My running had been going horribly. Doing my little 4.something mile jaunt was very frustrating. Each day I felt worse than the day before. On the days that I ran at the track I didn't feel very good either. What was going on?
I can't be certain, but here is my theory.
My 4.something mile runs started and ended with fairly steep and long hills. So by the time I got to to flat part of the run I was already quite worn out. I wasn't really recovering anyway, but just in case I was, ending the run with a hill was just what I needed to wear me out and set me up for feeling lousy the next day.
On track days, I was running hard. I was not feeling great when I got there (see above). After running on the track it would take days to recover because the runs I was doing on the track where so much faster than when I wasn't on the track.
In short, I was in this horrible cycle which showed no signs of ending.
So, I ended it.
I decided that I would no longer subject myself to the hills and the slow, annoying running. Instead, everyday would be a track day. After the first day or so on this new program I even decided that it was too much work to run to the track (there is a hill between my house and the track) and I started driving back and forth.
After some experimentation, I settled into a routine of warming up very slowly for two laps. Then running at whatever the pace de jour was for anywhere between 4 and 8 laps, but generally speaking running 6 laps. The exception is if it is time trial day and I run a half or a speed day and I run 220s or quarters. On any given day I never know how far I'll run, and at what pace. In fact, sometimes I'll change my mind mid workout. For example, if I run a good first lap, I might decide to try and run a quick mile. Some days I think I'll run two miles, but instead, only run 5 or 6 laps because that is what feels right.
My only real rule is that I am never, ever allowed to run a horribly slow pace. In the beginning there were some days where I had to work to make sure that my pace was better than 8 minutes/mile. Fairly quickly though, I noticed that I was getting better.
Before I left on the trip I'm on now, a typical run was 6 laps somewhere at a pace somewhere between 7:05 and 7:15. My best time trial was 3:00 for a half (I felt tired at the end of that). That, by the way was the fastest half I'd run since Mark paced me on mile trial on the indoor track at SUNY Binghamton. The week before I left I had two days where I ran 6:51 for a mile and felt quite comfortable.
I'm very happy with this new training paradigm and have no plans to change it, except that the 6 laps might creep up to 8 as I get stronger. I love the fact that the days of 8 minutes and 9 minute miles are over and I can really focus on getting under 6 minutes (or at least maybe running 2:45 for a half if I don't build enough strength to hold on for a 6-minute mile.
The other thing that is fantastic is that the guts of the workout is 11 minutes or less and heading towards 10 minutes. Think about--staying in shape and running respectable times (for being 50) and only working out 10 minutes/day. Sounds too good to be true--but it isn't. It's real.