A few pictures from the run up into Yosemite National Park. More than one thousand feet of vertical gain in less than three miles. Boom.
A few pictures from the run up into Yosemite National Park. More than one thousand feet of vertical gain in less than three miles. Boom.
It’s pretty straightforward; the numbers don’t lie. I just don’t have the hours under my belt. Looking at my training over the past year, I’m waaaay down compared to this same point last year. October-November ‘11 was my most consistent training volume in years and set the base for a number of good fall races. I struggled in February (low month) and then started building back up with quality training with the St Ives Elite from March into early June. April and May were my heaviest months and—not unsurprisingly—the months I really felt as though I was in the best shape. Runners constantly negotiate with themselves, trying to reason out good or bad performances, build up the psyche, and prep themselves for the next race. Sometimes though, we need a frank, honest asessement. This is it.
I am a science and engineer by trade, and so ultimately, my decisions are made based on data.What do the numbers say?I ask myself. Here, the answer is pretty simple. If I want to have a good spring season, I need more hours. Not hours for hours sake, but volume to build a more complete aerobic base and set myself up for the harder work which will come later. Time to get training.
13th out of 7XX in 3:13:48. My 3rd slowest marathon ever (the two slower being my first marathon and the inaugural Run the Caldera marathon in Los Alamos—the entire course is on trails at 8000ft (high point near 10,200ft) in the New Mexico mountains with nearly 5000ft of elevation change during the course. I even had to stop for a bear blocking the trail). But I’m pleased with the run—it’s hard to be upset when you’re staring at the back of the lead motorcyclist 18 miles into the race.
Waiting for the gun
I picked this race for two reasons. First and foremost, it was one of only a handful of marathons which fit into my schedule. Second, it afforded an opportunity to travel out to Wales—the only part of Great Britain I had not yet been able to visit. In making that decision, I made some compromises early. I signed up for the race only two months before the start, which effectively dictated my training schedule from the moment I clicked on the Active.com link. I had good general fitness, but little marathon specific training. Nine weeks was going to have to be enough. Second, every review of the course described it as ‘challenging’. I was pretty dismissive. Frankly, we (as a running culture) have come to describe anything with a hill—however small—as ‘challenging’. That’s just laughable. The world is full of hills. They’re fun. All of my PR’s are on courses known for their hills—Boston Marathon, St. Neots Half. Hills don’t make for a slow course, they just punish poor pacing. Now if you were my AP English teacher, Mr. Hecker, here’s the part where you would start talking about foreshadowing. The hubris of the runner leading him out into a pace that he couldn’t handle. But I don’t know if Mr. Hecker quite believed it was a pace I could ever handle (so to speak)—so while I valued his opinion, I discarded his judgements.
Trails of My Youth…
You would have found me on this stretch of trail almost every weekend from 2005 to 2007. I was raw, naive, and shadow boxing my way to (yet another) Boston Marathon victory. This trail made me strong; this trail made me fast. It feels appropriate to be back there, tapping out a steady rhythm and chasing ghosts. The spirits are different now, though; not champions past, but younger, bolder versions of myself. But the feeling is the same- the sweet satisfaction of another long tempo in the books, and a sense of balance in my life.
Express. Your. Fitness.
Less than two weeks out to the Wales Marathon and now almost one week into my taper. I’m antsy, anxious, and ready to be into it, but still ticking away the days. Several years of marathon racing and training has taught me that you’re body plays tricks on you in the midst of your training and recovery.
In the thick of my heavy marathon training weeks, I pretty much roll around in a fog, muttering single syllable words and rolling through countless slow miles. This build up has been slightly different in that I’ve stepped back onto the track for the first time in about 7 years as my specific marathon training has corresponded with DC’s early track season. It’s been a blessing, even if I’ve cursed Dave’s name a few times on the backstretch of a particularly windy 800, because it’s forced me out of my comfort zone and broken up the otherwise monotonous slogging. I’ve had some great sessions, including 4x 1 mile @5:09 average and some quick 400s following a week of heavy training. Plus, it’s allowed me to be comfortable at pace, eventually pushing up the pace of my longer runs.
