The Newton, Part 2. So Much Better!

I feel like I should say that I was nervous before the Newton last night, but I wasn’t.  This is a benchmark track workout, designed to see how much speed has been developed over the hot summer training.  Of course I wanted to see improvement because I really want to become faster, but even more than speed, I want consistency.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how fast I can run 200 meters because I don’t race 200 meters.  My goal is to stay strong over long distances and working on my speed on the short stuff helps with that.  But speedwork is just frosting.  The cake is the development of the aerobic system with lots of longer, slower efforts.  Instead of being nervous about being too slow, I just wanted to focus on keeping steady.  Especially as I got more and more tired.

(If you don’t know what the Newton is, check out my post from May for the scoop.  Basically it is twenty 200 meter sprints with descending rest periods between each set of five.)

Here’s a recap of last night’s workout with my times per 200 meters in seconds as compared to my effort in May:

Set 1, 60 second recoveries:  40, 39, 39, 39, 40 (May: 40, 44, 41, 41, 41 ) I did not want to be much faster than May, but instead stay right at 40 seconds the whole workout.  Coming to the finish line, our group’s timer, Mark, was yelling out the seconds on his stopwatch.  During at least three of those intervals, I actually slowed right before crossing the line to keep myself even.  I was definitely burned last Spring by going out too hard and then struggling for the last two sets, so I wanted be sure I was steady.  It felt easy at this point, as it should.

Set 2, 45 second recoveries:  40, 40, 41, 40, 40 (May: 42, 41, 41, 40, 41)  Almost perfect.  I still felt really good at this point.  The sun had come out and with the 80% humidity, everyone was drenched.  I was sharing a lane with Wes who is faster than I am (thanks for the picture of us, Mandy!), so it was nice to have a rabbit to chase.  Could I keep this up?

Set 3, 30 second recoveries:  41, 41, 42, 41, 41 (May: 41, 43, 43, 44, 43)  Apparently, I couldn’t keep up the pace and I had lost my 40s.  I was still mentally okay with that because I wasn’t slowing drastically and was staying under control.  At this point in May I was thinking about quitting and that thought never even entered my head this time.  Sure it was harder to keep going still being out of breath from the last interval, but I never reached a degree of panic.  Mentally, I was so much stronger at this point.

Set 4, 15 second recoveries: 41, 41, 42, 42, 45, 44?, 42 (May: 43, 46, 47, 46, 45) Notice anything unusual? During this set, you barely have any time to catch your breath before lining up again.  I pay zero attention to which lap we are on, because we have a timer for that who, by the way, is racing diagonally across the infield to beat us to the finish line.  Not only are the timers staring at a stopwatch, shouting seconds to their group, they have to keep track of which interval and set we are on with how many seconds of rest.  Meanwhile, the fastest group is lapping the mid-pack (us) and we are lapping the last group, so three groups are attempting to line up and start at the exact same point on the track. (Cue the circus music.)  So when we got to what should have been our last 200, my lane partner Wes said, “last one.”  But someone else said no.  I breathlessly yelled to Mark, “how many more?!”  He held up three fingers and yelled, “Go!”  As I raced around the curve, my resolve to keep my speed up sank a bit thinking that we had three more to go.  If I knew it was my last one, I would have fired off everything I had to kick it to the end.  But I didn’t.  We lined up again and my sweaty fingers slipped on my lap button, so I’m not sure exactly what my time was, but it was slow.  Wes was not in front of me and was done (smart guy!).  With one more 200 to go, I gave it just about everything and crossed the line in 42 seconds.  I didn’t even realize we had run an extra two until after I had gotten home and looked at my splits. Not bad for running two more!

To appease my ego, I’m throwing out the 45 and 44 from the last set and keeping the 42.  Perhaps if I had gone a touch slower in the first set, I could have hung on to the 40s a bit longer, but overall, I’m very happy with the results.  It was a steamy night and I wisely backed off my normal strength routine this week so my legs could be fresher for this.  It definitely made a difference.

