Monday, August 19, 2019

Update on Quality

So just when I thought my "speed" was gone for good, I went out on Saturday morning for my run and set a new PR on a pretty locally competitive course.

The course is a hilly 1.5-mile trail loop near our house and adjacent to our local high school. It's frequently run on by the high school cross country team (which is a strong program). I've been running this loop for literally close to 9 years and have had a few really strong performances on it. I used to own the CRs on this loop (in both directions) but then a few young hot shots in their teens staked their claim of the #1 and #2 spots for the counter clockwise direction--the fastest time being 8:53 for these hilly 1.5 miles of trail--all above 6,150 feet.

On Saturday, after about 5.5 miles of feeling fresh, I decided to head to this loop and go hard and see what the legs could give me. This was a 10 out of 10 effort for me and I went deep in the pain cave, especially for the last 5 minutes. My legs were burning in agony and I was breathing hard! To say I was going all-out is an understatement. This was the hardest I'd run in months.

And it was getting warm, too. The sun was out in full force the temperature was in the 70s. I had major cotton mouth by the end.

Not until I got home and uploaded my data did I see that I'd run the loop in 9:22--good for third overall on this very competitive loop. I'd improved on my previous PR on this course, set in 2013 when I was but 40 years-old and coming off a pretty strong Leadville 100 performance, by 9 seconds.

To say I was surprised that I'd beaten my 40-year-old self by 9 seconds would be an understatement. In all honesty, it made my day...actually my whole weekend!

Going into Saturday, I'd done two track workouts in two weeks and already I was feeling a performance bump. My approach thus far has been--and will continue to be--to add a 400-meter interval every week as I work to improve my speed. So on week 1, I did four 400s. On week 2, I ran five 400s. This week, I'll run six. Simple, straightforward and hopefully "safe."

As my speed improves and my recovery from the 100-miler back in July continues, I'll start transitioning into other types of intervals, including 800s and the mighty 1600. But, right now, it's all about the 400.

I was thrilled to see such an exciting result on Saturday. I knew when I was done that it was a solid result but never did I think I'd beaten my previous PR by 9 seconds, especially when I recall some previous runs on that loop where I went all-out. It was very encouraging and more proof that I need to run hard a lot more if I want to get better. Less focus on quantity and more focus on quality! And the nice part of more focus on quality is that it'll ultimately make your longer runs more enjoyable.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

My Thoughts on Quality v. Quantity

I’ve thought a lot about my race and finish at the Burning River 100 in Northeast Ohio and some conversations I had with old friends in Cleveland, where weekly track workouts are part of the running culture.

It hit me then--when I was in Cleveland--and I continue to ruminate on it that my training since we moved to Colorado from Ohio back in 2010 has changed significantly, especially over the past few years. While in Cleveland a few weeks ago, I was with old buddies who are still running marathons, getting after it on the track every week, gunning for Boston every year and maybe running a few ultras here and there. Typically, their ultra training is built on the solid foundation of marathon training they are doing for their spring and fall pushes.

When you are truly fit for a fast marathon (meaning you're nailing it at the track, in tempo runs and in your long runs), I have always believed that it only takes a few tweaks here and there to transition into being fit for 100 miles. That is how I used to approach my training in no small part because it's how the club I was a member of trained. It was our norm. If you were bagging the track or your tempos, you got razzed.

I really don't recall ever waking up back in those years and saying, "Oh crap, I need to run 30 miles today so I'll be fit for Mohican." My focus was more on a fast spring half-marathon followed by a big push in the marathon (usually for under 3 hours) and then some tweaks to the training to be ready for my summer 100.

At the finish line and happy!

I am not saying that formula would still work for me. I am older and if I did such a big push in the spring now I would likely find myself in the recovery hole and unable to absorb it all. What I am saying is that my training over the past few years has changed...for the worse. One thing I do think I miss is a club I can train with weekly. No such club in my part of Denver exists (that I know of) and I don't have time to drive a long way to train with the clubs we do have. But I don't need a club to train well (it's nice but not required).

I’m proud I finished Burning River but, man, was my training off—certainly a product of a busy life but that’s no excuse. The race showed that I had more than enough endurance to run the full 100 miles. Despite stomach issues that zapped my energy (nothing new there) and surprisingly trashed quads, I was still running at 90+ miles. My aerobic fitness was excellent. Where I failed in my training—and have been failing the last few years—was in over-emphasizing mileage/quantity and not doing enough quality to boost economy, strength, speed and turnover. Simply put: I could run a long way but I was slow compared to where I should be.

I have fallen into the trap of making my training revolve around 100s and then obsessing over making sure I can cover the distance and not around enhancing performance through structured intervals, hill repeats, etc. that create great fitness. I did some "quality" going into Burning River but it was never intentional and it seemed to happen only when I was feeling up to it. I was running too many miles, which was wearing me down to the extent that I was not able to bring my best self to the quality I needed to be doing, and as a result I got stale, never really getting better.

Even on my days off, I never really was able to recover.

I really think where I need to shift things is around structuring my training in a much smarter, more confident way, recognizing that I'm aging and recovery is now crucial. In the months leading up to the 100, I should have dedicated specific days to intervals (mile repeats are the King of Intervals, in my opinion), hill repeats and the long run instead of waking up every day with the goal of running "as many miles" as I could with the time I had that morning/day. With such a structure, I should have then used the other days (the days I wasn't doing quality) to run super, super easy or cross-train and emphasize recovery. The crappy trap I've fallen into, as a busy guy with a ton going on with my job and family, is to just put in as many miles as I can on a daily basis. I've lost structure and I don't train with confidence even though I have a gigantic base that I have been building for 15+ years and that doesn't go away when you train consistently like I do. You have to build on that base with quality--that's where I've gotten complacent.

At Burning River, I found myself unable to keep up with runners who are my age (some a little older) and who I used to not only keep up with but beat now and then in ultras of all distances. They are now more than a few steps faster than I--it was eye-opening to me.

My speed across all distances has deteriorated and no longer can I expect to run “fast” unless at my age I’m willing to pay my dues at the track and on steep hills the way I used to do. This was apparent early on when in May I ran a 19-minute 5K--really slow. I should have addressed the issue then and there. Instead, I told myself to run more.

For me, I need to trash the self-talk about training to "cover" the full 100 miles. Having run nearly 50,000 miles and counting with no significant pauses in my training (a gigantic base), I need to remember that being ready for a big race is about much more than volume—especially at my age and with my base. It's about building total fitness and that requires a structured approach that puts quality at the heart of it all.

Over lunch a few weeks ago, one of my old friends from Cleveland, who shall remain anonymous, told me that before one of his big races in 2008 he ran 20--yep, 20--mile repeats in one go at the track and all of them were under 6 minutes. He did quarter-mile recoveries. He knew when he could execute that workout that he was ready. He went on to win his big age 47. Disclaimer: I am not so sure 20 mile repeats is the best approach; I'm merely making a point here that quality can have huge payoffs.

So I will probably do another 100-miler and go into it knowing my stomach will give me fits but I will also go into it "marathon fit" and having put in structured training that has quality at the heart of it all.

That said, if you asked me if I'd rather run a sub-3-hour marathon again or a sub-20-hour 100-miler again, I feel confident I would say the former. So I am confident that on the horizon will be a marathon push. No rush to do another 100--definitely not this year.

The important thing for me is this: I want to get better. The desire is there. The commitment is there. I've gotten to the track twice since Burning River and look forward to gradually improving.