Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year in Running and Looking Ahead

It's time for the end of year blog post. The running year was mostly successful. I began it with a very simple goal: run a solid marathon after two regrettable ones in Delaware and Indy. Training in the winter months went well enough, and I ran what I think was a great Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. Over a tough course, I did a 3:11 and stayed solid through most of the race. That gave me confidence to turn my thoughts back to 2:59. I don't know why running under three hours is so important to me. It's an arbitrary number. I've run 3:01 -- what the difference. But then goals are like that. We set out to do something because we can. The many weeks of the Pfitizinger program were the hardest running I've ever done. I never thought I'd do 70-mile weeks. Running truly became second nature to me. As much as I'd grumble sometimes getting up early to run 14 or 15 miles before work, I'd love it. The solitude, the weariness, everything. It left me in great shape, even allowing me to run my best half marathon in 1:24. Of course, I didn't run my sub 3 marathon because of the Achilles injury. This was the disappointment of the year. It's not something I've dwelt on too much. I don't regret anything. The months of hard training were their own reward. Races are just races. The last month or so has been all about recovery.

So what about 2009? Right now, I just want to get my Achilles healthy. My original thought was to run a marathon in Florida this winter. That's not going to happen. I might also skip Boston this spring. I want to diversify my exercise a bit. Still, I'm a runner. I have many running goals that remain unaccomplished. In 2009, I will run a sub 3 marathon. I was in shape to run a 2:55 easily this fall. I learned a lot from my injury. It will be easier to know when to back off in the training. So that's it. I toyed with the idea of running every day before realizing that's a bad move. Ultras still intrigue me, but they can wait.


Anonymous said...


You need to do more than set time goals if you wish to improve. You need to completely alter the way you think about training.

I went over all your posted logs, and it is abundantly clear that you are running too fast too often. Whether you can admit it or not, you are essentially racing each workout.

How do I now this?

You time your easy days. Classic red flag. At your level, the goal of the easy days is just to get blood going through the legs and simultaneously get a mild aerobic training effect. Pace is literally irrelevant.

In your 12/30 post you write, “It feels strange to finish runs not very tired.” Another very big red flag. Outside of long runs and speed days, you should never regularly end runs “very tired.” Even at 60 mpw you should end each maintenance aerobic run feeling as if you could have gone a little bit farther. (Again, I except speed days and any run over 15 miles.) The purpose of training is to build cardiopulmonary efficiency, not tire you out. Big difference.

It’s also clear this is how you hurt your Achilles. Soft tissue overuse injuries like this are cumulative in nature. Like stress fractures, there is never one single workout that causes it, just one that proves to be the proverbial back-breaking straw. Intensity is as great a stressor as volume, and you combined the two in your buildup to Philly.

You also need to start thinking like a runner who’s training in the 21st century:

1) Get a heart rate monitor.

It’s one thing to run by feel, but you simply don’t have a good read on your body, yet. Just because a workout feels slow or easy doesn’t mean it’s not doing any good. ‘No pain no gain’ is an incredibly counterproductive and primitive attitude. Conversely, just because you CAN do a workout at a given speed doesn’t mean you SHOULD do a workout at a given speed. Pftizinger notes this constantly. Go back and read Noakes analysis of Mark Allen. Allen did not start to win races until he counterintuitively started training LESS intensely. He also spends several months each year training at way submaximal heart rate paces (145 bpm).

This is why a heart rate monitor would do wonders for you. You particularly need the tangible irrefutable feedback of heart rate, otherwise you will continue to go by your miscalibrated feel.

2) Use doctors when necessary.

Why did you actively not decide to get treatment for your Achilles? You choose instead to rely on advice (Pribut) you got off the Internet? Reading between the lines in your posts, I sense an old school “I’m tougher than that” mentality. That has got to change. A little ultrasound and e-stim would have accelerated your recovery immensely, you may even have been able to run Philly. I highly recommend Dr. Lewis Maharam and his associated PT clinic, Ultrahealth (might be Ultrasport) on 57th.

3) Lose the workout, win the race.

When you’re in the park and someone passes you who you think shouldn’t be able to ‘beat’ you, let ‘em go.

4) Learn the fine art of self-discipline.

Learn how to hold back. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. More is not more.

5) Drink less alcohol.

Dehydration isn’t its problem. The way it disturbs REM sleep is.

Looking back, I also think you may have peaked too early. At the end of Sept you ran a hot and hilly 18 at 6:51 pace (most miles were faster than that). Too fast for training, too slow for a true race. Two days later (if the distance is correct), you ran 10 at sub-7:30 pace. Again, far too fast. No recovery allowed at all. I believe this was where you crossed the tipping point with your already-sore Achilles.

Then you ran the 1:24 half. There’s no way to know this for sure, but I think you really pushed that one too hard so close to Philly.

Week of 10/26 you did a hilly 20 miler at 7:15 pace, days after 12 at sub-7. You were pushing too hard and whether you knew it or not, you fried Philly right there. With your unwillingness to take easy days, you would have shown up at Philly with residual fatigue.

A few other points of clarification.

At your level, no one runs a 2:55 ‘easily.’ No one.

A 1:24 half actually equates to a 2:58 marathon. Maybe a 2:57 if you’re having a great day. The calculation at your level is double the half time and add ten minutes. You will read eight, but realistically that is for elite women and very fit college runners. Elite men can add 7 minutes (maybe 6).

With the amount of training you had done, you don’t lose ALL your fitness in six weeks. You may not be in peak race shape, but so what. Not even elites can maintain peak fitness year round. In fact, Kenyans regularly take 4 weeks off after a major race.

You also have written that you think 7:30 is your aerobic pace, yet your MRP is 6:45. Not sure about that. Without a heart rate monitor or VO2 max testing, how do you know this?

What you should do:

Get a heart rate monitor. Use it religiously and learn what running easily truly feels like.

Take easy days.

Build a solid aerobic base of easy runs, 50-60 mpw, no speedwork yet except for weekly strides (8-10 x100 m).

If your Achilles is still sore as of today, get it looked at.

Read Brad Hudson’s book, Run Faster, as well as Matt Fitzgerald’s The Cutting Edge Runner. Lot’s of good sound scientifically proven wisdom.

Don’t get TOO caught up in so-called cross-training. It is no substitute for mileage.

PS-I vote Crunch. Way hotter girls.

Brian Morrissey said...

Thanks for the grownup talk. Very helpful. You've inspired me to buy a Polar RS200 HRM. We'll see if I'm training way too fast. I know in the past I've struggled with taking recovery seriously enough, both in training and now with this injury. I struggle with it because what draws me to running is that it's hard. As for Philly, who knows what I'd have run. My guess is a 2:55 was "easily attainable." (I don't think running 2:55 is easy at all. I've run 13 marathons, and they were all hard.) I'm very with you on cross-training. I'm in the camp that believes the best way to train for running is by running. It'll be interesting to see what results I can get from adjusting my training and approach.

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