Monday, May 18, 2015

It's Working (At Last)

I wish I'd known (read: believed) two years ago that the junk mileage I was putting in between workouts wasn't helping me get fitter; it was actually hurting me by hampering recovery and putting me in an ever-deepening hole. Over the past four weeks, I have completely eliminated junk mileage from my training. No more little 3-4-mile runs between workouts to boost my numbers. No more "gray-zone" runs. The days of number-chasing for the sake of a nice weekly total are over. And it's for the better because it was an unsustainable course that was making me hate ultras.

My training is now a lot more planful, purposeful and quality-based--and it seems to be paying off because I'm feeling fit and I'm finishing my workouts strong, whether it's a 25-mile mountain run or a track, hill repeat or tempo run session. Rather than fixating on mileage, my greatest focus now is on A) fully recovering between quality workouts (cannot overstate the importance of this), B) executing true quality on my "hard days," and C) going very easy on easy days, including a complete day off (or at most cross-training) on Mondays. It really all comes down to training hard on hard days and recovering on easy days so my body (and mind) achieves adaption--the key to getting fitter. That's in contrast to what I've been doing when training for 100s the past few years--grind it out every day, run as many workouts as possible in a single week (for "practice"), sprinkle in some speed here and there (with no real purpose behind it) and largely ignore fatigue.

Here's an example of what my new training looks like--this is from my plan for this week:

Monday: Off/cross training
Tuesday: 6x800M intervals w/ 400M recoveries - increase speed with each
Wednesday: Recovery run/super easy pace (60-70 minutes)
Thursday: Hill repeats - 7-8 reps of 2-2:30 each
Friday: AM: Easy 6-7; PM: night run of about 15 miles with the guys
Saturday: Recovery run/super easy pace (60-70 minutes)
Sunday: Long trail run of about 22-24 miles

Ordinarily I'd have a tempo run on Saturday but, with a night run the day before, no tempos this week. The average week, though, has intervals, hill repeats, a tempo run and a long trail run.

Over the past three weeks, especially this past week, I have noticed a significant boost in my fitness. I'm able to finish my long runs feeling strong and good (versus tired and wiped out) and my turnover, speed and power are all noticeably better than they were in April (when I actually debated abandoning the racing year altogether). It is too soon to say whether or not this new approach will pay off at Bighorn in the way of a "good time." I think it will but, even if it doesn't, that's OK because this new way of training is more satisfying. When I'm done with a workout, I don't have to worry about getting in a few more miles that day; I have nothing hanging over my head and can instead live my life.

Also, I think I've discovered some great nutrition products. Again, it's too easy to say how it'll all pay off at Bighorn, but in my long runs over the past few weeks I've been very happy with Tailwind Nutrition (I mix about 125 calories per bottle), Justin's Nut Butter packs, and Honey Stinger waffles. My nutrition plan for Bighorn, mirroring how I've trained, will be a combination of the above, plus some typical aid station fare, with the overall goal of consuming about 150-200 calories and--most importantly (for GI health)--no more than two dozen grams of carbs an hour.

Overall, this new approach to training is more fulfilling, conducive to the responsibilities I have as a husband, dad and employee, and purposeful. I cannot predict how it'll play out at Bighorn. Bighorn will be the most challenging 100 I've ever done and so I'm going to need to be at my best. But I know that when I'm running 20 and 25 miles and feeling great in the end that that's a good sign. When I feel powerful and efficient going up hills and my tempo pace is dropping like a rock, those are good signs.

Bottom line: I remember a few years ago being told by a few older guys, like Jay Aldous, that once you have a big base it's a game of quality, recovery and adaption. Only now am I fully realizing that what they told me was 100% correct. Thank goodness I came this realization in time to get in decent shape going into Bighorn---versus churning out junk mileage like a hamster on a never-ending wheel. Never again.


  1. As a slightly older runner, I've whittled it down to 4 workouts a week. I've found my body really needs the extra recovery time. Good luck in the Bighorns. I'm doing the 50, so we'll look to cheer you on at the turnaround.

    -- Mark Smidt

  2. It definitely is hard to realize that less is more, particularly for the 100. I hope you have a great race in June, but I believe you are heading toward a great formula either way.