Up the Tempo

As a running coach, I work with a lot of runners looking to increase speed. To run faster you have to run faster, and many runners are hoping to do just that, myself included! We’ve all heard the terms tossed around – tempo, fartlek, and intervals, but many runners aren’t sure how to combine those runs to make a training plan that not only makes sense, but helps them get faster. To start, its essential to understand the different types of runs and the purpose behind them.

Let’s talk tempo. A tempo run is a run that is done at a “comfortably hard” pace. Depending on who you ask, there are several different types of tempo runs. I will focus on the most traditional, the lactate-threshold (LT), or threshold, run.

Most runners have heard of lactate. Lactate is often blamed for muscle fatigue, though it’s really lactate plus some other acidic by-products of metabolism that build up in the muscles. At any rate, as your body works harder, acidic stuff builds up in the muscles and makes them less able to work as hard. You slow down when lactate accumulates faster than your body is able to clear it. When you run at lactate-threshold pace, you’re training your body to run at the fastest pace at which you can keep blood lactate levels pretty stable, thus keeping the muscles going and the pace steady.

A LT tempo run is designed to help your muscles get better at using/clearing the by-products of metabolism so you can run for longer at a faster pace. The more training you do at a quick pace, the longer you can keep blood lactate stable and the higher your “threshold”, or the level at which muscles reach their acidic limit. Basically, by running at your current threshold pace, you increase your threshold pace. Higher lactate threshold leads to the ability to run faster, longer, at easier effort.

To get this great effect, you have to train at the right intensity. There are several ways to determine if the intensity is right. Most experts say that a good tempo/LT pace is the pace at which you could run for an hour, but no more. For me, that’s hard to pinpoint, so I use some other, well established, methods to find the right pace.

  • Recent race pace – LT pace is usually about 25-40 seconds slower than your all-out 5k pace
  • Heart rate – LT pace is around 85% of your maximum heart rate

LT pace will vary based on how you feel, the terrain you’re running, and other factors related to training and stress. To make it a little easier, I often use simpler tests to determine my tempo pace. Tempo pace is about an 8 on a 1-to-10 scale of rate of perceived exertion (if 3-5 is easy and 9-10 is racing a 5k). Tempo pace is also the pace at which you can only utter a few words (and those words make sense), but can’t form a complete sentence.

Once you’ve found the right intensity, the next step is to determine the amount of time to spend running at that pace. A good tempo run should have an easy warm up and cool down, with a period of comfortably hard running in the middle. There are three usual types of tempo runs, short tempo runs, classic tempo runs, and long tempo runs. Easy, right? A short tempo run might be a 12-25 minute run with a pace at the fast end of the LT range. These shorter tempo runs are best for short distance race preparation, like 5k or 10k training. A classic tempo run includes 25-40 minutes of steady running at LT pace, and is a great run to include in the training plan for any distance. Finally, the longer tempo run, a tempo run that’s done at the high end of the LT pace range, with that pace held for 40-60 minutes, is a great run for runners training for longer distances. Longer tempo runs have the added benefit of training the body to run in a slightly uncomfortable state for longer periods of time, a mental and physical skill essential for success at half marathon and longer distances.

If you’re hoping to get faster, a tempo run is a great run to add to your training plan. Start with one every 10 days or so, and move up to one tempo run, or other speed-development run, per 5-7 days of training. Now, let’s get speedy!

Troy Conquers 26.2: How it All Began

The cardboard snack box of post race treats was the only thing keeping me moving.  After running 13.god-awful many miles, I could only curse my family for having the audacity to make me walk to them. That last half mile was harder than the previous 13.1 and all I wanted to do was eat a banana.

My first half marathon was the Walt Disney World 2014 Half Marathon and it didn’t end pretty.  I came in behind my desired time and with plantar fasciitis flaring up to the point of limping.  I swore off running as I hobbled through the crowds in search of a place to collapse and eat.

By the bottom of the snack box, I said I would do it again next year.  All 13.1 miles.

Troy at Disney

Two weeks later my sister, our own Dr.Rachel, was telling me that if I could finish a half I could finish a whole.  Somehow I believed her enough to agree and start planning the next trip to Disney.  A month later, it was the no longer just my first marathon but the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge.  Why not run a half and then full having only completed one of the former and none of the later?  I was in.

It took 71 days to go from finishing my first half marathon to asking Dr.Rachel one very stupid question – ‘if we are doing the Goofy race, why not just do the Dopey and run all four?’.  When running 39.3 miles already, what is another 9.3?  It took 71 days from swearing off running to trying to convince Dr.Rachel that a 48.6 mile challenge run was a good idea.  Brain worms.  It had to be some sort of cerebral parasite.