To say that I actually like the Newton might be a bit of a stretch, but it is fun to have such an intense scene at the track with everyone being so focused and seeing the timers zipping across the infield. It’s also short, with only 2.5 miles of work, so the pain is over quickly.  Most people grumble about the Newton since it’s so far out of most people’s comfort zone, but I have a feeling that most people secretly like the specialness of it. I like that I can compare apples to apples and see how far I’ve come.

The difference in a few seconds per half lap around the track might not seem much to those who are unfamiliar with track running, but for me, it’s not the actual times that matter.  My ability to keep up those fast paces even when tired has improved which will help me in the marathon.

Because every good cake needs a little frosting.

Sometimes You Just Have to Call It Good

No one who knows me would say that I’m unmotivated.  When I have something that needs to get done, for the most part, I do it.  I don’t miss workouts.  I rarely cut a workout or run short unless there’s a time crunch and I have to.  This is not a matter of pride or a badge of honor; I just show up and do the work.  I even take my easy days seriously and run way slower than prescribed, typically at a 9:00-10:00/mile pace on flat roads, because I know how much gentle jogging helps my recovery.

But yesterday, I bailed on the track workout.  After just two laps.

I thought I had given myself enough time to recover from my big trail run Sunday and the quad-killing downhill 5K Saturday.  I took Monday off running, but still went to my morning strength class because I really wasn’t feeling sore (rookie mistake). I figured the 30 hours between Monday morning and Tuesday evening’s track session would be plenty of time to recover.  I was wrong.

Sometimes it’s difficult to assess the effect of a workout or run, especially if you only have mild soreness or none at all.  Lack of soreness does not mean you’re recovered from a workout.  As running guru Greg McMillan puts it, “the research indicates that soreness (or the lack thereof) is not a good indicator of muscular healing. In other words, just because you aren’t sore anymore doesn’t mean that you are fully healed.”  There may still be inter-cellular damage in the muscle cells that never get a chance to fully heal and become stronger if you don’t give them a chance.  Running fast downhill is especially tough on the quads and a technical trail run with lots of climbing is not something my body is adapted to right now.  Add lifting the next day into the mix and it’s no wonder I couldn’t hang for a speed session.

As I jogged with the group to the track for the warm up, I knew my quads didn’t feel right, but that’s not unusual.  My first mile or two of any run typically feels rough.  My legs behave like a sleepy teenager at 7am:  they complain for a while until they are dragged out of bed and then eventually wake up and do fine. But when we got to the track, they still didn’t feel right.  I mentioned to Coach Norm that I was feeling sore and he said to take the first 5 intervals easy to warm into the workout and then catch up to my normal pace for the last 5 sets.

The workout was 10 x 500m with a nice long 300 meter recovery between sets.  There was a big turnout and word had gotten out that we’d be filmed by a drone for a promotional video.  Great.  A video that would live on in internet perpetuity when I’m not at my best.  Sigh.

I started the first 500, letting the group I normally run with go by.  I didn’t let my breathing get heavy, but my legs felt tender even at a slower pace.  I jogged the first recovery and started the next set.  I stopped 200 meters later.  I was not feeling pain exactly, just a sensation that something was wrong.  Norm suggested I just jog and maybe do a couple of strides on the straightaways.  I managed one stride and jogged in lane 6 the rest of the time.

It can be tough to admit to others when you are uncomfortable and even harder to let them see you quit.  There were other people running the workout who did the trail run with me who didn’t quit.  There were other people that raced hard last weekend who didn’t quit.  Does that mean they are stronger?  Maybe or maybe not.  Does it matter even if they are?  Of course not.  I knew that this one workout was not working for me and stopping was the right decision and that’s what matters.  Even though a drone captured me on film jogging while everyone else zoomed by, I made the right choice for me.  I even waved to the camera, fresh faced and not sweaty.  I was owning that jog, damn it!