Those long runs will make the difference, for better or worse, this time around. While my weekly mileage has been more consistent and high than previous build ups, my single go long runs have been shorter. My furthest single run is 20 miles. I usually did a full 26 or even 30! But, those runs I have done are of a better quality. I did 20k and 25k runs at marathon effort (if not marathon pace), so I know I’m going to be able to roll through 20 miles in 2 flat to 2:05, but the unknown (so to speak) remains the last 10k. In an ideal world, I would have had one more week (maybe 2) where I could have done a full 26 in training and a 30km run at pace/effort. That isn’t to be, so I’ve got to trust in my fitness and express it on race day.
And that has been my motto and mojo these past several weeks, “express your fitness”. I’ve done a lot of good work and really come along, and I don’t want to waste it all away on some stupid race worry because I slide off 2:40 pace 10k in. I had to remind myself of it yesterday at the last hard track session. It was another 4x 1 mile workout, and I believed I could do 5:05’s. First mile was 5:01. Great. Second mile I lead out, pushed too hard early, then tied up pretty badly over the last 400 for a 5:12. Now, in one sense, that is a better spilt than the same workout 4 weeks ago, but in another, I was in a bad place, because I absolutely detonated over the last 600m of the third rep to hit 5:23 (and I was lucky to get that). Then I did something I loathe doing, but hope will make the difference… I pulled the plug and skipped the last rep. Yes it was my taper, and yes I should have felt awesome, but ultimately, I didn’t. Now I can be all butt hurt about that, or I can trust that the good work put in, and the time spent chasing Daz, DC, Ian, and Kye around the track and roads will bear fruit. I believe in my fitness, and I believe I can run a great race. Now, I just have to express it.
Check out Desiree Davila getting ready for the Olympic Marathon in London. I wouldn’t want her anywhere near me going into the last 10km.
Monday 4/16: Easy 13 mile spin on the bike, shaking out junk from the legs
Tuesday 4/17: Off—lots of time in the car and in the airport
Wednesday 4/18: Easy, easy, easy 7 mile run. This was the slowest run I’ve done in weeks.
Thursday 4/19: AM- Easy 4 mile run with Kim; PM- 8 mile run with 4 mile tempo (23:00)
Friday 4/20:Off- weird day Saturday 4/21: 54 mile bike with 6x 10min big gear sub-lactic intervals. Sunday 4/22: Token 3mi (watched London Marathon from 23 mile mark)
Monday 4/9: Easy 6mi
Tuesday 4/10: AM-Easy 4mi; PM-5mi as 1 mi w/up, then 5x 1km (200m recovery)—3:18, 3:18, 3:18, 3:17, 3:17
Wednesday 4/11: Off—crazy day at work
Thursday 4/12: 7.5 mi as 1.5 mi w/up, then 4x 1 mi (400m recovery)—5:02 (slight downhill), 5:14, 5:19 (tied up), 5:15 (better)
Friday 4/13: 7.5mi easy (bonked majorly at half way, recovered after 1 mi)
Saturday 4/14: 52 mi bike as 30 min w/up, 10x 3min on/off max effort, aerobic ride rest of the way. Really hurting for food after 35 miles. I gotta do better with fueling. Two bonks in two days is my fault.
Sunday 4/15: 18 mi long run. Felt pretty good and did better with fueling. Middle 45 minutes (6.5 mi) @ around 6:40 through some hills.
S: 0yds B:52 mi R: 48 mi
Overall, missed some bike sessions and never adequately planned for swim sessions. Gotta do better on fueling. Interval sessions took more out of me than expected.
Training motivator for the week:
Despite a solid winter and fall of training, racing has been rather poor so far this year. In fact, I haven’t really had a good race since the St. Neots Half Marathon back in November.
