Posts Tagged ‘running improvement’

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt truly confident in my running, close to 2 years actually.  Though I’ve had some ups along with the downs during that time, I’ve never fully trusted any of them, expecting nothing since nothing was standard fare.  But last Friday’s MP run was like a gently fallen seed of confidence that, instead of brushing away as I tend to do, I let sit.  And this week it began to grow.

A couple days after Friday’s run, I started piecing things together, going from “I think this is working” to “This shit is working”.  That might seem silly, since my reports have pointed to progress since I raised the mileage, but as long as there were still holes where my faster paces were supposed to be and heart rates that wouldn’t budge, I wasn’t completely convinced.  The pervading thought I’ve had through all this has been “I’m really good at running easy pace…now what about the rest?”

It took me a day or two to realize that Friday’s run was the most indicative sign of progress I’ve had so far because there was no way I could ever have run an MP section like that before.  No way.  And in humidity/heat?  Double no way.  But now that I’ve digested that and am trusting that it is indeed the real deal, my attitude is changing.

My speed session yesterday, for example.  Speed days always freak me out, ever since the plateau started and throughout its duration, I’ve always done them with a tinge of dread, as in “how much is this one gonna suck?”  But the way I felt preceding yesterday’s session was the way I remember feeling when I was on my growth roll, back in 2009: calm with a tinge of excitement, because I knew it’d be better than last week, though last week didn’t even suck, I am finally able to expect progress, at least for a little while.  That’s huge.

The workout was an exact repeat of last week: 9 miles w/ 9x(3min on/1min off @ 10k pace).  The 3min on’s were 6sec faster than last week though the dewpoint was worse.  Even the last couple cooldown miles were peppy @8:02s, leaving me with an average pace of 7:42 for the whole she-bang.

My heart-rates are getting to where they should be, too.  Each week’s speed session brings my Max HR for the workout one beat higher (yesterday, I hit 183 at the end of the last one), so I’m breaking through that wall slowly.  For reference, when I wore my HR monitor in a 10k (my PR 10k, actually) I averaged 182, maxed at 188 and that was on a cool day.  It’ll be interesting to see where my heart rates go from here and if they ever match the old ones again, though it doesn’t really matter as long as the paces are doing what they should.  But back to the running…

Today was a 15-miler that, by all rights, could have been quite sloggerly after yesterday’s hard effort.  I would have been fine with that, btw, since I’m now totally focused on quality  days; whatever pace the peripheral runs end up at is immaterial, I just want to be recovered enough to do the workouts.  Anyway, I started with a creaky 8:50 and didn’t feel so great until about mile 5, then I picked it up nicely, ending up with 15@8:16.

Tomorrow is an 11 which I’ll take real easy, tacking drills/strides on at the end, the better to be loose and ready for Friday’s major tempo run:  12 or 13 miles with 6.5 miles of tempo, the first 5mi@7:05 and the last 1.5mi @6:55.

It’ll be a challenge but one thing in my favor is that Friday is supposed to be mid-to-upper 60s with a dewpoint in the 50s, the best weather we’ve had in months.  That should really help.  Aside from that, there’s one other thing I think is going to help out on that run: my beautiful new training companion…a little confidence.

Strides And Drills
The other day, Adam alerted me to a video on Diagonals.  I asked him what was so special about them, it looked like strides to me and he replied “It’s strides, basically, but with continual running.”  To which I responded, “Isn’t that how you’re supposed to do strides?”  Um…no.

Apparently, I’ve been doing strides wrong from the get-go.  What I understood as “full recovery between” I always thought meant easy running till your heart settles down so I’d start them a couple miles from the end of my run, doing them in a string as I made my way home, with normal easy pace between.  But in reality, you’re supposed to walk or shuffle between them, as in FULL full recovery.  I’d been making them somewhat aerobic and they shouldn’t be.  Not a major loss, since the Diagonals workout is good enough for Kenyans, it’s good enough for me, but I’m going to do them properly from this point on.

