Sort of back in action

Yes, I know, my last post was whiny.  It isn’t easy to give up your expectations, and that’s what I had to do.

Now I’m running about 20 miles per week and doing a lot of strength and flexibility training.  I still have some weird running related aches, but I’m feeling stronger and more agile than I have been in ages.  I’m not running fast at all — about 2 minutes per mile slower than I was a few months ago — but I’m spending the time focusing on my form.

The biggest change I’ve made is getting rid of all of my goals.  I’m not planning to race until 2012 at the earliest, and I’m not sure whether I’ll focus on marathons or ultras when I start again.

In the meantime I’ve been having fun skiing and I’m starting to direct my obsessive desire to collect and analyze data on snow sports.  The problem is I can’t find good data collection equipment, so I’m building it.  If you’d like to know more, you can read about it here.

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Barely injured but very frustrated

When I dropped out of the Napa Valley Marathon last month, it turns out I had Achilles Tendinosis.

For the first time in my (admittedly short) running career, I’ve tried to do all the right things for an injury.   I went to the doctor, I followed up in physical therapy, and I’ve obeyed their orders.  I’ve managed much more crippling injuries on my own in the past and pretty much found that if I stopped running for 6 weeks or so then everything would be fine, but I know that better runners than me don’t handle things that way (this post by Gary Robbins influenced me here).  So if I want to be better, I should try doing what better runners do, right?

I have been waiting to write a “happy success post” about the diagnosis, the therapy, and how quickly I got back on my feet. Well, it has been a month since I stopped training, there’s no sign that they’ll let me run any time soon, and now my foot hurts in places it never hurt before.

They are talking about sending me to a podiatrist for orthotics, telling me I need chunky stability shoes (even though I know my feet and legs feel better after running in vibram five fingers!), and worst of all they are still telling me not to run.

I am doing a bunch of exercises and stretches, but they are starting to seem pointless.  If I’m not going to run why should I waste 15 minutes a day staring at the wall stretching my calves?  I don’t need much range of motion to sit around the house.

I am starting to think I would have been better off doing things my way.

So this is not a “happy success post”.

Right now I am in the depth of my frustration over this whole episode.  The injury wasn’t even that bad — heck I ran a 2:26 half marathon on the thing easily and that was a 3 minute PR — but I am sidelined and looking at a fitness loss that is worse for my year’s race plans than the initial injury was.

Racing another marathon doesn’t look realistic until the fall, so Boston to Big Sur is out for next year. Also, after my not-so-great experience at Napa I am not eager to focus four or five months of training effort on one race.  So I’ve pretty much scrapped all of my racing plans and I am reconsidering my long-term goals.

Why am I dong this anyway?

When I started running back in 2008, I wanted to run ultras.  In particular I wanted to run the Leadville Trail 100 by the time I was 40 (that’s next year).  But I quickly got distracted by speed and decided I wanted to squeeze what I could out of the marathon before moving on to longer races.  To be specific, I’ve been aiming to hit a 2:3x marathon and a respectable place in the masters marathon national championships within three to five years.

That is not going to happen if I take six weeks off every spring to recover from an injury.

But it is even less likely to happen if I train so conservatively that nothing could possibly go wrong. Sure I can avoid running injuries if I just don’t run much but that isn’t a solution I accept.

Maybe constant PT, massage, custom equipment, etc. can get me there but I don’t like that solution either.  For starters it isn’t obvious to me that all of the time and money is going to have a real benefit.  More importantly though, it kills the joy of running for me.  I love running because it is such a simple thing.  I can just step out the door and go.  I don’t need any fancy equipment or facilities.  I don’t even need shoes if I don’t want them.  I just need me.

That freedom makes the challenges even more exciting.  One of my favorite memories is running the last 23 miles of a 50 mile race on an ITBS plagued knee that was so painful I could barely walk.

Was that foolish?

Of course.

Would I do it again?


