A couple of Thursdays ago I introduced hammer intervals to the group. Zack jokingly wrote on Facebook: “Hammer, meet Ice Bath. Ice Bath, meet Hammer.” I don’t know if it was THAT challenging but hammers certainly can make a workout more like a race and thus a little harder but also more beneficial.
I learned about the concept of hammer intervals from Scott Simmons and Will Freeman. They wrote about it in their book, “Take the Lead,” and Scott talked about it at a clinic I attended this month in Charlotte, NC. There was also a short summary about them in Running Times (http://runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=16399). I used hammer intervals sparingly over the last year with the Sacred Heart Cathedral teams, but now that they have shown up at a Thursday night workout, I guess that they are officially now part of my coaching repertoire.
The idea behind hammer intervals is that in a race, as your muscles get fatigued, the same pace becomes increasingly more difficult to hold. If your goal is to run a 6:00 pace for three miles, running the first mile in 6:00 may take an effort level of say a “7.” But to maintain a 6:00 pace during the second mile, you need to increase your effort level to an “8.” If you were to continue to give an effort of “7” during the second mile, you are likely to slow down and run that second mile in 6:15. On the flip side, if you gave an effort level of “8” in the first mile, you might run that first mile in 5:45 (the classic mistake of going out too fast because the pace seems easy at the time). On to the third mile, where it now takes an effort level of a “9” or “10” to keep going at 6:00 pace. The ability to give this type of effort is where champions are made and PR’s come to fruition.
I believe the key to running an even paced race is to measure your effort level so you are working harder as the race goes on (not necessarily running a faster pace as the race goes on). By giving increasingly more effort as the race goes on, and thus maintaining pace, you are likely to pass other runners who are giving the same effort throughout the race, and are thus running slower and slower.
Hammer intervals help you simulate giving more effort later in the race. Say you are doing a workout of 12 X 400 at your 5K goal pace of 90 seconds per lap with 90 seconds recovery. On 400’s number six and number ten, insert “Hammers.” That means the sixth and tenth 400 should be run in 86-88 seconds (2-4 seconds faster than your goal pace) but take the same 90 seconds recovery. Doing this forces you to give a harder effort in the middle of the workout, and because of that harder effort, you will be less recovered for the subsequent 400’s so you’ll have to work a little harder to hit those in 90 seconds. Voila! You are teaching your body to do what you want it to do during a race, which is to give increasingly more effort as the race progresses so that you maintain race pace for the whole race.
You can expect to hear me call for a hammer interval every now and then on Thursday night. And I understand that I’ll probably hear another loud collective groan of “ugh” from the group every time.