We’ve been spending some good time on the indoor track, seeing results in our efforts. As a specific result, my wife Sue is learning the beauty of speed training and how it makes your base pace and even your race pace feel more achievable.
That’s why we all do speed training of any type. In the pool. On the bike. On the run. It raises our capacity while it diminishes our perceived effort. Pretty cool huh?
There is a challenge that comes with doing speed work that has nothing to do with how fast we perform “in the moment.” It’s great when we can exceed our expectations on the track, doing long pulls on the bike or nailing our pace-per-100 to the pool wall. Because when it comes to speed work, we still have to transfer that to our other training and race pace in open applications.
By that, we mean going fast when it counts in other places. It’s tricky when the wonderful, empiric world of the indoor track is so clean and neat. The environment and the distance are under relative control. There’s not even any wind!
Which is why I laughed in disgust yesterday after doing a 4.5 mile training run outside. It was cold, just under ten degrees, and a ten mph wind was coming from the west. But I traipsed along with a quick leg turnover to cover the miles. Granted, I ran much slower on the paths of a forest preserve during the run, so in essence that was a period of jogging.
Yet Strava delivered the hard, cold facts. According to the app, I’d only averaged 9:16 per mile. And I thought: “Bullshit. I know how I’m running faster than that.”
My wife had even pulled up next to me during the run. She was on her way to do some errands and at that point, I was trucking along pretty well. I told her it frustrated me that the run was only 9:00 pace. “That’s weird,” she said. “You were running way faster than that when I saw you.”
But according to Strava, I was only doing 8:45 pace at that point. Well, we’ve been running 8:00 pace and under on the indoor track on all our intervals together. On my solo workouts indoors, the pace drops to 6:20 on my 400s at some points. So I know how fast I’m going.
Trouble is, this trend toward as lapse in perceived performance versus real performance has a long history. In college we’d run fast indoor times and have massive trouble converting that speed into outdoor racing. My junior year in college I raced sub-4:20 on the indoor track. But when it came to the first outdoor race, I did not even break 4:30 for several meets. Part of that had to do with conditions as well. It would be cold or the track was wet. We raced home meets on cinders back then. Wind was a problem in April too. It would be late April at the Drake Relays before some of us would accomplish respectable outdoor times to match our speed indoors.
We all have this challenge of translating speed from the treadmill or indoor track or pool to the outside world. Open water swimming can be quite the vexation for those accustomed to doing laps in the pool. You have to swim straight, for starters. And you have to negotiate other people, on top of that. There might be waves to consider or even current. In the Louisville Ironman that Sue did last October, the swim starts upstream in a channel of the Ohio River. Then the swimmers get out into the main body of water and the current pushes swimmers out toward the middle of the water. Even the overall direction of the water doesn’t help if one goes with the wrong flow.
The cold, hard facts of the world outside our speedwork is the reality we must navigate. Take that into account when you go from controlled circumstances to the open road or water. It’s a reality we all must face, and it teaches a ton of lessons in the long run.