Tag Archives: speed work

Marathon goals: Can Yasso 800s really predict your finish time?

Some of my fastest and most favorite races are those I’ve started with no expectations, those with a time goal of “let’s just see

Is it really possible that a few laps around the track can help predict your marathon finish time?

Is it really possible that a few laps around the track can help predict your marathon finish time?

how I feel.

Problem is, that kind of thinking doesn’t really fly when it comes to the marathon. When the first half of the race is a half-marathon that’s supposed to feel easy, a failure to set a realistic time goal is a recipe for disaster.

There are lots of ways to try and predict your marathon finish time, from pace calculators (I like the McMillan Running race time calculator) to Yasso 800s, which have ended up representing the bulk of my speedwork this training session. The idea: You run 800s in the same minutes:seconds as your goal marathon time in hours:minutes. Since I’m looking to run somewhere around a four-hour marathon, that meant I’d have to run somewhere around 4 minutes for the 800s.

I topped out at eight reps a couple weeks ago, and did five today, since I’m tapering. All five were between 3:42 and 3:48, and I warmed up and cooled down with 2.5-mile jogs to and from the track at roughly 8:50-minute-mile pace. That’s been the case every time I’ve done 800s this training cycle.

While the 800s weren’t at a conversational pace or anything, they also felt totally manageable, which makes me wonder: Are Yasso 800s too good to be true? Can these possibly be an accurate predictor of the marathon time you’re capable of? Has anyone tried these during marathon training and found that to be the case on race day? I’d really like to think that my ability to nail the 800s at that pace means my goal marathon time of somewhere around four hours is reasonable and realistic, but don’t want to get my ego all puffed up for no reason.

That said, I am going to set my official marathon goals here. My most recent half-marathon time of 1:49 predicts a 3:50 marathon time using the McMillan Running race time calculator. Since I started training a bit late thanks to a flareup of an old hip injury, and have been training extremely conservatively since then, I feel like my most realistic goal time should be around four hours.

My “A” goal — i.e., my “the stars are aligned, the weather is good, my stomach is calm and the running gods are smiling” goal: Under four hours, or faster than 9-minute-mile pace. Let’s go with the pace calculator’s prediction of 3:50, which means 8:48-minute-mile pace.

My “B” goal — my realistic, what I really hope to do goal: Somewhere right around four hours, or right around 9-minute-mile pace. I’m going to start the race at this pace. If I feel the need to pick things up, I can do so in the second half (ha!).

My “C” goal — 4:20, or 10-minute-mile pace. And if all else fails: Simply cross the finish line. This accounts for all the things that could go wrong over the course of 26.2 miles, and is a sign of the respect I have for the distance. I feel fairly certain I’ll be able to hold 9-minute-mile pace for most of the race. But if I have to limp through the last 10K, well, that’s just hard-core in a different way, isn’t it? One of my favorite race T-shirts is from the Marine Corps Half Marathon in Jacksonville, Fla., in October 2007, when I which I ran in the pouring rain and sticky Florida heat, vomiting from what may have been a slight OD on Advil and limping from a sore hip, finishing in 2:24 — far slower than each half of the full marathon I’d run, and half an hour slower than my previous half. Others may see this as a massive failure. But knowing that I can cover 13.1 miles even with bad weather, stomach troubles and a messed-up hip labrum and flexor is almost as awesome as knowing I can run 13.1 miles quickly.

There you have it. Any advice about using Yasso 800s as a time predictor would be greatly appreciated!


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Back on track with Yasso 800s

After getting a weird flareup of an old hip injury earlier this summer, my awesome running doc had a few marching orders about how to resume my Marine Corps Marathon training. The main one: no long runs or speedwork until August.

I started my long runs in August, and have been chugging along with those ever since, with a successful 17-miler last week and a 20-miler in the near future. But I sort of forgot about the whole speedwork thing. See, the weather’s been nice here — like, really really nice — and on my three days of running per week, the last thing I want to do is be stuck on a track or treadmill. I’ve done some hill repeats on the trails, and thrown in some strides, but Sunday, I decided to head over to my closest high-school track and get my speed groove back.

Usually, in an attempt to get through speedwork in the quickest and most efficient manner possible, I do mile repeats. But Sunday, I mixed things up and did some Yasso 800s, or 800s run in the same minutes:seconds as your goal marathon time in hours:minutes. Since I’m looking to run somewhere around a four-hour marathon, that meant I’d have to run somewhere around 4 minutes for the 800s. My 5K pace is something like 7:30-minute miles, I hoped this would be a piece of cake.

Praise the running gods, it was! Each of my six 800s was 10 to 20 seconds below the four-minute mark, with most of them falling right around 3:45. I’m not sayin’ I’m gonna change my marathon goal, just that it’s nice to get some affirmation that my goal is very, very realistic. Plus, the 800s were kind of fun! They reminded me a little of one of my favorite swim sets, 5X200 freestyle: It’s a short enough distance to push yourself to go fast, but not so short that you have to do a whole mess of them to get any good distance.

Here’s the really awesome thing: I really meant to jog there and back. And I felt like I was jogging along the rolling hills on Colesville Road. But I was doing 8:20-minute miles on the 2.5-mile “jog” there, and did 9-minute miles on the way home only when I specifically told myself to pull back.

I rewarded myself with a long bath with lavender oil and epsom salt, which I’m convinced is better than the fanciest bath salts around for making things all fizzy and relaxing.

In other news: I can’t even tell you how much fun it’s been reading all the awesome, hilarious, touching and overall smart and well-written trail-running stories posted for the chance to win some Saucony ProGrid Xodus Trail-Running Shoes! The contest runs til the end of the day Thursday, which means there’s plenty of time to enter by posting a comment sharing your best trail-running story at the bottom of this post by the end of next week.


