A method behind the madness – a simple approach for a novice


When I was in 6th grade I wanted to run a 6-minute mile. At the time, this seemed like a huge hurdle and insurmountable challenge. It was the late 60s when the running boom was picking up steam.

I lived in Houston Texas and my coach was Alan Lawrence.  He asked me to run the mile and see where I was.  Not even close.  All my laps were at different paces and I  could not go fast enough for 4 laps.

He spent the next few months working with me on two important things.  Pacing and How to train for that 6 min mile goal.

I believe that pacing during a race is the most important thing you can practice.  The person that controls the pace, controls the race.  I will delve into this more but for now how to prepare for that 6 min mile.

Al sat me down and on paper, we looked at the paces needed for my goal.  4 Laps (440 yards track) is equal to one mile, so I had to go 1:30 for each lap.  Then we broke it down further.  220-yard section had to be completed in 45 seconds and 110 yards had to be done in 22.5 seconds.  You get the picture right?

Next we went out to the track and found that for 110 yards I could do it in 22.5 seconds, in fact, I could do it faster, a lot faster, and when I tried the pacing for 220 yards, I could also do that, but not with the same speed that I had completed the 110.  I then tried a whole lap of 440 yards and made the 1:30 but just barely.  I was not ready to do 880 yards on the test.

Al surmised that I needed to work on speed and strength while also building some endurance to be able to hold the pacing needed for my goal.

Our workouts started with a warm-up.  There was always stretching but I didn’t do any of that without jogging a couple of laps first to get my body warmed up.  Once I was ready we would begin the strength and speed work.  I started off with 110 work.  He would have me do 110 at a pace close to or above the goal speed.  The important part to him was my pacing.  If he gave me a goal pace I was to hit that pace within a second or two.  As you can imagine this took practice.  We didn’t have gps watches to know exactly what our pace was and only the coach had a stopwatch hung around his neck.  At the time I didn’t know just how important this pacing goal was.

After a few weeks of this kind of work, I learned that if I went too hard on the 110 that I could not perform as many sets, I would get too tired. I had to put a check on my ego and nail the pacing.

During this speed and strength work, Al started my work on the 220 and the 440.  He started me out with a slower pace on the 220 and an even slower pace on the 440.  He was building my endurance without me even know it.

We gradually began focusing on the 220 and the 440.  The pacing was sometimes slow and sometimes faster than my goal pace.

Our bodies respond to physical stress at different levels of effort.  This adaptation helps us to be able to race in the real world.  I’ve never run any event where you started at 8:30 pacing and was able to sustain that exact pace throughout the whole race.  You have many obstacles that you encounter beyond the physical ones to our bodies.  These include other participants, aid stations, course changes like a hill or a descent.  You need to practice and train for these along with the training needed to physically be able to race while encountering all that comes your way.

A basic premise that I believe in.  If you go harder you get stronger and if you go longer you are able to keep that strength going longer.  You must find a balance here between both to help you develop your goals.

As I started to gain the ability to nail the goal times of the 220 and the 440, Al had me working on the 880, the mile and some long runs.  At the ripe old age of being a 6th grader, these long runs rarely took me over 3 miles.  He ran with me and we ran very slow.  He talked to me during these long runs and this took my mind off what at the time I thought was the most boring thing I could be doing in life.  Gradually it became my favorite time.  I started to look at the world around me while I was running.  This is a gift to anyone that realizes this.

I remember that day that Al decided I should try my mile.  My Dad was there along with my school coach and of course Al.  He had worked with me on exactly what each lap would look like for my pace.  The last lap he said I could do whatever I wanted depending on how good I felt.

The whole time I was working on strength at each distance, Al was instilling the lesson of controlling my pace.  I had developed good control of pacing and felt very confident that I would hit each lap as he had described to within a couple of seconds.

Lap 1 – 1:40 – Al was very specific about going out in complete control.  We tend to feel a lot of anxiety prior to any event.  This can cause us to race with our hearts instead of our brains.  He wanted me to prove to myself that I could be in control.  1:33.

Lap 2  –  1:25 – I often equate lap 2 as the time of every event where the hard work really comes in.  Mentally you’re at the beginning of the race.  Your brain realizes that the work is now in motion and the end is not near.  This is the lap where you are deciding whether you are going to do the work, or the goal isn’t going to happen.  1:21 – I was in!

Lap 3 – 1:30 – The endurance lap.  You’re now feeling the day.  Your body is complaining to you and the inner conflict can take away your focus.  This lap is where all the work pays off.  As my coach made me run the 2 and 3-mile run I was building the endurance in conjunction with my strength and this was allowing me to hold pace on lap 3 – 1:30

Lap 4 – Faster than 1:30 – This is the time in all our lives where we decide if it’s all worth it.  The pain, the emotion and ultimately the baggage that we carry.  It is all on the line during lap 4.  We are supposed to be realizing the journey but at the same time, we see the finish line.  A finish line should only be the end of that chapter.  We should be writing many more in our life’s book.  Each chapter defines us and we should celebrate all of them.  Finish lines are never the end.

I was lucky to have crossed paths with Al Lawrence at a young age.  I knew that sport would be part of my life and learning valuable lessons like pacing and effective training have stayed with me through my adult life.  It makes me a better coach today.

We all have 4 laps to life.  Consider this approach when you’re beginning your adventure whether a triathlon, a marathon or a long bike ride.  Your laps can be as easy as you want them to be or they can have a great amount of depth. It’s all up to you.

Go out and create your own mile.

Gary Wallesen

6th Grade Mile – 5:34


Gary Wallesen is a multi-sport coach. He is also the GM of TriSports.com.  He’s been participating in sport all his life.  He has a Dog.


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