BupaEver since I started exercising with 2 Fat Nerds, I’ve been dabbling in what I’d call “casual jogging.” According to our tracking system, I’ve put in 101 outdoor and 23 treadmill runs over the past two years, which comes out to an average of about one running workout per week.

With spring and this year’s B.A.A. 5K just around the corner, I decided that I’m going to step up and actually make a concerted effort to improve my time, since I was just about the only person on the team to not put up a PR last year. So, taking the advice that Jon gave us back in this post, I just started Bupa’s intermediate-level 5K training program. Or programme, I guess, because they’re British!

This is the first time I’ve ever committed to following a structured training schedule, and it’s already very different from my usual approach to running. With one week down and five to go, what have I learned so far?

I’ve been doing interval training the wrong way. I’ve known for awhile that the treadmill is helpful for intervals, since it tells you exactly how fast you’re running, and you can even set up automatic segment timing on most machines. But what I didn’t realize was that the paces I was using for my “fast” intervals were nowhere near ambitious enough to yield improvement. The key to the Bupa system is understanding how they divide running activities into intensity or “effort levels.” Thankfully, they provide a helpful table to break it all down. The program differentiates between “tempo” running and “speed” running. Tempo pace is an extra level of effort beyond typical jogging — they call it “brisk, challenging running” — but at a pace that you can sustain for a good chunk of time, anywhere from five or six minutes as a beginner all the way up to 20 minutes, or even more, at the intermediate level. Speed pace, on the other hand, is basically the fastest pace you can manage in a controlled manner for a full minute, or two minutes at most. (I say “controlled” to distinguish speed pace from sprinting, which is more like the fastest burst of running you can physically manage, however unsustainable it may be.) It turned out that I had been plugging my tempo pace (for me, about 9:40/mile right now) into a two minutes fast/two minutes slow treadmill program and leaving it at that. Following the Bupa guidelines showed me that I really needed to increase my top speed intervals, which I was able to do at a 7:45/mile this week.

Temple running.

Also, don’t confuse tempo running with what this guy is doing.

Each workout should have one goal, not many goals. More times than I’d care to admit, I would step outside for a run and tell myself that I was about to move like I never had before, and do everything better all at once. I would start by saying, “I’m going to run my fastest 5K ever,” and push as hard as I could for maybe half a mile. When I got winded, I’d slow down to recovery pace and say, “OK, I’ll go for distance instead,” and set off on some crazy route that left me stranded on the other side of the neighborhood, walking an extra mile home. In other words, trying to do it all at once  usually ended in disappointment. In contrast, each running workout in the Bupa system is assigned one of four distinct types: speed work to push the envelope and improve your “I can see the finish line” pace, tempo sessions to build longer and longer blocks of continuous strong running, long runs to build distance and hone your race day rhythm, and recovery jogs to add a fourth day of activity every week while keeping you rested up for the next day of progression. Each mode makes it easy for me to come up with specific, measurable, attainable goals for the day: “let’s see if I can add another minute to my tempo blocks this week,” or “I bet I can go one notch higher on my speed interval today.” This makes it much easier for me to stay on task and manage my expectations for each individual workout.

Taking it seriously requires some planning. I’m really trying to make a concerted effort not to miss any workouts. Already in the first week, it took some logistical gymnastics to stick to the schedule. (It was also about 12° F for most of the week, which meant that everything but my “long” run had to happen at the gym.) I took advantage of a cancelled band rehearsal to get myself to the treadmill on Tuesday night, took an Uber cab and a bus after post-work drinks to fit in a session on Wednesday, and got up at 5:45am on Friday to attack those speed intervals before an 8:15 work breakfast on the other side of town. On the positive side, though, successfully doing all of that rearranging and getting four workouts in the bag this week made me feel pretty tough! We’ll see if I can keep it up during that eight-day trip for work in week three.

I’m so grateful to the 2 Fat Nerds community for providing not only the great workout tips to get me started, but more importantly the accountability and support I’ll need to get through the next several weeks. For those of you who are training right now, what are you working on? And if you have other ideas or insights about sticking with a training plan, leave a comment!