I'm in week two of my new training regimen. It's modeled on the program Andy Jones-Wilkins had me on last summer. Since last year's Leadville, where I had issues (but still finished sub-25, thank God!), I've come to realize that my problem going into that race was that I never let myself adequately recover between workouts. I was almost always fried. I hit all of AJW's workouts and, between them, I put in lots of junk miles (which I did myself as AJW never prescribed junk miles--his workouts were always very purposeful), leaving me spent by race day. Big mileage worked for me in my mid-30s (admittedly, I did lots of quality back then, too), but all it does now is leave me falling behind in my recovery.
This time around, with Bighorn six weeks away, I have opted for very purposeful training. Every day has a purpose, whether it's recovery, cross-training, hill repeats for power/strength, track intervals for speed/efficiency, a tempo run for strength, a long trail run for raw endurance and specificity, or out and out rest. My new rule is that if I don't know the purpose of a workout, then it's better to stay home. When you add it up, my mileage in an average week is now between 70-80. But, again, every workout has a purpose and I'm getting better and better at measuring progress not by mileage totals but by how I feel after a recovery run day.
This is a big change for me. I've always believed in volume when training for 100s. But, having read a lot of articles and blogs by experts like Joe Friel, Lucho, Jack Daniels and many others, I have come to realize that I have a big enough aerobic base (closing in on 40,000 miles since 2004) to focus more on quality and less on putting in the miles. You go hard on hard days and easy on easy days. You get better not just from the hard days but especially on easy/recovery days when your body is adapting to the stimulus you gave it with those track intervals, hills, tempo miles, etc. If you put in good quality but never recover because you run too fast on easy days (which I was doing) and fill in the gaps with junk miles, then you never adapt and get better. I have always known this but I also told myself that junk miles were recovery miles and "good practice." They are not. Junk miles take away from, not add to, fitness.
So far, so good. Last week, I put in some solid workouts thanks to excellent recovery from the 50K. But then on Sunday a strange thing happened on my 24-miler up and back down Waterton Canyon and Section 1 of the Colorado Trail: I felt good. I felt efficient. I felt strong. And I felt fast. It was fun! As Mike W. and I were running back to our cars, with about 1.5 miles to go, I dropped the hammer and ran it in hard, passing a runner ahead of us. Mile 22.5-23.5 was run in 6:50. I haven't been able to do that at the end of a long run, physically or mentally, in some time.
This week, all is going well so far. I had a solid track workout on Tuesday and a solid hill repeat session this morning. I can feel my efficiency improving and I'm definitely lighter on my feet. The biggest thing I've noticed is an ability to recover better between workouts since I've cut out junk miles like those extra 3- and 4-milers between runs, which are more about chasing numbers than anything. Plus, I'm going super easy on easy days--like 9-minute pace. But I don't really look at my Garmin on easy days because it's not about pace or distance; it's about recovering.
Whether or not all of this pays off at Bighorrn is yet to be determined. I believe it'll pay off and it'll set me up for a great taper and I know my life has improved, as a person and runner, now that I'm more focused and not always feeling pulled by the need to get in "more miles," which is exhausting when you have a lot of other things going in life. And even if my time at Bighorn isn't great, I'm OK with that, because at least now this all feels manageable, healthy and purposeful. Oh yeah, and fun!