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I did a speed workout today. No, really. On the track and everything.


After whining about how boring and unrewarding my recent workouts have been yesterday, I woke up this morning and actually couldn’t bear the thought of another monotonous regular-paced run. I also couldn’t bear the thought of my typical bs effort-based speed workouts, where my actual speed is a mystery.

So I trundled over to the track, and to my shock, actually completed an entire speed workout. I’m not sure if it really had a purpose, but I’m running in a (free!) 11.6 mile road race in a couple weeks, which might be a good barometer for my general half-marathon capacity, so I’d like to at least do okay. And even if I do poorly, it doesn’t matter, because it’s free, it’s fun, I always see people I know at this race, and no one really cares how fast you ran 11.6 miles.

For today, I borrowed a speed workout from the half-marathon training plan section over at See Jess Run. It was the “bonus workout,” which looked to be a perfectly reasonable and mentally manageable ladder: 400, 400, 800, 800, 1600, 800, 800, 400, 400 all at McMillan long distance runner “speed workout” pace. I plugged my recent 41:28 10K time into the MacMillan calculator and it chugged out a 1:32:16 half-marathon prediction, which is probably quite aggressive, but not as aggressive as the marathon prediction.

Numbers numbers numbers. I’m bad at math. Looking at this makes me woozy.


I planned to aim for the slow end of the range, but we all know how that goes sometimes.

Actual times in bold, target time in parentheses.

  • 400 – 88.5  (87.7-92.7)
  • 400 – 87.8
  • 800 – 3:03  (3:03.1-3:11.7)
  • 800 – 3:02
  • 1600 – 6:26   (6:23-6:37)
  • 800 – 3:00.5
  • 800 – 3:00
  • 400 – 88.1
  • 400 – 82.8

I am thrilled that I actually did what I planned to do. On the way over to the track, and during my warmup, and during the first 400, and the first 800, and the 1600… I kept thinking in the back of my mind that I would probably quit at some point, hit the trails, and phone in the rest of the workout with my standard effort-based cowardice. But I didn’t. I actually did the whole thing, and it wasn’t even awful. I did get uncomfortable, mostly during the 800’s, but I took the 1600 slow, and the 400’s were too short to hurt.

Reasons this was a good workout:

  • The weather. It was mid-70’s and the humidity was low enough that I didn’t break into a subconscious imitation of the Wicked Witch of the West. No problem. Perfect.
  • The warmup. Part of my struggle with track workouts is that I tend to joggy jog the warmup and then leap right into the speed. I do this time after time, even though I know I tend to get faster after I’ve had to get uncomfortable and make a real effort before the actual measured speed workout begins. So today I spent the last 10’ of my warmup doing minute on, minute off striders to force a bit of fatigue into my legs. When they’re a little tired, I do better.
  • The rest. I had no idea what my rest times were supposed to be. I took 85 seconds for the 400s, 2:30 for the 800’s, 4:45 for the 1600, jogging or walking during that time. Is this way too much rest? Probably. Even so, I wasn’t concerned about too much rest. Since this is my first actual speed workout in forever, all I really hoped to do was hit close to the times and not crawl away from the track with my tail between my legs.

Reasons I’m wondering whether this was actually a good workout:

  • The MacMillan Calculator. Any thoughts on how appropriate these training paces tend to be? Do any of you use this calculator? I used it all through my marathon training and I liked it well enough, I’m just interested to know if anybody’s got a pulse on this thing.
  • The total speed mileage. Is only four miles worth of speed appropriate for a half-marathon speed workout? Probably yes, if it’s in conjunction with other types of longer speed workouts. As we know, I don’t have an actual training plan, so the ultimate benefit to me and my random whims remains to be seen.
  • The rest. As I said, I suspect I may have been a little too generous to myself.

As part of my cool-down, I shucked my shoes and trotted four laps opposite traffic on the infield, following Murdoch’s suggestion about minimalism in the comments section on my running/healthy lifestyle failures post. It felt amazing; I need to do that more often. On the gross jog home (two miles on a busy street that goes under one of those creepy highway overpasses with lots of dirty birds that hang out in the rafters) I got pooped on by a pigeon. Oh well. That’s good luck, right?


  • How much should I be resting in between these speed pieces?
  • Is four miles of speed really enough for half-marathon training? 
  • Are the training paces from MacMillan any good? Are there other calculators you’ve used to determine appropriate speed workout paces?

I know. These questions are kind of rookie, but in the event that anyone cares to answer them, I’d be pleased.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. 07/20/2010 12:35

    Great job! I actually find that the McMillan calculator gives difficult and fast paces, so you should be proud!

  2. 07/20/2010 14:13

    i use mcmillian and have found it to be a really good range of paces for me to hit. and i think that 4 miles of speed is good. i don’t think i went more than 7 miles of speed for marathon training.