Finishing that run felt better than any PR I’ve ever set or race I’ve won. It was a brutal mental struggle and I beat it.  If I had a team of people working to optimize my joint health and racing potential it would not have been nearly as much fun. When I look back over my other fond running memories, most of them are comparably foolish or uncomfortable: a 33 mile run in cold pouring rain, a five-hour jaunt from Temple City to Mt. Wilson and back on untrained legs, stumbling over rocky Texas hill country trails on pre-dawn long runs.

No race I’ve run well makes the short list of best memories. The best times seem to come from dramatic overreaching, bad conditions, or some combination of the two.  Caution is boring.

So maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about running races well.  Maybe I should just go outside, run, and look for adventure.  I may not be as fast, but I am sure I will have more fun.  I have to remember that the next time I get wrapped up in trying to hit a 35 minute 10K.

What am I going to do about it?

So my PT situation seems like a mistake and a waste of time.  But I have gotten something out of it.  There is the obvious stay-away-from-doctors lesson, but life with three kids should have taught me the nuances of that one already.  No, what this episode has done is make me think about what I really like about running and that has made me shift my priorities.

I am going to rebuild my volume, skip any sort of race-targeted training plans, and look to see what sort of trouble I can get myself in this summer. Lean Horse?  Woodstock?  Maybe take a crack at Leadville?  I’ll see how I’m doing when the time comes.

Whatever I do, you can be sure I’ll still be collecting loads of data and analyzing it to death 🙂

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I spent the last six months training for the Napa Valley Marathon.  I put in the hours, the pre-dawn runs, the slogs through snow and ice.  I tracked my improvement, adapted my schedule to changes, and tested my fitness in tune-up races and time trials.

I was ready.  I was going to be fast.

That confidence was probably a problem though.  You see, I didn’t finish.  Here’s what happened. Continue reading

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Almost there

My work is done, and I will be racing one week from today.

Here is a quick view of my TRIMP, CTL, and ATL for the training buildup:

Buildup to the 2011 Napa Valley Marathon. Graph shows Training impulse of each workout -- a measure of how hard the run was -- along with CTL (blue) and ATL (red). CTL is a slow exponential moving average of the training impulse, a proxy for my fitness. ATL is a quick exponential moving average of the training impulse, a proxy for my fatigue.

From mid-October I had a steady buildup of mileage at an easy pace, then around January I held mileage steady to lower and added some intensity.  I’m very pleased with how fit this has gotten me — especially the base-building part.  The sharpening has been rocky.

Look at what happens half way through my sharpening.  The ATL drops down close to the CTL and the CTL goes flat.  Basically I started tapering early because I was not seeing progress and thought I might be overdoing it.  During this mini-taper I had some great runs and workouts.  Frankly I felt better then than I do now and wonder if I accidentally peaked early.  During those weeks I relished a 20-mile run, while today I dread a 5-mile run.  I’m much stronger at the high end, but moderate running just doesn’t feel great for me now. Continue reading

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My training for the 2011 Napa Valley Marathon has been going very well.  A couple of nagging pre-injuries led me to abandon all speed work back in October and I put all of my effort into higher volume easy aerobic training.  I’ve been amazed at the steady progress I’ve seen — my pace at a 150 BPM heart rate has steadily improved from about 8 minutes/mile to 7 minutes/mile.  I recover quickly and long runs are a breeze.

But since I started doing speed work in my sharpening phase, my performance has turned much more variable.  I’m not doing much: a marathon pace run once a week and a set of cruise intervals every third week.  But somehow this hasn’t worked like I expected.

  • It leaves me feeling flat, I have stopped seeing performance gains in my aerobic pace, and I don’t feel that zip I usually get when I start interval training.
  • My best improvements seem to come right after the fastest running — my cruise intervals that I only do once every three weeks.
  • Also, I felt like I was forgetting what it was like to really work hard.  That had me nervous about my upcoming tune-up race, not to mention the marathon itself.  I haven’t felt burning muscles for 5 months.

So this week I scrapped my marathon pace run and set out to do some real intervals.  The plan was to do 5x1200m at 4:15 each — a pace that Jack Daniels’ tables suggest I should hold if I’m really going to run a 2:50 marathon.