Since Disney, I have completed five more races including my first sub-30 5K and my second half marathon (20K but who is counting the miles?).  I am comparing the official WDW/Jeff Galloway running plan with races in my area.  A half marathon through scenic mid-Michigan on a long run weekend in October – sign me up.  40+ mile weeks through December in Michigan – better start trying out wool socks now.  A 50 mile week around Christmas – hope Santa brings me new shoes.  Brain worms.  Something is deeply wrong with me.

Troy's Fast 5k

Dr.Rachel has asked me to guest write on my experiences training for my first marathon and I have agreed.  Occasionally I will pop in and detail the horrors of my first marathon experience.  The official Disney Training plan started July 1st but thanks to Dr.Rachel I was already running a half marathon.  I dropped 2 min/mile off my time from 6 months previous and then set a 5KPR the next day.  Two weeks of mild rest later, I am ready to start serious  running again.  This weekend – Warrior Dash MI and a 5.5 mile training run.  Should be fun.

RRCA Annual Convention

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the RRCA Annual Convention. Each year, the Road Runners Club of America hosts the convention in a different city. The convention is an opportunity for running professionals to gather, share information, and contribute to the running community. The convention features workshops on best practices, running coach continuing education, the RRCA Annual Meeting of the Membership, the National Running Awards Banquet, and super fun social networking events. I was lucky enough to be selected for a RRCA Leadership Scholarship to attend the convention. 

This year’s convention was in Spokane, Washington. I had never been to Spokane so the whole event was a new adventure. I got to Spokane on a Thursday and the festivities kicked off with a welcome reception. I enjoyed meeting fellow runners, particularly Bernard Legat! He was kind and welcoming and even posed for a photo with me.

BL photo

There were several social receptions, each with interesting people from clubs across the country. Each morning the day started with a run hosted by the Bloomsday Road Runners running club. Given that this was a running convention, there were large groups.

RRCA morning run

The first morning, we ran through a local park, across several bridges, and up some hills with great views.

RRCA bridges

Other morning runs featured Spokane sights, including Gonzaga University.

RRCA run Gonzaga

I learned a lot in education sessions related to club leadership and organization. I met leaders from other clubs who were more advanced in their process than I am as a club president and got to learn how they had made their clubs a success. The convention was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about my role as a club leader. I also took in a session of continuing education for running coaches to learn more about developing training programs. I enjoyed the educational sessions.

The highlight of the conference was the Bloomsday Road Race. The 37th running of the Lilac Bloomsday Road Race happened the Sunday after the convention and convention attendees had an opportunity to participate. This great 12k runs through the streets and parks of Spokane. The highlight of the run is the Doomsday Hill, an epic, mile long climb up the biggest hill in Spokane. It was such a worthy hill that there was a buzzard at the top waiting for those of us who were struggling.

Doomsday race

I chose a leisurely running strategy and interacted with the amazing spectators along the route. I accepted all the food offered to me, including donuts…

Bloomsday donut

Otter pops…

Bloomsday otter pop

And many other tasty treats. The spectator support was wonderful and the whole city seemed to come out to support the Bloomsday runners. I loved the course and enjoyed the opportunity to see Spokane. At the end, I got my official finisher shirt and hustled off to the airport.

Bloomsday finisher

Overall, I enjoyed the RRCA Annual Convention and the Bloomsday Road Race. Next year the events kick off April 22-26 in Des Moines and feature the Drake Relays and Hy-Vee Road Races.

2014 Resolutions: Running Coaching

Do your 2014 New Year’s Resolutions include running? Would you like to achieve a new fitness goal? Run a new race distance? Get a PR? If so, consider running coaching.

For a limited time, get 20% off running coaching services. Between January 1, 2014 and January 31, 2014, contract my coaching services (any service, including plan development) at a 20% discount. Just mention that you saw this post and let’s get running!

To learn more about the benefits of working with a running coach, read my post, Why Hire a Running Coach.

To learn more about working with me as a coach, click the “Coaching” tab, above.

Trust the Training

Trust the training. As a running coach, this is often one of the last pieces of advice I give my runners before a big race. Trust the training. Simple, right? Trust that the training is enough. That you’ve followed the plan. That your body knows what to do. That you’re ready. I repeat this mantra over and over to myself in my own races. Trust the training.

So why is it so hard to trust the training? In a recent half marathon, around mile 9, I had an epiphany.

