Blog Subtitle

Reverse-engineering the Ultramarathon

Friday, April 6, 2012


Some thoughts on hitting a new milestone in my running life: 200+ miles in a single month. It was just this time last year that I was anxiously looking at my logs, wondering when I would hit the magical mark of 100 miles in a month - right before I crashed and burned. It would be six more months after running a peak of 92.7 miles last April before I finally cracked the three-digit barrier - in October, the month I ran my first ultra.

Now, in just five more months since then, and thanks to my new training approach, I have doubled that previous mark. That called for a bit of celebration! And I have celebrated, quietly, in my own way, relishing the accomplishment it represents. A lot of time and effort went into the last five months (not that I didn't enjoy every bit of it).

But there is another way I am celebrating, and it lends a cautionary note to this story. Another lesson has been learned - or at least re-taught. Time will tell whether it has actually been learned.

I am celebrating by taking a week off.

Aches and pains have accumulated.

I finished my workout on Thursday, March 29th, needing another eight miles to break 200, and I was not sure I would have it in me. Running 134 miles in the first two-and-a-half weeks of the month had taken a lot out of me. I'd pushed the 'cycle down' week after that to 35 miles - following a rule of thumb I'd heard that your recovery weeks should be about 60% of the mileage of your hard weeks. With that workout on the 29th, I had put another 24 miles in the bank, but I was dragging.

Saturday is my regular long run day - and I only needed eight more miles! Ordinarily it should be a piece of cake.

But Friday I was hurting. There's no way to sugar-coat it. I was over-extended physically and mentally - and my leg hurt. Yes, my right shin - that same spot that brought my training to a complete halt last year.

But that's not all!

My other leg hurt too. My posterior tibial tendons were not happy. My left foot continued to bother me. On Friday I knew I only had to do one more easy run the next day - the last day of the month - to reach 200 miles, and I was truly not sure I should do it. My only hope was that Friday off and a good night's sleep before Saturday would bring about a miracle.

Well, things felt pretty good on Saturday morning, so out I went for a flat, easy run.  I don't like to push to my goals though. I want to push through them. I ended up going a little over 15 miles.  My actual, GPS-measured total mileage for the month ended at 207.3!

But I am taking a week off - maybe more. I pushed it too far. I was pushing beyond my body's ability to recover. I was wearing myself down. If I am lucky, it's not too late. None of my pains seem too serious, but that shin is right on the edge - I can tell. I'm not going to run again until I have had at least two good days without noticeable pain.

I should be approaching my training peak for Mind the Ducks in the next few weeks, but I am resting instead. Better to arrive at the starting line on the training I already have than break myself and not start at all.

Lessons Learned:

  1. No 'smarter' approach to training can take away the need to think, the need to be honest with yourself about your condition. Every approach to training can be pushed to far.
  2. It is very easy to let your training plan get taken over by arbitrary goals that pop up along the way.
200 miles was an arbitrary goal, having nothing to do with my long-term goal of patiently, consistently building my endurance base, or my short-term goals of running 50-milers this year - or my intermediate goal of running Laurel Highlands next year! I saw a number and I let it capture my imagination and take me out of what I was trying to do.

Now I can only hope that this was merely a cautionary lesson.

No comments:

Post a Comment