Aside from that, today was pretty interesting as I did something I’ve avoided for 3 years…drills.  It’s another thing Coach Adam/A Muse has been trying to get me to do but I’d been resisting.  I knew full well I could benefit from them but the things that kept me from doing them were:
1. Back in 2008 I tried some when I had a bad ankle and stupid me didn’t realize all that bouncing (they’re pretty much all ankle-centric) would make it worse so I ended up with a long-term ankle hurty thing.  Kinda scared me about doing them again.
2. Being a late-starter with nobody ever showing me what “real” runners do, I didn’t trust myself to do them correctly
3. I was not thrilled with looking like a crazy idiot in the park

#1 is not a useable excuse anymore and for #2, I watched a few videos several times and practiced in my apartment to get the idea of them and for #3, I finally figured out an excellent place to do them, not in the midst of the park and only .5mi from home (and once I move, it’ll be only a block away) on a flat patch of grass.  No more excuses.

So as today’s 17-miler came to a close, I reached the place I’d chosen, paused the Garmin and did 2 skipping, 2 high knees and 2 butt kicks plus 3 strides.  I felt quite accomplished afterwards and plan on doing them a couple times a week, eventually expanding my repertoire, as well.  Here are a few videos if you’re interested: Lauren Fleshman, Pete Magill, Jabari Pride and there are tons more on YouTube besides these.

A Strange Speed Workout
I almost published an entire post on yesterday’s workout, complete with dark, depressing thoughts of how much I suck.  But I’m totally over it.  I’m great.  Life is good.

It was my first real speed session in many, many months, so I wasn’t expecting a lot and it probably didn’t help that the previous day was a miserably-humid 15-miler that ended with me counting down the final miles home.  I was nervous about the session (6x½ miles w/2min rec’s) but still, I figured I’d come close to a 5k pace target.  But no.  Much to my chagrin, I was stuck around 10k pace and could not go faster!  After 4 reps, I switched over to 4 x ¼mi with 1min rec’s in hopes the shorter distance would help me speed up but alas, it did not.

It was 76 degrees, so that would have been a slowdown factor, and maybe the previous day’s 15-miler didn’t help, but excuses aside, it was supremely disappointing.  Only a few weeks previously, before the achilles/knee interruption, my speed had dropped on those on/offs to where I was hitting 5k pace and faster, and now once again I seemed to be missing the 5K gear.

But here’s the good news: Yesterday afternoon, while feeling loserish and weirded out about it, I went back in my logs and realized that even if “fast” is eluding me right now, my heart rate improvement is kind of astounding…but weird.

In all the 800s I used to do, (including 2 sessions I did a year ago in similar conditions at the same pace as yesterday) I always averaged a heart rate around 181 and maxed around 191 – that’s my usual interval HR range.  Yesterday? I averaged 169 and maxed at 177.  We’re talking a 12-14bpm difference.  In fact, the highest I’ve been able to get my HR this whole season is 181 and that was once.  So I’m simultaneously appreciative and weirded out, because it’s just plain strange.

So while it’s hugely aggravating that I’m unable to break through to that higher HR zone (I mean really, isn’t it weird?) instead of worrying about it as I did yesterday and wondering if I somehow ruined the way my heart works because of all that easy running, today I’m sane again and think that all I need are a couple more weeks of intervals and tempos and that missing 5k gear will be mine.  If nothing else, this is certainly an interesting situation.

I’ve been back in self-coaching mode since Carlsbad (as you can tell by my crazy goings-on), but I posed a question to Coach Adam/A Muse the other day and his answer, unbeknownst to him, struck a wildly resounding chord in me.  I had asked him how Elites manage to keep improving as the years progress.

The question arose because, even though I’m finally seeing improvements, I’m still trying to understand that long plateau I went through.  Why was I stuck so early in my running life when these people, who’ve been running for so long and are trained to the Nth power, are able to keep on an upward trajectory for so long?