It didn’t quite work out. Continue reading

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Week in Review — Jan 30-Feb 5

Weekly total: 67 miles, 3150′

Feeling strong and fast again this week and seeing clear improvement where it counts: in my long run and my race pace run.  Both are noticeably faster and easier. Was it the recovery last week, or the heavy training before that?  It must be both, but I’m happy that I’m still seeing improvement.   Ran more hilly courses this week, just to exaggerate the Napa course a little.

Sunday PM 5.25 miles (0:44:28) Burke-Gilman trail, 250′.
Recovery run.  Felt fine, legs felt pretty strong from the start but I wasn’t all that fast. Threw a few 10 second sprints in the middle.

Monday 6.25 miles (0:53:12) Magnuson Park, 520′
Felt pretty good, threw in a couple of hill sprints for fun.

Tuesday 12.2 miles (1:23:29)  Burke-Gilman trail pace run.  270′
Finally a good run.  8 miles at marathon effort and I felt good.  Much easier than the last couple of weeks.  No strain, and I was holding myself back the whole way.  Not sure what the real HR was — Garmin was acting flakey until at least mile 5, but I’ll make my best guess from the occasional good data point.

2 miles w/u @ 7:47 min/mile including 4 10 sec strides plus a few drills.
8 miles marathon pace   @6:19 min/mile (!)  Avg HR  ~161 downhill*, 166 uphill
2 miles c/d

The downhill HR is just a guess.  The few good reads I got were around 159 or 160, and the last mile looked like good data and the average was 162 there.  That would be consistent with the fact that the uphill section is harder (of course), my HR usually accelerates a bit at this effort (hopefully not too much),  and I negative split it — 25:25 down, 25:07 up.

Wednesday 7.0 miles (0:53:12) Magnuson Park, 520′
Recovery run. Had fun running the logs off the side of the trail at Magnuson.  Legs a little sore so skipped the sprints today.

Thursday 14.1 mi (1:45:08) Burke-Gilman trail, 310′
Easy run.  Felt good, if a little sore.  wasn’t up for the hills so stuck to a flat course. Both ATs showing mild tendinosis.  Maybe that is what will limit my speed work. Pushed a little harder than normal for the last half, including marathon effort up the 35th ave hill. Looks like my aerobic pace may be flat or slowing slightly.  Certainly no sign of improvement.

Friday Rest, alpine skiing (4 hours, ~1hour active)

Saturday 22.1 miles (2:44:57)  Interlaken Park/Madison/Lake Washington, 1280′
Felt solid today.  Noticeably stronger than I was on the same course three weeks ago and I felt like I was able to keep solid intensity with good form past 20 miles.

Comparison with 3 weeks ago: pace dropped from 7:33 to 7:28, HR dropped from 151 to 149.  Normalizing the pace for HR, this suggests I got about 12 sec/mile faster over the last three weeks.  So maybe my easy pace is plateauing, but my long run pace is not, and the long run pace is what counts.

I feel like I have trained well for this race — I’ve put in the miles and am improving, feeling stronger, quicker, and able to hold a hard effort longer. The mileage ramp down starts now.

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Week in Review: Jan 23-30 2011

Weekly total: 50.3 miles

This was a much-needed recovery week with a few uninspiring performances.  I didn’t really feel back in form until the end of the week.  This is partly due to the fact that I was fighting off a cold or flu-like bug that has been going around, but I won’t write off my slow runs that easily.

It took low mileage and two rest days to get there, but now I feel ready to start training again.  This week also gave me a chance to look at how well my speed training has been working and it doesn’t look stellar.  My pace at both a 160 HR and a 170 HR is only about 3 seconds faster per mile than it was three weeks ago, while my pace at a 150 HR improved 9 seconds per mile.  I don’t know if I am already peaking, if I am non-functionally overreaching, or if I just need to do lower volume higher intensity training.  Issues worthy of their own post.

Continue reading

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