The change in the air temperature during the past couple of Sunday morning "sorta-(long) runs" have made things more enjoyable. I'm still not where I want to be but I'm better off than I was. But it got me to thinking about the story about how to boil a frog. You take a pot, and water, and the frog. But the water has to be just right, not too hot and not too cold, or else the frog will find a way to get out. Get the water nice and warm; make the frog comfortable, then slowly turn up the heat on the water. By the time the frog realizes what has happened...soup.
I've been making "frog soup" out of my Sunday morning group: The run starts out with the group chatting about stuff and me not saying too much for the first couple of miles. By the time we get to the (four-mile) mid-point, the pace has slowly ratcheted up to the point where the rest of the group, when they can finally speak, beg to have the pace slow down. My friend Ron Young used to do this to me on Sundays...and Wednesdays... The difference is that Ron would do it so smoothly, over the course of three-or-four miles, that by the time you realized you were in over your head it was too late.
I've met people who can push their fellow racers into the hurt locker during a race, but very few know how to walk their fellow racers "down the hallway" and "open the door" for them. To develop this skill I believe it takes a blend of two different kinds of workouts in the training schedule: the progressive tempo run and the "good build-up" track repeat.
The "good build-up" track repeat is one of several key repeats I enjoyed using with my training group. Any "build-up" repeat we did was broken into thirds; the first one-third of the repeat would be run at about 5K race pace, the second one-third of the repeat was for a smooth acceleration to about 75-80 percent of perceived maximal effort, and the final third would consist of holding that 75-80 percent effort. If the effort dropped off at the last few meters the athlete knew they had accelerated too much in the middle third. The repeat could be as long as 400 meters, but I preferred to use 300 meters starting at the front of the track straightaway for several reasons; the athlete knew exactly where the acceleration zone began and ended, and there was no curve to confound maintaining a consistent effort in the final third. Best of all, I could limit the recovery to the 62-meter distance across the track infield. Sure, you could explode at the 100-meter mark, but the ideal was to roll-up the intensity so that your effort as you exited the curve was right at 75-to-80 percent.
The progressive tempo run is an extension of that good build-up over the course of a 20-minute tempo. Start the first ten minutes at a comfortable pace, just a little slower than 65 percent effort. Once the ten-minute point is reached it's time to slowly pick up the pace, just a little bit every minute or every block or every telephone/electric/light pole, until you're at that tempo run pace or a little faster in the last couple of minutes.
It's great to have the ability to pull the trigger and unleash a kick at the last 187 meters of a 5,000 meter road race, but a good racer can turn their fellow competitors into "frog soup."