In no way am I discounting their incredible genetic gifts which clearly bring them to a certain level, but to keep improving when they’re already so insanely kick-ass, well…that’s gotta be something to do with training.  I was liking this idea because, while the methods may never be available to me (no one’s inviting me to Mammoth anytime soon) it’s a fresh bit of hopefulness in the time vs. improvement continuum.

The magic thing Adam said (aside from personality traits that drive them beyond normal folk) is that these people have developed a massive aerobic foundation.  Massive aerobic foundation.  Wow.  In one phrase, he clarified something so important and simple and that is also what I assuredly do not have.  BUT…

It is something that us newcomers can improve upon to a dramatic degree.  Granted, a “massive” engine will never be in my future, I started about 35 years too late for that, but room for growth?  Shit yeah!  I’ve got tons of space available in that department.

In a timely find, I just read this quote from the great Arthur Lydiard, confirming the point, “Your aerobic development is a gradual thing. It takes years and years of marathon-type training to develop your aerobic capacity to the fullest.”

So for all you late-starters, former couch potatoes and fellow plateau sufferers, take heart that aerobic fitness is an ongoing process and it’s within our abilities to improve for a good clump of time.  Now, I misspoke in the last post saying it’s a given, of course it isn’t, but I’m beginning to think that with the right physiological recipe, there’s no reason why the oft-repeated “7-10 years of improvement no matter the age you start” wouldn’t be true.

But here’s the catch: you have to figure out what you need and then you have to work for it.  Hitting a new mileage peak for race prep is helpful but to run increased mileage over a long period of time, well dat is da true bomb.  Or if you never did speedwork and tempos, then perhaps those are your magic weapons.

I know that for me, it’s a hell of a lot more fun and easy to add a bunch more miles than to bust my ass with hard workouts.  Which is not to say I won’t get back to the tough stuff, I will!  Before the Fall arrives, I’ll be back at it with vim, vigor and a fresh attitude because by that time, I’m bound to be a stronger runner and that makes the hard stuff way more fun to handle.

But had I not switched gears with this base work, I’d probably still be stuck in the plateau moaning about how I never got my 7-10 years and that it must be my age working against me.  Ridiculous, now that I think about it.

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t speak so soon, I’m not out of the woods yet, but here’s a fun fact: my weekly volume has increased by about 52%.  Aerobic development, here I come.

Speaking of Lydiard…
I’m not following the Lydiard program by any means, but there are methods of his teaching that I find myself drawn to.  Currently, of course, is the mileage build (he was the original “run more miles” guy with his runners routinely doing 100mpw).

But one thing that is commonly and incorrectly attributed to Lydiard is the term “Long Slow Distance”.  Many people, when thinking of Lydiard, are under the impression that his runners ran tons of slow mileage, that his long runs were joggerly Sunday outings.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Lydiard’s base training focused on high-end aerobic running: steady-state, moderate paces, etc.  Those were not slow long runs!  They’re not time trials either, but they were/are faster than the usual  “go slow!!” admonishment-laden long runs.

Just a little factoid for you, apropos of nothing, because he was on my mind today.

Fun Reading
Also unrelated to anything above, this Running Times article is quite entertaining.  They interview some of the Age Group winners from this years Boston Marathon so you can read about their race prep, mileage, etc.  Good stuff!

The Week In Running
It cracks me up seeing all these 7:5x’s – it’s certainly new and different.  As is the average pace for the week.  Considering how new I am at this volume level and that it was 75 degrees for most of the runs, I couldn’t be happier.

Monday: 12@7:54
Tuesday: 4@8:25 (toe hurt so bad, had to cut it short)
Wednesday: 11@7:58
Thursday: 14@7:53
Friday: 12@7:58
Saturday: 15@8:06
Sunday: 13.25@8:17
Total: 81.25 mi (avg pace 8:03)

My runs.  They’re improving.  Why?  I think it’s a mixture of
1. Taking that 2-week break
2. Removing quality runs, thus taking all the pressure off and
3. Getting laid on a regular basis

OK, well maybe not that last one, but it sure has lifted my general mood.  As for the break, soon after I was back on the roads, I thought “That was very nice, but didn’t really do anything for my running”  but now I’m thinking it might be the catalyst for what’s going on.