Backing off can be a humbling lesson to learn for someone like me who loves to keep moving.  But sometimes the only way to move forward is to stop, slow down, and call it good.



The Newton

The Newton is the one workout of the year that we love to hate.  It sounds pretty simple: 20 repeats of 200 meters or halfway around the track (that’s a total of about 2.5 miles).  But it gets really hard, really quick because the rest in between each intervals gets shorter with every 5 reps.  In between the first five intervals, there is a leisurely minute to recover and fully catch your breath.  For the next five, it drops down to 45 seconds, which still feels pretty good.  The break for the third set of  five is only 30 seconds, which is not enough to slow your heart rate down much at all.  Finally, the last set allows a miserly 15 seconds which is just barely enough time to stop your watch and line up again.  The goal is to keep your pace even the whole time as it gets harder and harder.

The turnout at the track was big, about 45 people.  Norm split us up into groups and we each had an assigned timer who would run diagonally through the infield letting us know when to start each interval.  Out of the five groups, I was a little surprised to find myself solidly in the fourth, but it was definitely where I needed to be.  That just shows how fast the Jus’ Running Maggots are! I did the Newton workout last year and I thought I ran about 42 seconds for each 200 so I joined the 40-44 second group.

Set 1, 60 second recoveries:  40, 44, 41, 41, 41  The trick to the Newtons is to basically sandbag the first set of five.  You need to run slower than you are able because you will inevitably slow much more as the workout progresses if you don’t.  I thought running solid 40s would be pretty good, but I just picked that number out of the air without knowing what it would feel like.  Not sure what happened in the second interval (watch mistake?), but I felt good and comfortable with the first set, as I should.

Set 2, 45 second recoveries:  42, 41, 41, 40, 41  I was pleased with the consistency of this set.  Yes, it was feeling harder, but I was getting enough of a breather to feel solid in my effort.  Some of the people in my group were starting to slow, but I was feeling pretty strong.  As I made my way around each curve, I concentrated on letting my leg rise a bit higher than normal towards my butt to allow that leg an extra second of recovery before bringing it forward.  It seemed to work.

Set 3, 30 second recoveries:  41, 43, 43, 44, 43  And now the workout really began.  Starting out of breath each time was taking its toll.  The finish line of each interval seemed to be getting farther away.  Megan, who was sharing lane 5 with me, began passing me before the straight away and crossing the line ahead of me even though she started further back.  Should I skip an interval? I thought. No, if they can finish this, so can I.  I can do this, I argued, even if it’s ugly.

Set 4, 15 second recoveries:  43, 46, 47, 46, 45  Having a dedicated timer for this workout is essential, because your mind stops thinking clearly.  I thought we still had one more to go when we finished for some reason and I usually like to hammer the last one, but well, that was not to be. I was happy to be done with this one.  The one great thing about the Newton is that it’s short and the pain is over quickly.

Almost any time I run anything, I usually tell myself that I can do better.  Not in a self-disparaging way, but I usually think that I can improve next time if I try a little harder.  Reflecting on this one, I obviously slowed more than I should have, which means that I either need to get stronger or set the bar a little lower. It’s probably a little of both.  I have room for improvement but I also want to be realistic in my expectations of myself.

Me photobombing Mindy and Maura's leg shot!
Me photobombing Mindy and Maura’s leg shot!

I went back this morning and looked up my splits from the Newton last May.  I actually ran it much better, staying way more consistent with 40 and 41 seconds for the first 3 sets and only slowing to 43 (with one 46 outlier) the last set.  I wonder what the difference was.  Yesterday I felt a bit sore in my legs from going heavy in my strength class, so I hope I can just chalk it up to that.

We will repeat the Newton in August, so we can compare our effort after a summer of speed work.  Hopefully, there will be a lot of improvement.