Real-Life Successes: Me? Speedwork???

Not so long ago, RW forum member Stickless thought that speedwork was something that happened to other runners. With help from her friends, she's now made it a permanent feature of her training

Posted: 7 December 2005
by Stickless

Stickless at the White Peak Marathon.
Picture by Margaret Ehrenberg

"If you'd like, you could try my kit."

I fiddled with a cooling mug of tea.

"Go on, it might be interesting."

It was very kind of her to take me under her wing. I would never have managed the race that summer without her expert help. It was also preposterous. Heart rate monitors and speed and distance monitors were things that happened to other people. It was also hard to say no.

"Ok, yes then, lets give it a try."

She bounced upstairs to find the hardware. After the race last summer she had invited me over, offered to give me some tips. It was very kind of her to bother with me at all. It was absurd. She was an excellent runner of many years' experience. I never would be. But to say no would be ungrateful after all her encouragement.

I watched as she explained the equipment, taking in nothing. As a life member of the baggy shorts and T-shirt brigade, I don't do heart-rate monitors. Explanations concluded and not understood, she strapped it on. I stood feeling like a horse unused to the cinch while she pulled it tight. "There, that should do, can you still breathe?"

My heart did a few loops and rolls and then steadied. Yes, I was still breathing, and, as recorded, my heart was still beating too. Quite fast, considering I was standing still.

We trotted to the park talking about the race that summer and what I might undertake as an encore. She would help me a bit with technique, and introduce me to the basics of speedwork. Speedwork. That is against the principles of the baggy shorts brigade. We don't do speedwork. Never mind, it will do no harm to learn about it.

We got to the park, and the lesson began. On a 50-metre stretch, just practising the basics.

"Lean forward a bit, that's it. Try it again." "Think about your arms. Don't tense up." Each separate suggestion was rehearsed several times. Those 50-metre stretches began to add up, particularly as most were run at a pace I hadn't even thought about since secondary school. Finally we stopped to rest before starting the speedwork. My legs were already shaking.

The proposed course was the perimeter of the cricket pitch. It didn't look too intimidating. Even shaking legs could get round it. I felt confident of that. She explained it to me: we were going to do five intervals, with three-minute recoveries. The aim was to run it exactly the same all five times.

5-4-3-2-1 go! This isn't hard. I can do this. Well, maybe it's not so easy. Well, maybe I shouldn't have started so fast. Slow a bit. That's better.

Rest. I can do this.

Go! This time I set off more conservatively but even so, by the end I am very glad it is the end!


Go! Even the more conservative pace is evidently rash. Wayward legs require deliberate attention.


Go! Muscles refuse, the ground bucks and the grass and the sky merge. Just keep going, and don't forget to press the button at the end.

That would have to do. The world only slowly came back into focus. We trotted slowly back through the park. Even that did not feel easy. I noted with academic interest that my heart rate, having scaled the heights, was reluctant to come down.

Unstrapped, jug of squash in hand, I sat at the table. She settled to her calculations. "Would you like to see the print-out?" Yes. Curiosity seeped past my defences.

"There. That's the first rep. Average speed 7:38 minute miling."

Well that's very nice, I thought, that's... very...

She continued to explain but I wasn't listening.

I was standing on the edge of a precipice, watching my excuses crumble, fall away beneath my feet to unseen depths below. These old and tangled legs have 7:38-minute miling in them, with hardly a stroke of real training. I've not given them a chance. I've not given me a chance. What am I not going to achieve simply because I haven't tried?

7:38 minute miling. It was a gauntlet thrown down. I could turn my back on the evidence, tell myself very loudly that I was doing very well to be running at all. Or I could pick it up and accept the challenge. What would happen if I tried? The excuses stood exposed as excuses. I could choose to try or not, but it would be a choice. Throughout the long train ride home I stared at the countryside unseeing. Did I dare try? Did I dare not try?

I tried. I am still trying. Speedwork is now a regular feature, mileage has increased, I enjoy splashing through the woods in my best lycra. Have I achieved steady 8-minute miling? No, not even 9-minute miling. Too much of the rough and unpredictable in life comes between my trainers and me.

But I try. Therein lies strong magic, strong enough to enable a middle-aged lady to look in the mirror and see an athlete. The transformation is in the effort. That's enduring triumph.