Perhaps it’s like running higher mileage, that you see the fruits of it appear a couple cycles down the road.  Who’s to say the effects of a break wouldn’t be slightly delayed as well?  Might be totally bogus and have nothing directly to do with my current progress, but if nothing else, it gave me permission to do #2 on that list without fear of regressing.

Another interesting and positive thing is that I weigh 119, as I have for the last couple months.  The whole appetite-quashing experiment started because I wanted to get back to 115 (my weight over the winter) to eek out as much speed as I could but I was getting hungry at night while not wanting to count calories or be strict about dieting.

But if I’m getting faster at this heavier weight and it doesn’t give me the evening munchies, then screw it!  I’ll save 115 for its original and proper purpose: racing.  All I ever cared about with the weight thing was making progress and since it appears I now am (and can still fit in my tight jeans) it’s all good.

Now For The Runs
As mentioned in last week’s post, my average pace that week was 8:10, something I hadn’t previously clocked without quality runs in the mix.  Also if you remember, I wore my HR monitor once to make sure I wasn’t racing my runs, which showed 77% HRR on an 8:03 run, perfectly respectable aerobic pacing.  Well…it was even better this week.

First off, here are the last 7 days:
Mon: Off
Tues: 9@8:14
Wed: 8@8:05
Thur: 9@8:20
Fri:  9@8:00
Sat:  14@8:09
Sun: 11@8:00
Total: 60 miles (avg pace 8:08)

Btw, when you don’t have any quality workouts, you don’t need recovery runs so if you look at these last couple weeks and wonder “where are the slow runs?” I just didn’t need any.  Trust me, if I need one I’ll do it but I won’t add one in unwarranted – the rest day has been providing adequate recovery.

Now lets talk about my last 3 runs, all of them notable:

Friday

What’s weird about Friday is that it was the warmest day of the year so far (72 degrees) and that’s usually a performance hit for me right off the bat.  I pared down to a sports bra and shorts, but because I’m a little shy about the first shirtless run of the year (because there are only a few other chicks out there who wear sports bras)  I ran faster from the get-go.  It’s a silly thought pattern that goes “If I’m gonna run nekkid, I better look the part”  So miles 2-4 averaged 7:41.  That was great until…

I got dehydrated during mile 4.  The fountains haven’t been installed yet so I knew I was somewhat screwed.  I made myself slow down and turned around early to make it a 9 instead of the planned 10.  As I was coming back, I felt like I was seriously trudging, like 8:30s, plus I was running into a headwind, so when I glanced at my Garmin and saw I was going 8:00 to 8:05s, it was genuinely freaky.  I stopped at the bathrooms (one mile from my house), drank from the sink and resumed, the last mile my slowest.

Saturday
Since Saturday is date night which always continues through the following afternoon (happy sigh) I’ve started doing my LRs on Saturday so I have less miles to fit in on Sunday.  I had planned to do 13 but it was so beautiful (mid-50s again) that I added an extra mile making it the longest run I’ve done since January.  I began at a conservative pace (first 3 miles averaged 8:40s) thinking this would indeed be the week’s slow run, but as I warmed up, it became an unexpected progression run, getting down to a couple miles at 7:30.  I really didn’t know where that came from.

Sunday – Another Effort Check
After Friday’s weird fast run and Saturday’s progression surprise, I needed to again check that I wasn’t perceiving myself as running easy but in actuality working too hard, so I wore the Heart Rate monitor.  Um…wow.  11 miles averaging 8:00/mi, HR was 159 (74% HRR), even better than the previous week’s test.  This means that whatever’s happening under my skin isn’t a fakeout and I’m not racing my runs at all – it’s the real deal.  Exciting!

The Racing Situation
With all this happy running going on, I had a really weird thought the other day. What if I don’t race again till next Fall?

