Monday, March 17, 2014

On Aging

GZ's latest post got me to thinking about aging and what it's like when you're an athlete who has always pushed yourself. I really respect GZ and admire the honesty of his blog. A lot of what he writes could apply to me, as well. Here's what he wrote:
With the [nice] weather, I decided to occasionally push on the gas a bit today. Not too hard, and so maybe not hard enough. I was chewing on this today during one of the push sections of this fartlek. I used to be able to really make myself hurt. I mean, I could drive myself to a point of really breaking. Not actually breaking but really leaving myself worked over. I recall track workouts where I sat in the car for a 45 minutes afterwards unable to do anything. Probably too much (I had races like this too). Now, it seems that I have forgotten how to do that. Not only that, I seem to avoid it, and get a bit scared when I even get within 5 zip codes of it. Or HR zones of it.
Man, where do I go with this? I have always been a very intense person. My intensity has been both a strength and weakness in terms of how I live (just ask my wife) and how I run. I am rarely "relaxed." I love the feeling I get after a super hard workout, when I'm totally wiped out and depleted. Like GZ, I'll push it hard now and then. In races, I'll go deep into the pain cave. And like GZ, I can remember some vicious workouts where I pushed myself to the brink. Mile repeats at the Chagrin Falls High School track back in Cleveland come to mind. Here in Parker, I've put in my fair share of envelope-pushing tempo runs and track sessions. I've tasted blood going hard up the Incline (last summer's 26-minute effort comes to mind) and climbing steep mountain trails. But, over time, the number of intense sessions I put in has gone down--and for good reason. I am afraid of injury. I've been injured enough to know that it sucks big time not being able to run!

These days, as I'm now 40 and only a few months from 41, I know I can still perform at a good level (relative to my abilities) but I have to be judicious about when I put it on the line. Unlike when I was 35 or 36, it's hard now to get in a really intense workout on Tuesday and then again on Thursday (my old formula), on the heels of long runs on Saturday and Sunday, without some recovery issues piling up on me over the course of a training block. Whereas I used to be regimented and force myself to do certain things on certain days (which isn't smart!), these days I keep my running a bit more fluid. When training for something, like now as I'm beginning to ramp up for my spring and summer races, I try to do at least one tempo run and one long run a week. If my body is up for it, I'll squeak in some fartleks or intervals on other days. But, for me, the key now is listening to my body--there are days when I feel beat up and so I run at MAF or even slightly below MAF. These days, I don't even need a heart rate monitor to know I'm at MAF; I just know.

I know that when it counts I can bare down and go into the pain cave. I just can't go into the pain cave as much as I used to because it'll land me on the injured reserve list. And then there's the even bigger issue: What will this do to me in a few years? I want to be able to enjoy life and be mobile. At some point, I know I'm going to have to really scale back my training and start mixing in lower-impact stuff like cycling (I was obsessed with my bike as a kid). The last thing I want is to be a broken down old man at 50! So I have to be smart and avoid risky training practices that could take me down. It's taken me a few years to figure that out. I'm glad I did!

Here's to a healthy 2014 racing season!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Starting to Get Back at It After a Winter of Not Running "Much"

With March here, I'm just now starting to get the itch to ramp up my training and think about my races. This morning, I actually did a tempo run. When you cut through the crap, the two most important workouts you can do to prepare for a long race are 1) the long run and 2) the tempo run. Hill repeats aren't far behind especially if you're an "aging athlete." But I hate hill repeats. I'd rather run intervals around the track. That said, I'm making myself do hills this spring and summer--I need the strength.

All winter long, my mileage has been anywhere from 50-65 miles a week, with one recent seven-day stretch of 72 miles. Honestly, the motivation to bust my ass every day hasn't been there. I've been really busy at work, and we've tried to ski as much as possible this winter (and what an epic winter it's been in Colorado--a fresh powder bonanza almost every weekend of late). Fortunately, my motivation is coming back; otherwise I wouldn't have done a tempo run--and enjoyed it--this morning.

Being able to see the sun rise in the morning, after a winter of cold and darkness, makes a big difference. Unfortunately, with daylight saving time kicking in this weekend, I'll be back in the dark for a few more weeks--always a cruel slap in the face in the early spring. But it's great that we'll have later sunsets--meaning more time outside.

Even though I don't feel old (I know I could still break 18 in a sea level 5K), I know I'm aging. I'll be 41 this June. I'm in good shape according to the metrics we keep at work. My blood pressure is low. My BMI is ideal. My LDL cholesterol is good (though in a recent test my total cholesterol came in a bit high--it's being retested as 18 months earlier my total cholesterol was 162). I've found with age that I'm a bit more judicious with how I use my body and what I ask of myself physically and mentally. It used to be that I wracked up 4,000 miles a year and didn't take much time off at all--because I really didn't need it (or I didn't feel like I needed it). Over the past few years, and especially over the past few months, I've recognized the need to give myself some down time and then, when it really counts, focus on what matters--in 2014, what matters to me is the Leadville 100.

Following so many people on Facebook, on the blogosphere and elsewhere, I can't help but notice a trend I'm seeing. People are racing year-round, running huge miles all winter long, and not really giving themselves any downtime. That may work for a while, but I think over time it catches up to you. In 2010, my foot imploded and my body rebelled on me after putting it through a meat grinder in 2008 and 2009. Back in the day (admittedly, right when I was getting into ultras), there was something of an off-season. Among the first big races of the year were Way Too Cool and Umstead. These days, there's a race every weekend. I honestly think a lot of people (but not all people) over-race because ultrarunning somehow makes them feel good about themselves and they also like the oohs and ahs from non-runners. I get that to an extent. This is my eleventh year of racing long distances, so external validation and praise stopped meaning much of anything to me a long time ago. That said, in a race it's good to get encouragement, especially from your family and friends.

This being March and my conditioning well below where it needs to be by August, ordinarily I'd be feeling a bit freaked out. But not this year. I'm only now starting to get mentally engaged with running after about five months of aimlessly staying somewhat fit and skiing on the weekends (and let me tell you that fresh powder skiing will kick your ass!). Ultrarunning requires such a high level of mental energy (and physical energy, too) that if you're not 100% into it then don't bother. You might as well take up sewing. We're not just warriors; we're kind of like "Jedi Masters"--you have to have your mind into it because the mind is the most powerful weapon for the ultrarunner. My ultrarunning mind is now starting to awaken after a great winter and I'm excited to race soon!

I still plan to run the Colorado Marathon in Fort Collins in early May, but at this point it's hard to see being in great shape going into that race. If I qualify for Boston, I'll be happy. I like to stay qualified for Boston 365 days a year!

Then I'll have the Leadville Trail Marathon in mid-June, the North Fork 50K (or maybe 50-miler?) in late-June and a gnarly half-marathon at Copper Mountain Ski Resort in July--all leading me to the Leadville 100 in mid-August.

My Leadville training will be interesting. Monday through Friday, much of it will take place here in Parker since I work full-time, have a family and don't have the time to run in the mountains during the work week. On Saturdays and Sundays, I'll head to the trails, with Sundays being my big days with lots of vertical. I'll still be able to take the occasional Friday off and head up to the mountains. The most important goal, besides showing up in August healthy, is to avoid peaking too soon.

Onward and upward!