Hello Level Legion, and welcome to Intervals.  This is the first in what will hopefully be a Wednesday tradition for everyone going forward.  Each week we’ll put the spotlight on a different elite/semi-elite renner from the region and delve into a recent workout they just did.  It’ll be different from week to week, but we’re hoping to provide you with workout details and insight from the athlete (and maybe even a coach or a teammate) regarding the workout in general and also the results more specifically.

We were lucky to have Ruben Sanca be our first guest for this Intervals series.  Highlighted here is the Christian Street Hill (Lowell, MA) workout, as performed on Saturday March 31, 2012.  Don’t let the misleading name fool you.  Although Christian Hill sounds like a small, grassy slope that they teach Sunday school on, it really is a grinder of a beast that separates the leader from the rest of the pack. From my intial correspondences with Ruben, it was starting to sound like a monster of a workout, but how bad can it be, really?  Well, per Ruben’s blog:

Freshman year, Coach Gardner introduced me and the rest of the cross country team at UMass Lowell to the infamous “Christian Street Hill” in Lowell, Mass. When I first did the hill, I only ran it halfway because it was absolutely painful (especially for a freshman). The hill is 222ft up covered in just half a mile to the top. When I was getting ready for my New Bedford Half Marathon, I was able to do the full hill 8 times, which was probably one of my best workouts at the time. This has become one of my favorite staple workouts during base phase. The entire run is all continuous which makes it even better. Every successful season I’ve had since going to college has always started with Christian Hill. 

Christian Street Hill Elevation Profile

Check out Ruben’s blog for the full background.

So what are Coach Gardner’s thoughts on this?  “For Ruben the Christian Hill repeats have always been a benchmark of fitness. Maybe not race ready but fitness for sure,” said Gary.

As far as today’s session, Ruben has this to say: “The one thing I like about these hill sessions is that they truly teach you to relax while taxing the cardio system. When I am doing these, I try to keep my upper body as relaxed and easy as if I’m doing a shakeout morning run. However, this is only possible when I’m feeling somewhat fit. In addition, I also try to make sure I am striking on the ball of my foot as I run up the hill. This is also important because it mimics my foot strike during the 5k which is what I’m training for.”

The hill is located in lovely Lowell, MA, and at the time of the workout (5:30 pm), the temperature was in the 40′s.  Sounds like perfect weather for testing one’s mettle.  With that, let’s get into it:

Workout:  5 x Christian Hill (all continuous as part of 10 mile run)
Goal: 2:50-2:52 (last workout was March 7 @ 2:52 avg)
Warm up: track to Christian Street (18min)
Cool down: jog back to the track (apr 18 min)
Rep 1: 2:46
Rep 2: 2:47
Rep 3: 2:47
Rep 4: 2:47
Rep 5: 2:45
Recovery for these consisted solely of the jog back down to the start.

Avg: 2:46

Behind the Splits (in Ruben’s words):

Warm up: Starting with the warm up from the gym, my legs felt decent. Not heavy or tired, considering I had done a 12/9 double the day before.

Rep 1: My goal was to start around 2:52 and then work my way down. This was based on the series of progression of this workout I’ve done this year. I felt quite relaxed going up, and surprisingly hit Rep 1 at 2:46. After that I figured If I kept things at sub 2:50, it would be one heck of a workout.

Rep 2: I went out a little slower through the first half and worked on finishing strong. This rep felt harder than the last one because I had to make up time, but my body was very relaxed. This rep was a 2:47.

Rep 3: I went out a little harder on this one, which hurt considering I had finished stronger on the last rep. At the end of this rep, I relaxed but could start feeling the lactic acid building up. This rep was also 2:47.

Rep 4: I kept the effort fairly even from beginning to end. This allowed my body to feel very good at the finish. It was still just a 2:47 but I knew I had a lot more left. I felt good that I was able to get this done with no straining. Being able to keep the form and stay relaxed is a huge thing. I keep telling myself that this is like running 4:20 miles during the 5k - you have to make it fast, but you have to stay relaxed enough to be able to push and kick. If you are straining midway through the 5k, you will not be able to push at the finish. Same thing with the hills, if you are straining at rep 3 or 4, you will not be able to finish the 5th one fast, instead you will just be holding on for the finish…

Rep 5: I knew this was going to be a good one because I was well warmed up into the workout. From doing reps 1-4, you either get “warmed up” or you really start to notice the lactic acid build up in your legs. I did not feel much change in lactic acid from reps 2-4; therefore, I knew I could run this 5th one faster. I went out at a quicker pace through the half, and then relaxed a lot in the 2nd part, but kicked strong to the finish, maybe breaking my form a little but I wanted to get that same end of a 5k feeling.  Result: a 2:45 final rep.

Cool down: My legs felt ok, not trashed which is a good sign. I have been doing 120 miles a week for about 8 weeks now with consistent 20 mile long runs, and about three 12 milers during the week . Most of these runs have been at a 6:30 pace which now feels natural. I think this is the reason why my legs don’t feel trashed after finishing a workout as taxing as this one.

After getting this done, I feel very confident about my fitness level. I have never come off of great hill workouts and not PR’ed. I think this spring could be a breakthrough for me and I am really excited. I still have not gotten on the track for a workout yet, but I believe the “dirty work” of tempos, hills, and fartleks have allowed me to recognize my threshold levels better and I’ve learned to push the efforts when there is no clock or training partner next to me. Staying off the track has also kept me with a strong mental focus for racing. I have not really had a full track season since college and I’m excited to get it going.

Ruben’s excited, I’m excited, but what does coach Gardner think?  Keep in mind he did this workout leading up to his New Bedford Half Marathon victory in 2011, only he did 8 reps of the hill that time.  After seeing the results, Gary had this to say:

This was his best session ever so that means we are in an excellent spot to run well over the next segment of training. Our plan over the past six years has been to always increase fitness. We know his 5km and 10km personal bests are weak in comparison to his fitness level over the last two years so we want to bring them down to where they equal his fitness level.

Both Ruben and Gary think he’s on the verge of a breakthrough.  It’s scary to think that someone as fast as Ruben has not had a breakthrough yet!  Ruben averaged 2:46′s in this workout moving up that mountain.  That’s fast enough to make a Sherpa jealous.  In fact, it might have been fast enough to make him an honorary Sherpa (I’m still waiting to hear back from Tibet on that one).  He’s clearly putting the work in and it’ll be very interesting to see his results in upcoming races.

Level Renner will be on hand at the George Davis Invitational this coming Saturday up in Lowell for a clash of the titans on the track: Sanca vs. Jenkins, in a two mile showdown.  Call it what you want (Athlete vs. Coach, Student vs. Teacher, or even Padawan vs. Jedi), but it doesn’t need any hype.   Check here for a schedule of events.  We can’t wait for it, and we’ll have coverage of it just for you, the Level Legion.

Watch out for Ruben this summer as he vies for a spot in the Olympics on the Cape Verdian national team.  Also follow Ruben through his blog.

Up next week: Matt Pelletier

Workout: To be determined…