My plans were to do a 5K in April and the Broad St. 10-miler in May.  The latter would be a huge PR no matter what since I haven’t run a 10-mile race in a couple years.  BUT, I’m also thinking why ruin this time of delight and peaceful running by getting myself worked up with performance angst?  I want to be hungry to race, not do it because I think I should or to get a PR by default.

So I haven’t made a decision yet but it’s a real possibility.  I’m considering continuing this no-training way through the summer, keeping the mileage between 60-70mpw, sharpening in the Fall and then have a coming-out party with the (previously named) Philadelphia Distance Run in September.

Whatever happens, I’m having one of my most satisfying running periods right now.  No day is a bad day. Can’t beat that with a stick.

 

OK, I’m coming clean…that last post was a fight to write.  I had some mental crap I was avoiding and did a pretty good job of talking myself out of it.  Sometimes it’s like that when you write a blog post, you reread what you just wrote and think “this is too much of a downer, let me look at it from a different view.”  Sometimes this actually works and you can end up feeling upbeat about the situation, but sometimes, it’s just a distraction.

So here’s the deal:  My running break did what it was supposed to do, repair a tired body.  But I also had this hope that I’d want to start training again for real (as in, woohoo intervals and tempo workouts!!) but I don’t.  Silly when you think of it, 2 weeks is basically a blip, why would I expect anything but the same mental game I had when I left off?

What I think I’d like to do (because I’m really unsure of myself right now) is spend the next few weeks running about 50-60mpw and just play it be ear, add occasional strides or faster portions when I feel like it, but for the most part, easy running.  This would seem to be a simple decision (hell, just shut up and run then) but I don’t want to get slower!  If doing weekly intervals and tempos gave me a tad over maintenance, what will “just running” do to me?

There are potentially 2 options:
A. I slide backwards (the likely scenario).  The question is how much?  And do I really want to chance this?!?
B. I maintain because maybe my mental game is what fucks me up and without the pressure, I’d be ok.

There is also a 3rd option but it belongs in Dreamland:
C. I get faster because my mental crap was so debilitating that running like a pretty pony with nary a care in the world was all I really needed.

Actually, my incredibly fast friend Meredith did C (minus the debilitating mental crap), stopped formal training for a year and “just ran”  ending up with great speed gains, but she’s gifted, so that doesn’t really count.  Then my friend Amy, another fasty, reminded me of her lack of speedwork last year, that for whatever reason she didn’t feel like doing it even though she knew she was leaving some speed on the table, but now she’s hitting some really hard workouts which she attributes partly to that break.

As for the coming months, I still have a 5k I’d love to do in April plus the Broad St. 10-miler in May so it’s not like I’m eschewing everything and becoming 100% hobby jogger, I’ll have to do something in preparation for those races, but it’ll be small (and I’m not going to do the Adrenaline 5k in March, another favorite race).

So bottom line, I’m considering becoming a 75-80% hobby jogger until I feel the hunger again.  I want to want to run hard and to test myself but at this moment in time, I don’t.

Peaks And Valleys
I said this a few posts back, but I refuse to believe that at 4 years running (the last year being a plateau, so 3 years of progress) I could have reached my running peak yet.  So if you at home are thinking, “Get used to the end of PRs, it happens to everyone”, I don’t believe it happens to anyone this quickly.  But we all have different routes and timelines to reaching our best, many folks have stops and starts, which is another reason I think laying off for a tad might not be so bad, like a larger shell for what my 2-week break started. Micro to Macro.

BUT! There is something that might be messing with me and contributing to a cap in my gains, whether physiologically or mentally (well, definitely mentally but maybe physically as well) and that is my history of medical racing mishaps.  I’ve had 3 of them now which is 3 more than most people will ever have.

It’s put a sizeable dent in my mental racing game but what I hadn’t ever thought about was potential physical fallout from it.  My friend Ewen posted something interesting on his blog about seeing his friend “get the staggers” in a race.  What gave me pause were a couple comments that mentioned Noakes (an authority on science and running) saying that crossing that line too often can hinder your running life permanently…shorten it.