Stickless's story is one of an occasional series of real-life success stories that we are publishing on the website. If you have a story to share that could inspire others, why not read our guidelines for submission, and get in touch?

Previous article
Vets In Practice
Next article
Real-Life Successes: How I Helped My Partner Run

speedwork, Real-Life Successes

Discuss this article

Thanks to Stickless for this smashing response to our '60-Second Guide to Speedwork' some weeks ago. Have a read - if you enjoy it, do add a line to this thread.

We'd also love to publish more stories like this. If you can forgive a bit of a wait while we process yours, please read our guidelines for submission, and drop us a line.

If you'd like some ideas, first-time stories often make super reads. How about your first...

... run
... non-stop run [or another milestone]
... race
... training schedule
... club run
... visit to a specialist running shop [scary or illuminating?]
... or anything else - the only limit is your imagination

Posted: 12/12/2005 at 14:16

Wow, 500 views of the article this afternoon, and not one post...
Posted: 12/12/2005 at 17:32

I enjoyed reading Stickless story of speedwork and can relate to everything she has said.

Posted: 12/12/2005 at 17:41

I enjoyed reading that too... we want more! :)
Posted: 12/12/2005 at 19:20

super read Stickless - real literary talent
Posted: 12/12/2005 at 19:44

No comment needed from friends of Stickless on the daily thread, but I will anyway! Great writing and as inspiring as always. Give up the dayjob and start writing!
Posted: 12/12/2005 at 21:40

Hi Stickless

I too can relate to the pain of speedwork. Well done on doing it though.

And the piece was well written.

Posted: 12/12/2005 at 23:02

excellent article, Stickless, well done on both the session and the article.

its articles and wisdom like that that make coming here worthwhile
Posted: 12/12/2005 at 23:40

I agree Trini runner we friends of stickless know what an inspirational woamn Stickless is!!
Superbly written article!!
Posted: 13/12/2005 at 05:05

Great article
great picture stickless too
Posted: 13/12/2005 at 07:43

if you enjoyed this you can enjoy more of sticklesses reports on the daily training thread, great lady
Posted: 13/12/2005 at 07:55

Great article Stickless, you are one specila lady.
Posted: 13/12/2005 at 08:12

that should be special,don't know the meaning of specila...
*wonders off shaking head*
Posted: 13/12/2005 at 08:14

Great story Stickless, thank you.
I'm hoping to start speedwork in the new year, I will read it again then.
Posted: 14/12/2005 at 13:03

Inspirational stuff. Those of us on the forum who know what a daily battle it is sometimes for you to simply put one foot in front of another, won't failed to be moved by this.

I've often listed you as a heroine of mine, this article has elevated you even higher in my estimation.

Thanks for that, and keep on running.

Posted: 14/12/2005 at 21:50

A good read Stickless...and it made me think too....I too manage speedwork in <8 minute miles...but plod along normally at 11.30. Hmmm, need to think about how to push myself a bit more!
Posted: 14/12/2005 at 22:13

After years of running, I've never been able to push myself to do speedwork. But this weekend (under the huge pall of smoke from the Hemel Hempstead fires!) I joined a group with a coach in a local park. We did sprints, pyramids and hills and it was worked out so the slowest would run back with the fastest so we all finished around the same time. Everyone was almost embarassingly encouraging to this slowcoach. Fabulous, hard work and made my next plod feel a lot easier!

A group is the only thing that shifted my butt. You have my full admiration Stickless for being able to put yourself through it!
Posted: 15/12/2005 at 16:21

Well done Stickless. 7:38 m/m eh? You won't have the time to look at the scenery any more....

Again, another well crafted article.

The Daily thread fans continue to feed from your support and encouragement.
Posted: 18/12/2005 at 21:44

few years later but just read this thread and article. How are you doing now Stickless?

The article has now got me tempted. Good to read an article from to a phrase this....normal persons perspective (i.e. someone like me who is relatively new to running and just wants to better their own performance and fitness rather than win races)

Well done Stickless.

Posted: 10/06/2009 at 09:01

awwww - I got all excited then coz I thought Mr Fishpoo was visiting!

Posted: 10/06/2009 at 09:05

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.