    • 07/20/2010 20:39

      Yeah…sheesh, come to think of it, neither did I. You’re right: looking back on the marathon plan I followed, the most speedwork I did in one session was 7000 m total… that’s what, just over 4 miles? Interesting…

  3. 07/20/2010 18:48

    Aww chyeah, I wanna break this shit down. I’d smoke you in them 400s, tie in the 800s and I’d get killed in the 1600. Then I wouldn’t do the part that goes back down because lucky me, I just ran a mile.

    • 07/20/2010 20:50

      a. Alllllmost a mile.
      b. You’d probably beat me in an all-out 800. I’m not very fast.
      c. I bet you the entire country of North Korea that I could beat you in a long distance swimming event. A very long distance, only.

      [NOTICE] The DPRK finds that your diction is occasionally not family friendly. Certain terms may be edited in accordance with my whims, although, if possible, I will attempt to preserve a few of the letters you originally wanted. Maaaahahahaha.

      • 07/20/2010 22:22

        A) Due to my slowness and the Earth’s rotation, I’d end up running the full thing. All extra 9.34051341234123 meters.
        B) Racing an 800 yeah, I could get that. But doing repeats, nuh uh. Watching me at any swim practice ever and you’d see how true that last statement is.
        C) And I’d bet you’re right. I absolutely hate swimming anything longer than 500 yards at once. It was about 100 yards in high school.

        And sure, edit me up. People can’t handle me the way I are. And why do our little symbol things look so alike, I hadn’t noticed that before.

  4. jbf permalink
    07/20/2010 23:48

    This is probably the opposite of the kind of answer you want, but here goes anyway. And it’s probably gonna be super long because this comment page makes the margins terrible.

    Re: pace calculators, screw ’em. I despise intervals training for anything under 10k-ish. Training for a 5000m race, I did a ridiculous session 400s and I feel like it probably didn’t help too much at all (i.e., I would have gotten more benefit out of a good tempo, or a some nice 1600m repeats). I’m all about some tempos; they really do help a ton more, at least to this guy’s legs. For pace — and this is even for 400s, if you’re dead set on masochism — to me, just run ’em hard(ish). Obviously don’t blast a 63 and drag the rest of the workout, put it into perspective for what you’re doing, but don’t set rigid goals like that. You know what you’re capable of, you know what feels hard, finish the workout feeling appropriately tired for the phase of your training that you’re in.

    Basically I just hate calculators and super-defined paces and the like. We don’t jive. Run by feeeeeeeel. This was way too long for a blog comment.

    • 07/21/2010 12:39

      Trust me, I’m with you. See first two paragraphs:

      Although in its defense, I think the MacMillan calculator gives a nice big “range” to acknowledge that phase of training, weather, fatigue, and other factors affect performance. The biggest thing a speed workout offers me is confidence. I’ve actually done something objective that can translate onto another track, another time, another place. Not so with my typical effort-paced jazz.

      “You know what you’re capable of, you know what feels hard…” The thing is, I don’t. To me, a 90″ 400m feels hard, and an 80″ 400m feels hard, and a 70″ 400m feels hard. There’s a big raaaange of hard, and sometimes it’s tough for me to be honest with myself about how much of an effort I’m actually making. With perceived-effort tempo type stuff, I can mentally “look the other way” if perhaps I’m not actually going as hard as I should be.

      That said, after singing all these praises, I probably won’t run another track workout for months.

      I don’t believe I’ve ever run a 63″ 400m. Not even once. Wah.

      And with that, I believe I just out-lengthed you in this comment.

      • jbf permalink
        07/21/2010 21:17

        I know what you mean about doing it for the sake of confidence. The aforementioned session of 400s was mainly meant for confidence. (In this training cycle, I was actually doing 400s every Wednesday night, for the sake of confidence/consistency. It useful being able to see the number of reps going up and the time for each going down.) But there are other ways to achieve this end. Any workout that you do rather consistently (once a month or so) can give you that. The key is to actually be improving so that you really do see the times dropping. In the case of the tempo, if you do it on the same course every time, it still translates. And an added bonus: if you’re training for a half or a marathon (or an 11.6mi race, wtf), tempos seem more logical than intervals, so you can kinda tell yourself that you are doing something that is very beneficial to your goals, rather than wasting a big workout effort (this is not meant to say your ladder workout is a waste, I’m just pointing out ways to convince yourself of things and boost confidence).

        And with this unnecessary sentence, I have again taken the lead in longest comment (by word count anyway; yours has more characters. I guess I use bigger words. Ha).

  5. jbf permalink
    07/21/2010 21:18

    Again, I can’t edit, so now the world can see what a retard I am. I use smaller words. Damn. I’m bad at logic.

    • 07/22/2010 18:26

      Well, no worries. I’m about as logical as a mosquito. Good points on the above.

  6. 07/22/2010 13:13

    I think the McMillan Calculator is pretty aggressive, but it is usually pretty good for goal paces. I usually use it when I am doing speed work.

    Great workout by the way 😉

    • 07/22/2010 18:27

      Glad to hear that others use it and like it. I’ll probably keep referring to it for paces!

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