So it’s conceivable that I may be on a different schedule for having been zapped a few times, maybe I could be cooked earlier than most.  There’s not really any way to tell though so I’m going to carry on as if I didn’t read that.

The Blog
I was getting all weird yesterday out on my run, thinking about this stuff and the blog, too.  I was noticing how much less I posted while on break and even now, coming back, I realize that without something to strive for running-wise, I become a lame  writer (not in the disdainful sense of the word, but the handicapped one).  That without running goals and plans and workouts, I don’t have a whole lot to say.  I don’t talk a lot in real life anyway – not that I’m a mute, but I’m not much of a chit-chatter either.

So I had this weird thought that if I don’t “train” for a while, maybe I should temporarily pause the blog.  Not just for lack of material, but to stop being accountable for a while, because some days it really does get old to report the same tired “I’m not improving” shit.  Sometimes you just want to not be embarrassed by a sucky workout or that you posted for the thousandth time what the temperature was because, even though you think it’s relevant to the workout or race, it just sounds excuse-y. Then again, if I’m not training in the real sense, there’ll likely be nothing disappointing to report for a while.  That would be fresh and new, huh?

Anyway, today, I’m in a better headspace and will make a real effort to fight the “what if’s” as they arise and try to stay in the Here and Now because really, that’s all there is.

Which ends this not-that-cheerful post but I’m going to click the Publish button anyway and put this mess online.  I want to get it out because it’s the truth but at the same time, I’m rolling my eyes at myself for being such an emotional goof.  I just wish I was getting my period so I’d have an excuse for it.

Speedwork today.  6x.5 miles w/2min rec’s, chosen because it’d been 4 months since I’d done a 5k pace workout and I was really curious to see where I stood.  Fully prepared for a rusty one, I was hopeful that my speedier paces of late might account for something.  That, they did.

Splits were 3:16, 3:17, 3:15, 3:17, 3:13, 3:16, avg pace 6:30.  The fastest set of those I’ve ever done.  Total for the run with wu/cd was 7.5 mi @ 7:48.

So, what does this mean? It means I am officially back on the PR prowl again.  Finally.

My Goal For Carlsbad
I’m going to go ahead and say it now, because it’s the magic number for the next few weeks…7:05 pace, which comes out to 1:32:47.  Now, I need to also say that if it’s a warm day (because it is California and it could happen) then I’ll have to dumb it down on race day, but all my quality for the next couple months will have that race pace in mind.

I actually picked the goal a couple days after the Philly Half, thanks those final 7:05s feeling like they did.  But I still need to grow more – the course is supposedly more rolling than Philly and I want to keep the effort dial on 9.5, not go anywhere near 11, so I think that with 8 weeks of steady work, I’ll be in a good position to do it.

Owning New Paces
OK, I find the whole “owning” terminology a little psychobabbely, New Agey, but it’s really the best way I can think of to describe accepting new paces as mine and that I deserve to run them.

I’ve talked about this before, that I envision paces and pace ranges as hands on a clock face, which is pretty funny considering I haven’t owned anything but digital clocks for years. But anyway, I can “understand” the paces I personally come in contact with but anything faster, it’s like that great New Yorker cover, only instead of empty geography, time is the blank.  Anything faster than 6:30, I could not, or would not bother to comprehend.  Why would I?  My clock’s been stuck for so long.

That’s not to say I haven’t touched the 5:xx’s a few times, I have, but that was in strides and Billats.  And I’m not talking about 30 seconds of fast, I’m talking about intervals with some meat on them and 5K race paces that land in the 2nd quadrant of 6 o’clock.  I’ve held off on going there in my mind because what if I never got to have it?  That would suck.

But now I can see some movement ahead.  Like the excitement I felt when I was in the 7:xx’s peering at 6:xx’s till they became real and normal, it’s not ridiculous for me to start envisioning paces between 6:15 and 6:30 – a new area of the clock I can call home, that I can possibly get to own.  It blows my mind.

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