Mile Repeats: The Running Test of Truth?

Pretty much no matter what you’re training for, you’ll do a workout of mile repeats. It’s just a fact, a standard of running. (Though I suppose ultrarunners probably avoid the mile repeats; it might be unnecessary. I dunno.)

Mile repeats are hard to fake. To a degree, I can fake 400s for a long time, though I might regret it later, and I can barrel and pray my way through long tempos beyond my real fitness. But, mile repeats — especially mile repeats done on the track, where the numbers are the numbers, not the numbers are relayed through a satellite and interfered with by trees and may be the numbers or may be something else entirely — can not be anything but your actual fitness. You can fake one, maybe two mile repeats, but you can’t fake them all.

This morning I did 4 x mile repeats with a 200m(ish) jog/walk/shuffle in between. I had no idea what they would be like or how fast I could go. My plan was 4-5 miles at 6:25ish pace. I wasn’t 100% sure how do-able that’d be. I sort of thought just keep it under 6:30, do the 4th one as a tempo 6:45-50 mile — something we do with the high school kids at practice to break up intervals, just get through it. But, then I did the first mile in 6:10, while dodging a PE class walking laps.

And, yes, a mile on the track is 1600m, not 1609m, so yes, it’s like 2″ short. But, still. That’s fast.

In this kind of workout, where I have no specific pace goal, I don’t like to slow down after the first one. If I went too fast, then I went too fast, but it’s time to find out if I can hold on. So, I did the next one in 6:11. And, it was hard, like I was running in tight armored pants, dragging my legs along. It was also really obvious this was going to be a battle, a real test of if I could gut it. Coach made an executive decision then and decided just four, not five, just four repeats, all under 6:15. Come on.

I was definitely muttering to myself at the start line, while the high school PE class (not the high school I coach at, the one right by my house) all stared at me like I was crazy. But, they already thought I was crazy. I did the third in 6:14. Going out slower and trying to pick it up on the second half was NOT easier.

Then, the last one. I was already wrecked. Anything under 6:20 is fast for me, is closer to 5K pace than anything I plan on racing soon. I slapped my legs a little, told them to pull it together. Once I started running it was a fight, a real nose over the line on which would happen first: I’d finish or I’d shit myself. I finished. The last lap I was killing myself, holding back the vomit, to try and keep it under 6:15. I crossed in 6:15.

And, then I was Done. And, it is three hours later and I haven’t gotten so much work completed. I may be Done for the day. But, I know I can run 6:10-6:15s now. I know. Test of truth.

Race Report: Marin Miracle Mile

First thing out of the way, I definitely 100% lost to Clara by like 20″. And, yes, she is definitely very pregnant:

Spectators in the background best part of the picture. From Pam Wendall
Spectators in the background are best part of the picture. And, no, there are no photos of me. I, evidently, did not attract the same attention. From Pam Wendall

Second thing: This was probably the first I’ve been sort of disappointed in a race during the whole on-off-training-not-training-just-see-how-it-goes thing. Typically, low expectations mean you’re pretty pleased with whatever happens. And, typically, I’m a better racer than trainer, so I tend to bring it when it matters. But, not today.

I started the day by bike leading the five mile race. It turns out it is significantly harder than I realized to bike while looking backwards. Then, I was freezing, so I changed clothes and shoes and started jogging even though I had over an hour to my mile heat (Open Women, what). Warming up really only made me feel tired and shitty, so after like a dozen strides I gave up on the idea that my legs would come around and committed fully to freaking out about how much this was going to suck.

The race always has a high-quality field — 4:00 milers in the men’s and very sub-5:00 in the women’s — but it was bigger this year. The Open Women’s race was over 40 girls, nearly all of whom run a 5:20 mile. So, it was what it was. The start is slightly downhill with two quick right turns and it was all elbows and trying not to fall and sprinting and thinking ‘hey this isn’t too bad maybe’ when we went through the 400m at 78″.

Then, we started heading up the false flat and through the crowds. Everyone was cheering and I heard quite a few ‘Go Kelly’s and I tried. I did. But, right before I hit the 800m in 2:42 (which, yes, is slowing down) I started to slide off the back of the group. There were a whole lot of girls who were going to run between 5:05 and 5:30 — and some who were going to run faster. And I just couldn’t hang on to them.

Then, the hill really kicked up and I slowed and slowed. I thought I was barely moving. To a degree, I think I did stop moving; I stopped fighting. It hurt enough; how much more did I want it to hurt? How much more could it? (Turns out, a lot.) But finally I hit the turn-around and passed a girl. I passed someone! And I could see the finish way down at the other end of downtown and you think ‘if I just pump my arms hard enough I can make this go by quicker.’

Then, I passed 1200m in 4:14. Is that good? Can I still go 5:30-something? Did I slow down? Probably, I thought, but the math was fuzzy.

People were screaming at me. I think Steve was there. I got the sense there might be a girl behind me. I was pretty sure my form was terrible and I looked like a dying cow — in orange shorts — but no one passed me. I was also 100% fucking positive I was going to run 5:30-something. About which I would be pretty happy with my race, you know, given everything. Finally, FINALLY, the finish line was there and I could see the clock. 5:40?!? WHAT?

I crossed the line in 5:42. But, I, um, apparently sat up a little early, because my official time says 5:46. Which, you know, I’m pretty sure I’ve run that pace within longer races.

Ah well. Race #1 back done.

Ready to Race? Running a Road Mile

Sunday, I am going to run a mile. I suppose, since I went for an easy run this morning, I also ran a mile — five of them — but Sunday I will run a mile FAST.

I’ve done the San Rafael Downtown Mile (now called the Miracle Mile) a couple times, maybe last year, maybe the year before it. My PR is 5:32 (which is my mile PR period), so obviously I’d like break 5:30. But that’s not going to happen.

Here’s the only photo of me racing it previously:

Do you see me at the very very back of that line of people? Looking squat and not very fast.
Do you see me at the very very back of that line of people? Looking squat and not very fast.

The race is typically filled with Olympic qualifiers and elites, etc. The women’s course record is like 4:49. And, it’s not a particularly fast course. You blast through the first two turns and then for a little under half-a-mile you run up 60 feet of elevation — just enough that it burns and hurts and slows as you hit the peak. Then, you turn around and go part of the way back down.

And, then you try to not throw up on anyone.

For four weeks after the Dipsea, I didn’t run. I did one 30′ easy jog with some friends one weekend, but that was it. Since starting up again in the last week-and-a-half, I’ve done three 30′-50′ slow, slow runs. And, Wednesday, I did one tempo workout with some efforts at half-marathon(ish) pace to remember that I do know how to theoretically.

So, theoretically, I should be able to get through this mile on Sunday. My plan is my standard plan: go out hard with the fast girls and hang on for as long as possible.

Have you run a road mile? Any ideas how much it’s going to hurt?