I don’t think there is anything more frustrating to an endurance athlete than continued mediocrity. You train day-in, day-out, and believe that you are improving. We (and I) certainly believe it based on some mix of subjective and objective measures in our training, but we try our damn-est to confirm it by the stark, honest performance of a race. In the cases where our fitness is confirmed, it’s like that school-yard feeling when you realize that the pretty girl actually likes you. However, it’s equally crushing when that girl rejects you, and incredibly disheartening to find that several hundred hours of anonymous hard work in the dead of winter have not progressed your fitness, but have, in fact, maybe allowed it to regress.
I know my training is somewhat incomplete, but being perfectly frank, it’s always going to be somewhat incomplete. For the luxurious few who do this for a living, they have some choice in the matter, but most of us just try to cram the workouts in around the fringes. I am no exception. Acknowledging these gaps, my training was consistent, progressive, and ahead of where I was in the fall. My races have been sub-par, frustrating, and leave me in a funk for days.
I’m reticent to turn back to the drawing board, as I’m not entirely sure if I was done drawing my last piece of work. I know I’ve got decent fitness in me, somehow I’m struggling to articulate it in some meaningful manner. But, I’ve been around long enough to recognize I need some stark assessments of my training, and I’ve learned that my strength is generally my strength—meaning I swim, ride, and run best when I’m carrying a heavy dose of longer, steady state intervals and aerobic overload. So that’s where I’m headed again.
I’m in the middle of the best stretch of racing in my life. I can’t trace it to any one thing, or any particular block of training, but I know that the current me would absolutely destroy any previous versions, of myself, up and down, side to side. It’s kind of weird to think about, but it’s absolutely true.
On my way to a PR at the St. Neots Half Marathon
After Ironman 70.3 Ireland, I was posed the question by another racer.
“Do you really think you have a realistic shot of going pro? My times are only a handful of minutes off yours and I am about as far away from pro as imaginable”.
It got me thinking. Not about whether or not I could go pro—my simple answer is, “yes”. But about why and how I could do it. I believe it’s a good thing, maybe once a season, to try and step back and evaluate the sum of your efforts. I try not to do it too often, because if you constantly subject yourself to cross-examination and self-doubt, frankly you just destroy your confidence and panache.
In the weeks after the race, I watched Alistair Brownlee put on (yet another) dominating performance to win the Grand Final and WCS World Title in Beijing. His times, splits, and win were jaw dropping, but mostly, I was impressed with the way he raced. Brownlee doesn’t just “win” races, he just takes the race by the scruff of the neck and challenges anyone in the world to go with him. He intimidates, dominates, and consequently, wins. Everyone else who watched that race probably thought
“How can he possibly do that?”
I thought, “I bet Alistair Brownlee was a 2:10 Olympic guy at one point”.
We only see the finished product. We only see the guys once they’re on TV. We forget that everyone has to start somewhere and no one is invincible. Until the rest of the ITU recognizes that and stops deferring to the brothers Brownlee, they’re not going to loose. You’ve just got to believe.
Which brings me to Brett Sutton. Short of coaching Chrissie Wellington, I didn’t know much about Sutton, and frankly I kind of thought of him as the crazy uncle in triathlon. I mean, yes, he had coached Chrissie Wellington to success, but being frank, at times it seems like a dog could coach Chrissie to another world title. The guys at Ironman Talk interviewed him over a series of two shows, talking about coaching philosophy, training plans, and quite honestly, just letting the man talk for the better part of an hour. I didn’t expect it at all, but it was awesome. The man has so much insight into the sport and success stretching across three decades—it’s unbelievable. I’ve probably listened to the interview about two dozen times now, and each time, I pick up another gem of information from him. I don’t want to say it’s revolutionized my training, because that would be inaccurate, but it certainly has changed the way I structure things, and I’m stronger for it.
It sounds odd to say, but I am quite confident I am in the best shape of my life. Were I to line up in a race, I would kick the ass of every previous version of me going back in history, whether it be college, high school, or even earlier this summer. I don’t use a power meter or a heart rate monitor, nor do I believe in pointing to one or two workouts as indicators of fitness, but as a collective, I am so much stronger than I was.
I am confident next season will be better than this one. And I am equally confident the season following will be better still.