xmile – 6:10, 5:58, 5:45
15th – ran 6 x 400 as: 78, 75, 71, 74, 72, 69 – eureka! 69 is the fastest 400 I’ve seen in a long time. That said, there was way too much walking on the recovery and there’s no way I’ll break 5-minutes. Still felt way too hard.
20th – RACE DAY! – Felt great but, as I guessed, fell a bit short. Went 5:06. So close and yet so far.
Note, each of these workouts took a total of 35 to 60-minutes from start to finish. All included a 10 to 15-minute warm-up and I always used the first interval of the workout as an extended warm-up so that I had somewhere to go.
The mile on December 20th was GREAT! All of the neighborhood recess partners showed up and then some. My training partners and, really, the impetus behind keeping this thing alive, Jason Tuffs and Andrew Block (both complete with spikes), and the rest of the crew including IronJay Kuderka, Marc “Fat & out of shape” Lees (in black pajama pants), Dave “Super Dave” Jewell, Roch “I’m training for the Beer Mile” Frey, Heather “3rd at X-Terra Hawaii World Champs Trail Run” Fuhr, Bob “What? There’s a race? Babbitt, Paula “I just want to watch” Newby-Fraser, Wade “I ran 100-miles yesterday” Blomgren, Julie Block, & Lisa Spenser
The “race” wasn’t as much a race as it was an exercise in pacing and pain. It was surprising to feel the same feelings before, during and after an “event” that was so short and so low key. It didn’t matter. There was the same nervousness, anticipation, and “what am I doing” feelings in the minutes before the start. The same excuses and universal sand bagging before the start. The same battle with yourself to find the right balance between going too hard too early and holding back too much. The same temptation to give up on the third lap when you’re up to your arms in anaerobic pain but still have more than a lap to go. Granted, each of these lasted mere seconds but that’s the point. Before you know it, it’s over. If you do it right, you can find an Ironman’s worth of emotions & suffering in a single mile run for about 1/100th the investment in time, money, and energy.
Within 30-seconds of finishing, Ironman champion Heather Fuhr remarked to Newby, “Look at them. (meaning the rest of us) You know what’s coming.” She was right. Before we stopped breathing hard the word has already been uttered. Re-match. We were so close. If we kept doing what we’d been doing over the past 7-weeks for another 4 to 6-weeks, we’d surely go under 5-minutes. Pure hubris. January 30th. We’ll see. I predict injuries.
Another Germ of An Idea: Training for and running one mile with a group of friends over the course of a month and a half got me thinking. With absolutely no advertising and very little word of mouth, three people’s goal, got 15-people to a local high school track to attempt their best possible mile in whatever their current state of fitness would permit.
Why couldn’t a simple one page “One Mile Event” plan and 6 to 8-week training program be distributed by a group like USA Track & Field to high school track and cross country coaches throughout the country. The coach and kids put on the event – track or x-country team is like having a whole team of volunteers. Get the kids to recruit their parents and the parents to recruit their neighbors. Maybe get some of the parents who run or have running backgrounds to mentor neighborhood groups toward the goal – a track meet of sorts that features one race – the mile. Have heats according to goal times. An 8-minute heat, a 7-minute race, 6-minute, and 5-minute heat, etc. You could self time or take it to whatever level of sophistication the turnout dictated. The proceeds would go to benefit the schools track and cross country programs and only those programs.
Result? The High School running programs get some badly needed funds, the neighborhood participants lose a few pounds and get some fitness and improved quality of life, and USATF gets some members.
Imagine a summer or winter weekend day when every high school in the country produced a one-mile event and posted the results by age-group on a website. Imagine the level of obsessing, trash talking, and goal setting this might generate. Imagine the population base of runners that might suddenly become inspired. Who knows where the next Alan Webb is right now but maybe there’s a few others to be discovered.
I don’t think people realize how motivating it is to pursue a distance and intensity that seems to have become foreign to most of us. The progress you see is meteoric if you’ve been in aerobic mode for a while and, let’s face it, 90% of the endurance sport population has been in “aerobic, finishing is winning” mode for a while now. There’s nothing wrong with that. After a while though, what about trying the other end of the spectrum? What about performance? What about going fast? – whatever that might mean to you.
At the age of 47 with too many miles on my chassis and less time for activities I love, I’ve found renewed motivation for consistently exercising (I can’t bring myself to call it “training” anymore) through shortened “seasons” chasing one activity with an end goal. I moved from the fall paddling/SUP season to winter running and one mile. After January 30th, I’m considering a brief (6-week) assault on my best possible 400-yard freestyle. Why 6-weeks? Because my swimming is so out of shape, I know the progress will keep me coming back to the pool for about that amount of time – 6-weeks. I know what you’re thinking. If I can get faster in 6-weeks, just think what I might be able to do in 12, right? Yeah but I also know I’ll probably get sick of it and start to have age-group swimming flashbacks - and I’m not willing to get to that point. I’ll see what it brings and then maybe go after the 2.5-mile time trial on the bike. By that time It will be April and I’ll be ready to move my personal fitness adventure off road. I’ll keep you posted.