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Last speed workout

I set out this morning to do what will serve as my last real speed workout before the half marathon. To mix things up and boost my confidence in the hills, I headed for the Mormon Temple, one of Montgomery County’s landmarks and the site of one of its most brutal hill workouts.

I heard about this hill loop from Montgomery County Road Runners Club Coach Mike Broderick, who trains runners for the Boston Marathon. It’s part of a longer route that starts in Bethesda, but I’ve heard from many a runner that they’ve trained for Heartbreak Hill by doing loops of the hill portion — roughly between miles 11 and 13 on this map. A longer version of the route served as one of my first long runs, so going back for my final speed workout today felt kind of cathartic.

I never look forward to speed workouts. But today, I actually felt performance anxiety, like this was the race itself and I’d be publicly humiliated if I failed. But per my usual speedwork routine, I ignored the voices in my head and just got started.

At roughly half a mile, the hill is long enough and steep enough to really kick your butt. I attacked it every time. I told myself to leave it all on the (metaphorical) field, as tomorrow’s an off day and next week’s a taper. I told myself to run out the stress that’s been making me toss and turn the past couple nights. And I told myself that if I didn’t attack the hill now, I WOULD be publicly humiliated on March 21 (probably not true, but it kept me going).

I finished four loops — a total of eight miles — in an hour and 10 minutes. That’s something like 8:50-minute miles, which is pretty good for me on the hills, especially considering I wasn’t pushing it on the downhill and flat portions. I wish I could bottle the feeling I had when I finished — it was nothing short of euphoria.

Next up: My last long run on Saturday. (Gulp!)

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Mixing things up on the treadmill

It was back to the treadmill for another speed workout today. “Speed workout” has become synonymous with “set of three 1-mile repeats” for me, and that’s just what I did this morning.

I like the simplicity of doing one thing, three times, then being done. I also like the challenge of trying to run a whole mile as quickly as possible three times in a row (who can’t run their fastest for a quarter-mile? It’s over before you even get a chance to crank up the speed on the treadmill’s control panel). I also like it because it’s familiar. My training plan offers lots of interesting-looking options for speedwork, and I’m sure they’re as much fun and as effective as my current go-to workout. But it’s like trying something new at your favorite restaurant: The buffalo chicken sandwich is probably just as good as the veggie burger I order every time we go to the Quarry House, but WHAT IF IT’S NOT?

I’m still planning to order the veggie burger at Quarry House tonight. But next time I hit the treadmill, I’m gonna mix things up. I found a few good-looking treadmill speed workouts in Runner’s World, and I think I’ll try this one first:

The Broderick Crawford.

This workout gets its name from its “10-4” pattern, a familiar phrase to fans of the old Highway Patrol TV series. Begin by warming up for 10 minutes, then run for 10 minutes at your current 10-K race pace. Jog very easily for 4 minutes to recover, then surge again for 10 minutes at your 10-K tempo. Recover for 4 minutes, and complete the workout with 10 minutes of easy cool-down running.

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Hustle and flow

I had planned to try a new running route today, and was so excited about hitting the road, I actually laid out both my route and my toastiest running clothes the night before.

A combination of looming work deadlines and hearing that this morning was the coldest in the past five years in Washington left me indoors for a quick, warm treadmill workout instead.

I’ve already moaned and groaned about how I don’t like working out inside, so I’ll move right on to coping mechanisms. I get past the boredom of treadmill time by doing speedwork. My typical workout is three 1-mile repeats at 8-minute mile pace. I usually get through this with a kick-butt playlist of six or seven songs (the best thing about a speed workout, in my mind, is the fact that it’s over pretty quickly).

The get-through-it nature of treadmilling makes it a perfect place to try to get into that elusive happy place known as flow. Endurance athlete Christopher Bergland, author of “The Athlete’s Way: Sweat and the Biology of Bliss,” says this is “a key to making exercise a pleasurable experience, because it allows you to lose yourself in the moment–time flies, and you are totally engaged.” Some call it meditation in motion. Former Washington Post writer Walt Harrington writes beautifully about finding flow while hunting with his father-in-law in The Everlasting Stream. And today, on a treadmill that may or may not have been properly calibrated, I found it, too.

This is no easy task for me. My brain is, as Elizabeth Gilbert would put it, a “big, spazzy free-for-all,” where thoughts swing from tree to tree like so many monkeys. More often than not, it operates like a never-ending to-do list, always leaping to the next task
before I’m done with my current one.

So I started running to my typical gangsta-rap playlist. But after one Wutang Clan song, I moved on to a more meditative mix. I was sweating like a pig and panting like a dog, but inside, I was chill as I burned through three miles at 7:30-minute mile pace. I felt so good, I even turned it into a tempo run, nixing the jogs in between mile repeats (usually, when the mile is up, I all but punch the “stop” button on the treadmill to get a breather).

I can’t say for sure that the treadmill wasn’t calibrated incorrectly, like a pair of size-4 jeans you know should really be a size 6. I don’t care — for 21 minutes of the day, I was completely present and grounded, which is more difficult for me than any 7:30-minute mile.

Here’s the playlist that helped me find my flow. I especially recommend the last one on the list — let it wash over you while you’re running fast, and see if you don’t find energy you didn’t know you had.

Wutang Clan, Protect Your Neck
Dear Sergio, Catch 22
Two Step, Dave Matthews Band, Live at Red Rocks
Halleluja, Jeff Buckley
Moving to New York, The Wombats
How it Ends, DeVotchka


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