Tag Archives: 20-miler

Peak Training and Power Loss

WELL, WHAT A WEEK IT’S BEEN. From fatigue to power outages, to working Zero Waste at a frigid 5K on Sunday, it’s been an eventful March!

Last year’s winter training was the toughest I’d ever been through, as I prepared for a Boston qualifying marathon in April, and my first 100-mile race in June. “This is peak training,” I remember telling a friend while running on the Body Specs treadmill following a workout. “This is as bad as it gets.”

Well, this winter’s training put the lie to that.

Like last year, I’m training for a spring marathon (Boston!) and a June 100-miler. The difference is that this year’s big race (Lighthouse 100) is on pavement instead of trail. The harder surface affects the legs much differently than dirt and grass, as evidenced by how my legs felt after the Martian Marathon last year. The race was on a Saturday, and my quads stopped screaming the following Thursday.

And just think – I had two whole weeks until my next race!

So as my new coach and I agreed, I need to toughen up my legs for a road ultra. And the best way to do that is – surprise – run more miles. So in addition to my stepped-up strength training, I’m running 5-6 days per week instead of 2-3, with distance up from 20-30 miles per week to 40-50 miles.

Damn right I’m always hungry! I’m training!

To my surprise, my body responded well to the extra work. At one point I ran 14 days straight, with legs feeling strong. I was rocking it!

Until last week.

Last Tuesday I went out for an afternoon tempo run. After a warmup jog, I kicked up my pace to 7:00 per mile, a strong but not all-out effort for me. Almost immediately I realized it wasn’t going to work. After just a quarter mile I stopped to catch my breath and reset.

Just get through this, I told myself. Go slower, but don’t stop again until the tempo part is over. I did it at a 7:15 pace, but the next day I hadn’t recovered well and was sluggish at the gym. Then I went home – and found the power was out, thanks to Windstorm of The Century here in southeast Michigan.

Feeling overtrained plus dealing with no electricity at home was an ideal opportunity to take a break and recover. So I rested both Thursday AND Friday. Such luxury!

Saturday, feeling better, I ran with my coach, who’s recovering from an injury and gradually increasing his pace and distance. He was doing “just 12 miles” that day and said he felt bad he wasn’t up to running 20 miles yet.

“You’ve got plenty of 20-milers left in you,” I told him. Then I admitted that I understood his frustration. After all, I felt guilty taking two days off.

I’m sure that sounds crazy to my non-running readers, but that’s life when you’re a committed runner. It’s as another blogger recently put it; you feel guilty when you run too much (at the expense of the rest of your life), and you feel guilty when you run too little. You can’t escape it. So you just acknowledge it and keep on running.

This morning, finally, our power came back on. I’d like to say I felt like Superman at the gym today. Not so much, but it wasn’t bad. And they went easy (relatively) because I have the Pi Run 5K on Tuesday. It promises to be cold and miserable. But hey, it’s good training!

Peak Experiences

The last few weeks have been peak training time for my spring marathons and ultras. And let’s just say I’m feeling it.

So what does “peak training” mean? Extra miles per week, longer “long runs,” and heavier weights and additional sets at strength training. And with hill-loving Coach Rob setting the routes, PR Fitness group runs make sure my legs and lungs get some good work in.

If you think this is a viable option for long runs, you can stop reading now. You don't get it.

For long runs? Thanks, I’ll take the snow and hills, please.

The extra physical effort is just part of the experience, however. It being late winter in Michigan (*), conditions have varied. This morning I ran 18 miles with a big, enthusiastic PR Fitness group in shorts and single top layer, bright sunshine, and clear, clean roads. It was easy to feel good out there, even with tired legs.

But just a couple of weeks ago, I ran 20 miles by myself on a cold, gray, blustery day on snowy roads. With no one to pace with or keep me motivated, it was hard to remain focused. I had problems with my shoes, I needed several biological breaks (too much coffee), and with sweaty clothes it was a struggle to stay warm.

Along the 20-mile route that day.

Along the 20-mile route that day.

With five miles to go I stopped at a cafe for a snack and water and took stock. I would be on a busy road at rush hour, going uphill, and it was getting dark fast. It would have been easy, perhaps even sensible, to call a cab (**) for a warm ride home. Instead, I took a deep breath, stepped outside, and slogged out those final miles.

Good question.

Good question!

Would missing those five miles hurt my time at my upcoming marathon? Not likely. The 15 miles I’d already run were probably equal to at least 20 miles on a good day. And I might get hurt during the last stretch due to the weather and road conditions. Physically speaking, there was no reason to finish the run.

But Coach Marie understood why I did. She’s had many of those herself. “It makes you mentally stronger,” she said. And when things go wrong, or the unexpected happens, or you “hit the wall” five miles from the finish line, it’s the mental toughness that gets you across it.

Great weather and a happy body are treasured by runners when they occur, but they provide a very limited view of what we’re truly capable of. This morning’s run was wonderful, but the one two weeks ago did more for me. The miles in the snow, or rain, or mud, or 90-degree heat (with precautions, of course) tell me far more about what I’m really capable of, and give me confidence that I can accomplish my goals.

Building character.

Building character.

Not that I want one like that every week.

And “peak training” is nearly over! Soon I will begin tapering – easing back on mileage to recover and be at peak condition on race day. Sounds great, doesn’t it? In fact, extra rest can be as challenging as peak training, in a different way. I think I’ll find a way to get through it.

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(*) Actually, conditions are never predictable in Michigan. It’s part of the appeal of living here.

(**) I don’t really buy into this Uber thing yet. Call me old-fashioned.