One Stone, Many Birds

I had a great workout yesterday here in Bloomington.  It's a hill session I'd been meaning to do for a while, and also something I need to do more often.  When I declined an invite for a 15 mile trail run with Ben Bartley (of InRunCo), saying I planned to do go hill reps on Griffey instead, Ben replied that I always seemed to be planning to do hill reps at Griffey.  Which is true.  In my perfect world, I'd have knocked out this workout half a dozen times since my move to Bloomington.  But travel, illness, and race tapering/recovering has led to very few sessions actually getting completed.  But fortunately, I finally made it back out to the hill yesterday for some grueling repeats.

The idea is quite simple: repeat intervals up the hill climbing from (the currently drained) Griffey Lake towards Bloomington.  The hill is almost dead-on 500 meters, with 120 feet of elevation gain, giving it an average grade of 7.3%.  It's no joke, but not the craziest hill around either.  The grade is tame enough that you can still run up it pretty fast, especially since it's on pavement.  But the fatigue accumulates quickly.  

I tried this workout on August 23, completing only four intervals in 1:56, 1:53, 1:53, 1:55.  I maybe could have squeezed out one more that day, but on the fourth interval, it was quite clear that I was toast.  It was a bit of a disappointment, but any time I'm humbled by a workout like that, I also get excited, as it shows I have a lot of room to improve at something (in this case hill climbing).

Yesterday, I felt good as I headed out the door, so my run to the hill turned into an unplanned 4 mile tempo run /gradual progression, averaging around 5:40/mile.  I liked doing this moderate tempo as a lead-in to the reps, so I'll probably continue it in the future.  It's a different enough stimuli from the hill repeats that it doesn't really take anything out of you for the second half of the workout; but it's also a good way to sneak in some basic aerobic work.

The meat of the workout is V02-max-style intervals up the hill.  The effort is something around 3k-5k race pace effort (which corresponds to the maximum rate of oxygen uptake), and the length of roughly 2:00 per interval works fairly well for the purpose of improving V02 max.  A run-down-the-hill recovery provides roughly 1:1 rest (including the time it takes to turn around at hill top and bottom).  

There are several additional benefits to doing these V02 max intervals on a hill as opposed to on the track or a flat road.  You are of course gaining climbing-specific muscular strength by running uphill.  You're also improving neuromuscularly: learning to more efficiently fire your muscles to lift a given load on a hill, and also improving recruitment of muscle fibers generally (which has crossover benefits even on flat ground).  Add in the benefit of conditioning your quads to heavy eccentric loading by pounding downhill—a very necessary skill in running most ultramarathons—and you've got a workout just brimming with benefits!

So how did I fare yesterday in Part II of the workout?  Much better than last time, I'm happy to report!  Splits below with recovery intervals in parentheses:

1:53, (1:50)
1:53*, (1:50)
1:50, (1:46)
1:51, (1:45)
1:48, (1:47)
1:49, (1:45)
1:50, (1:46)

I was a little worried mid-workout that I was getting after it too much, but I was able to hold it together just fine in the end.  I may try to extend this to 10 reps when I do it again next week.  But in any event, this workout shows I'm quite a bit ahead of where I was this summer.  The pace of those intervals ranges from 5:47/mile to 6:03/mile.  The strength from these Bloomington hills is starting to kick in!

* I caught a leaf during this interval.  Leaf-catching is a game I play every fall versus myself and a few running compatriots.  My record is from the fall of 2009 at 37 leaves.  I'm woefully behind this year, with only 10.  (You have to catch the leaf while in the course of a regular run—going out chasing leaves doesn't count.)