As is typical for me in the later stages of a race, I was doing my check in. I examined my form – good. I thought about how I felt mentally – strong. And then I checked in with my body and my perceived exertion. I was working hard. Tiny little tendrils of panic began to spiral up. I was working hard and moving into the early stages of a complete mental meltdown. Now, you might be reading this and thinking, “of course she’s working hard – it was mile 9”. When I read what I wrote over to myself I think the same thing. Of course I was working hard. It’s ridiculous to think that I would be racing and doing anything other than working hard at mile 9. I was working hard, but I wasn’t working that hard. There was no reason to worry. Yet, the little wispy tendrils of worry had become dread. In the space of about 400 meters I had gone from strong, easy running to “did I go out too fast”, “there’s no way I can keep this pace”, “I’m going to DNF” disaster. My pace deteriorated, my form became a mess, I thought about calling my mommy. Why do I even run, I thought.

Dr. Rachel Winni

And that’s when it dawned on me. This same sense of dread is the mental nemesis I battle every time I race. Deep down, I worry that the training isn’t enough. That I’m not ready. That I’m not enough. I love running. But racing draws out my mental demons. I run in a lot of races, but friends will tell you I don’t often race. I keep my expectations low for most of the events I run. I realized, around mile 10, that when I don’t race because I’m afraid of failing, not because my training plan dictates that I don’t race, that I’m feeding the little monster that says I can’t.

Since the race, I’ve been thinking about this epiphany. When did working hard become something to fear? I enjoy working hard. I like pushing myself. So why is it that when the sensation of working hard hit me in a race that it triggers self-doubt? It makes no sense. Yet there it is – my mental battle.

I don’t have a great solution yet. I’m still working this one out, but I reckon this is a feeling most runners have struggled with, so I’m sharing in hopes that we can draw together as brothers and sisters with tiny, hidden monsters who talk to us when we run.

Mom’s First Half Marathon

This weekend, my mom completed her first half marathon. I couldn’t be happier for her! What’s even better is that I got to complete the whole thing with her. Being together every step of the way for her first 5k, then her first 15k, and now her first half marathon has been one of my greatest running joys.

More than my own PRs, seeing my mom finish her half marathon and cross that item off her bucket list has made me proud to be a runner. It all started a few months ago. While at the Gasparilla Distance Classic race festival, we saw a little booth for the Frankenfooter races put on by Big Dawg Runnin’. My mom was instantly interested in the medals (seriously, they’re cool) and confessed to me that a half marathon was on her bucket list. We walked by the booth and mom admired the medals. We walked on by. At the end of the row of booths, we turned back. Mom wanted to do the Frankenfooter but was worried that, as a race walker, she might be too slow for the race cutoff times. The race director was at the booth and said she would be sitting at the finish line until the last runner crossed – no matter how long it took. That’s all we needed to hear. Mom said that if she survived the 15k that we would do the Frankenfooter. The next day my mom crossed the finish line of the 15k at Gasparilla feeling strong. We signed up for the Frankenfooter the next day.

I always love a good race festival. Why do just one race when you can do multiple races in one weekend? Mom agreed and we signed up for the Living Dead 16.2 Challenge – a 5k Saturday night and the half marathon Sunday morning. Mom started on her training plan and I counted down the days until another Florida trip (shameless plug – if you want me to coach you as your train for your first half marathon, check out my “coaching” page).

Race weekend, we headed over to New Port Richey. Packet pick up was at a small marina on a little river that connected to the Gulf of Mexico. Packet pick up was no-frills – just one person sitting behind a desk, the race director next to her, and a few bags full of shirts. No line. No fuss.

The Bride of Frankenfooter 5k course wove through a local park and down the city streets in Port Richey. As one might expect in a costal area, the course was completely flat. The course left the park, went along a back street, then along a little spit of land stuck out in the Gulf of Mexico. It was gorgeous. Never ones to pass on an opportunity to run in costume, mom and I went as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (complete with spinning propellor hats).

Frankenfooter 5k

We had fun at the 5k and headed back to the hotel early to rest up for the big day in the morning. Race morning dawned cool and clear, with temperatures in the 60s to start. Race day temperatures were expected to be around 80 degrees, so we dressed for a warm race and headed to the start line.

Frankenfooter half marathon

After a delay and some lengthy course instructions (honestly, it seemed we were all waiting for the timing company to get set up), we were off. The completely flat course ran along back roads in Port Richey. The race course was really what I consider “old Florida” – older homes, some not-so-great areas, but lots and lots of Gulf views.

