Week 1: Run Fast/Squat Heavy

The purity of being bad at something, alone.

Week 1: Run Fast/Squat Heavy

Yesterday I drove past my fourth-candidate running track, hoping to find somewhere to do this damn running workout. Like the three that came before it, there was some kind of game or sports practice in progress. I ended up spending almost an hour driving around this city, known, ironically in this moment, as a perfect place for outdoor cardio, looking for somewhere to run, finding nowhere.

Starting a new training program is not that different from trying to do your same old workout in a new place. But I do sort of love the noodling and built-in procrastination that comes with trying to do a new thing at all. Expectations are on the floor; time spent on research is equally valid as time spent on physical exertion. There is a purity to being bad at something, alone.

Anyway, I am on week one of Run Fast/Squat Heavy. I like that the name doesn't beat around the bush.

This week was all about setting my baseline squat and mile numbers. I have not done a ton of heavy lifting in the last couple of months due to holidays and puppy. I decided to try squatting 250 pounds, but I was terrified and bargained with myself the whole way up to the attempt. The barbell felt extremely heavy on my shoulders as I walked out. As I squatted down and up, several joints cracked and popped, though with no pain, and it was … easy? A 7/10, maybe?

When I watched the video back, the weight moved fast but my depth was a bit sketchy. I decided to try it again and really buried it, and that rep felt even easier.

At that point I couldn’t remember what my max ever was, and I’d lost all track of what my percentages and RPEs once were; in the last several months I’ve mostly gone by feel and tried to keep things decently heavy. When I’ve squatted, I’ve done sets of 4-6 for 185-205 pounds, but it always felt pretty hard.

Still, given that the second rep felt even easier than the first, I decided to give 260 a shot, and then extrapolate from there based on how it felt during and after, soreness-wise. But I was dead shocked how well I was able to grind during that rep, even as I stuck a little bit and yelled out while I did it.

It turned out my all-time gym PR from four years ago is 265 pounds. If I’d known that, I probably could have matched it. But the relative ease with which I squatted a pretty high weight with no prep, compared to how winded I get squatting 185 for 6 reps, returns me to the conclusion that I’m currently limited more by my endurance/cardio fitness than raw strength.

The mile test went somewhat worse. After the very protracted prescribed warm-up in the book (it takes almost 15 minutes), I clocked a 9-9:15. This wasn’t that precise and I didn’t run on a track (see above), but instead measured with Google Maps and RunKeeper. My all-time best pace is ~7:20-30 from ten years ago from a 10K I ran, which I take to mean I probably could have cracked 7 minutes for a single mile. Only because I have that training history, I think 8 minutes is within reach.

Based on this, my goals are:

MILE TIME: 8 minutes

1RM SQUAT: 300 pounds

Maybe these are completely unrealistic. I don’t know. What I do know is that I have never once felt anything about not hitting an entirely made-up goal that has no impact on the rest of my life, such as a squat 1RM. I have lost absolutely nothing in life by having wild, impetuous, impractical dreams.

The RF/SH program is ten weeks long, which means I should hit these numbers by the end of the first week of April.

What remains to be seen: I personally see a big effect from  accumulated rest. By that I mean, oftentimes my first couple sessions of working out after a break feel suspiciously good. Rest just gives me a little bit of pop I don’t otherwise have, similar to what you get from taking most of a week off from training right before a powerlifting meet. The next couple are usually all-time lows. The next couple after that even out. So next week, I will probably be miserable once all this accumulated energy runs out.

The book isn’t written that clearly, but it says to base your running training off your goal mile time, while you seem to base your squat training off your tested 1RM, not your goal 1RM. I’m not a hundred percent sure of this, but I’m going with it.

My second complaint is that the running training sessions are a lot of unintuitive math. People say lifting is a lot of math. My dude: Running is a lot of math. Look at this workout:

So if I’m aiming for an 8-minute mile pace, and one mile is 1600m, 1600/400=0.25

0.25*8 = 2 minutes per 400m interval

1600/200 = 0.125

0.125*8=1 minute per 200m interval

And these are relatively easy numbers, because 8 divides evenly. We’d have a lot more seconds and decimals otherwise. This is already the worst part of trying to do this program, because there is different math to do every single week, sometimes on multiple days.

Not only do you have to do the math, you have to find some way to bring your math to wherever it is you are running, and/or commit it to memory. This isn’t practical for almost anyone, unless you have one of those Garmin tracking watches that you can program your little intervals and splits into, which this guy probably has, and assumes everyone has. I am not committed enough to this lifestyle to buy a multiple-hundreds-of-dollars watch, so I am simply going to piss and moan about having to do it some other manual way.

But the track workout above was, I'm afraid to admit, kind of fun. Kind of easy. I found a trail that seems to be a pretty round fraction of a mile (a third, instead of a quarter). I figure that track intervals are not something that requires laser precision, and whatever the flawed GPS of RunKeeper says is enough for my purposes. I will get faster whether the intervals are 400 meters, or 380 meters, or 415 meters, or 435 meters. It's easy for me to get sweatily caught up in these kinds of details whose edges will be smoothed out over the weeks. One of the harder lessons for me to learn in all the working out I've done has been that this kind of precision just doesn't matter that much, five or ten pounds or seconds here or there. It's the trend and broad arcs and "actually doing something" that counts.