Gulf View

Mom and I walked along at a good clip as the course looped around a park, then back the way it came, past the start/finish and then on to the 5k course from the night before. Mom and I had fun, talking and enjoying the view the whole way. We saw a cool historic site – one of many mounds across Florida – and I took lots of pictures.


Around mile 8, mom started to feel the effects of the race. I don’t know about all of you, but I remember mile 8-9 of my first half marathon vividly. I was in a lot of pain and swore the suffering would never end. Mom might have been in pain, but she persevered. Around mile 11, poor mom had terrible calf cramps. It had been hotter and sunnier than we expected, so I don’t think either of us took in enough fluid. Despite the cramps, mom soldiered on. She was completely amazing!

Mom wearing Lock Laces

We crossed the finish line together. Mom is a half marathoner! We found the nearest chair, a padded deck chair (and possibly the best chair in the history of chairs) and mom had a few cups of Gatorade (the best drink in the history of drinks) and we went to the finish line party. There was food, music, super interesting awards, and really cool medals.

Frankenfooter Awards

Frankenfooter medals

Overall, we had a great time at the Frankenfooter. In the interest of full disclosure, there were some things about the race that could be improved. First, the wait at the starting line for both races was frustrating. Both races started about 10 minutes late. It isn’t too much of a problem in Florida, but could be improved. I know some Floridians were freezing in the 60 degree temperatures. I did not like running past the finish line at mile 9. With my mom, we passed the finish line at a time when lots of people were finishing. To be in pain, with 4 miles left to go, passing the finish line was not ideal. Finally, the traffic was a problem. I don’t usually mind open roads during a race when I’m expecting it. I realize that smaller races just don’t have the resources to close roads and that’s ok. What bothered me at this race was that the traffic was NOT runner-friendly. One car actually swerved toward us, with the driver laughing. A couple cars honked at us to get off the road and one driver gave me the finger. During a race. The local community just didn’t seem supportive of the race and that makes for a difficult situation, safety-wise. The parts of the race that had police support were much better. I would suggest that the race director arrange for more police presence to keep some of the jerks in check.

Despite a few snags, this was a well-run, nicely organized race. The perks were excellent – races got a great shirt and a really cool medal, and the post-race food and drink was tasty. There was plenty of food and plenty of space and no line for anything. I could tell the race director is a runner herself and she certainly thought of all the details important to runners. Overall, a nicely done race that I would definitely recommend for someone looking for a flat, fast course with a small-race atmosphere.

Details for Rachel’s (and mom’s since we match) outfits, above:

Note mom’s awesome Lock Laces. Want to win some? Check out my giveaway here. 

Tweedle Dee: Tweedle Dee shirt from Raw Threads (love them!), Brooks Visor, Tifosi sunglasses.

Cat: Lululemon Run: Swiftly Short Sleeve in pop orange, Lululemon Groovy Run Short in black.

Yoga for Runners: Volume 1

For those of you not in the know, in addition to my super fun work as a running coach, I am also a Yoga Alliance registered yoga teacher. I love vinyasa-style yoga and enjoy teaching yoga for runners. Yoga is amazing for runners. It links mind and body, which can result in great performance gains. The increase in flexibility provided by a regular yoga practice can reduce injury risk. Sold on yoga? Ready to get started? I’ll share with you a few of my favorite poses for runners and athletes of all levels.

Half Kneeling Lunge – Psoas Stretch

Psoas stretch.

Psoas stretch.

This pose doesn’t have a nice Sanskrit name, but it’s highly effective. Most runners have tight hip flexors (the illiopsoas group). Tight hip flexors are made even more tight by frequent sitting, a problem for most of us who work desk jobs.

To perform this stretch, begin in virasana (hero pose). Raise up using the quadriceps muscles. Extend the right leg to place the sole of the foot on the mat, knee at 90 degrees. Hips are square and abdominal muscles are engaged and mulabandha is engaged. Gently tilt the pelvis up toward the belly button by drawing in the abdominal muscles. Shift the hips forward until a stretch is felt in the front of the hip and the psoas group is lengthened. Extend the left arm over the head. To stretch the TFL and its attachment site, shift the hits three to five inches to the left, maintaining the hips and abdominals.


Spend 20 seconds to one minute in each pose. Return to kneeling and then to hero pose to rest. Enjoy!

College Basketball Treadmill Workout

It’s been super cold and snowy in New England, so that has meant lots of treadmill running for this girl. I’m not a huge fan of the ‘mill, but I have a few tricks to keep it interesting. Last week, I shared my SportsCenter progression run. Today, I’ll share another of my super cool treadmill workouts – the College Basketball Fartlek.

First, select a college basketball game. It helps if you’re not terribly interested in the outcome of the game, but care enough to watch. If you get too absorbed in the game, it’s tough to remember the changes. This workout is a fartlek, changing pace and incline according to what’s happening in the game.


The rules are simple –

Begin at an easy run pace and a 1% incline.

During the period of each foul resulting in free throws (i.e. replays, free throws, congratulatory high fives) increase the pace to the pace you would run short track repeats – something like 400s or 600s. For most of us, that’s about a 1.0 mile per hour increase.

During each time out, increase the incline on the treadmill by 3% for the duration of the time out.

It’s a simple, but effective, workout. Enjoy!

A Trip, A Race, and A Mystery Illness

It’s been a super long time since I’ve written anything – perhaps the longest time ever between posts. I swear, I’m still here and still running, but I’ve been out of my usual routine. This is the first time I’ve had my computer on in 11 days (or so my automatic backup tells me). Here’s a quick recap of what I’ve been up to.

I ran the Hartford Half Marathon as a pace leader for Fleet Feet West Hartford.

Running as a pacer for the first time in a major race was so. much. fun. Earlier in the season, Fleet Feet hired me as a coach in the half marathon training program. I was lucky to be matched with an awesome training group who ran together consistently throughout training. On race day, my mom and I headed to the Fleet Feet meeting area. It was freezing cold – about 28 degrees and everyone was bundled up. We had trained in much warmer conditions, so this was new to most of the first time half marathoners. I managed to find a few of my group members before the race and offered to pace them to their goal of 2:15. We had a great time, felt amazing, and cruised in at 2:12. It was a great time and a wonderful race.

My mom was in town!

Yay! I love my mom. She’s a walker and runner and lives in Florida now so we don’t get to work out together as much as I would like. But, she was in town for 10 days. Hooray! We picked apples and made pies and apple sauce. I ate a slightly scary quantity of apple cider donuts. We walked on the trails in the area. We even completed an epic, 9 mile walk on the rail trail.

All in all, we had a great time. It was wonderful to have my mom here.

My running friend and I started a running club at University of Connecticut.

Following the success of the University of Connecticut Run@Work Day event, my running friend and I were asked to start a running club for university faculty and staff. The JM Club had its first ever group run last Friday. Sadly, only my friend and I showed up. It was about 50 degrees and pouring. We got soaked, but we got in the miles and kicked off the JM Club events.

I have a mystery illness.

It’s true. I’m sick again. Only I’m maybe not sick. I have a mystery illness. It all started with a sore throat about two weeks ago. The sore throat went away, but then I developed a stuffy nose. The stuffy nose went away, but then I developed new symptoms. Now I’m fatigued, have a headache, and my nose is running. Weird. It’s that day-before-being-super-sick feeling. I keep thinking that I will wake up in the morning super sick, but, thankfully, that hasn’t happened. I’ve been resting, sleeping lots, drinking tons of water, and taking my vitamins. I hope that I can beat this mystery illness – whatever it is.


It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me and there’s more fun around the corner. Today, I leave with my running friend for the Cape Cod Half Marathon in Falmouth, MA. I’ve lived in New England for 5 years, yet I’ve never been to Cape Cod. What better way to see the Cape than on foot, in a race? Expect a full report later.

Staying Motivated After a Race

So you’ve run your first race. It was amazing – you finished, you had fun, and you achieved a goal. Now what? For many runners, there is a post-race lull. This is a normal part of the racing season and post-race lulls are great times to rest, recover, and reevaluate goals. Here are my suggestions to keep a lull from becoming a rut:

  1. Register for another race. Nothing motivates me to stick to my training like having another race on my schedule. I love to schedule new races just after finishing  – a new race always seems like a good idea when I’m still crazy from the joy of finishing.
  2. Stay in touch with running friends. It’s likely that you’ve made or reinvigorated running friendships during training. Keep those friendships up and schedule group runs. Knowing someone is waiting for you outside in the cold at the crack of dawn is highly motivating.
  3. Mix it up. The time period after a race is a great time to try something new – a new distance, a new running group, or a new trail. Keep running fresh and fun.
  4. Cross train. Once you’re out of an active training cycle, it can be good to revisit other activities for a while. Not only will you be ready to return to running after some time off, you might learn how much you love something other than running.
  5. Hire a coach. Need to stay accountable after the end of a group training program or heavy training season? Pick a new goal and hire a coach to help you achieve it. See my post on working with a coach for more.

No matter what you do, stick with running. Find the joy in running and it will repay you with fitness, friends, and lots of fun memories.