Tag Archives: recovery

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!

Ultra Recovery: How Not to Cut Back on Training

Today makes exactly one month since Kettle Moraine, where I completed my first 100-mile trail ultra. And with no upcoming goal races in the near future, what have I been doing training-wise since then?

The answer in brief is – not much, and too much.

Not much, because I’ve cut back on training volume. Too much, because it appears that I should have also cut back on training intensity.

Just three months ago, my race calendar looked like this:

Date                                 Race                                                    Goal
April 9                    Martian Marathon                     Qualify for Boston
April 24                    Trail Marathon                         Test readiness for Glacier Ridge
May 14                 Glacier Ridge Trail 50                 Purge 2015 DNF,, prep for Kettle
June 4-5               Kettle Moraine Trail 100         Finish

Runner youarecrazy

I think most runners would agree that was an aggressive schedule. To pull it off I needed a training regimen to match. Last November I told my running coach and strength trainer of my goals, and once they stopped shaking their heads they came up with a program to get me there.

From December through March I underwent the hardest training I’ve ever had. I ran hard. I ran long. I ran hills. Sometimes I did all three at once. And at Body Specs, Skip and company were relentless, giving me tons of squats, core work, pull-ups, and the dreaded weighted jump ropes.

There were ups and downs during that period; times when I felt invincible, and times when I could barely drag myself through the day. But the payoff became visible almost immediately, as I set personal bests at the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K in January, the Leap Day 4-miler in February, and the No Frills All Thrills trail 8K in early April. But would these short successes carry over to the long goal races?


Finished! Yeah, baby!

All goals accomplished!

I’ve written about the races in previous posts (except for the upcoming account of Kettle), so I’ll just say here that all the training was worth it. Those two months went by so fast it’s still a bit hard for me to believe it’s over. 100 miles done. DNF purged. And Boston, I’ll see you in 2017!

So what’s my training been like in the month since I finished Kettle? Naturally, I planned in recovery time, then to gradually resume active training. My success with this approach has been mixed.

KM100 - My FootWith running, there was no choice but to cut back. My beat-up feet took over a week just to heal enough to walk normally. But on June 14, I went out with PR Fitness for the Tuesday evening six-miler, and I’ve been averaging one run per week, with distances between five and eleven miles with no issues. Good news there!

Body Specs has been a different story. Just four days after Kettle I felt good enough to resume strength training, so I asked them to go easy for a bit. And so they did – for one session. The following week, it was pretty much back to normal. I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t running much and felt good enough to complete the sessions.

Why is this man smiling? Because training is SO much fun!

Why is this man smiling? Because training is SO much fun!

This week, however, it caught up with me. I began to feel fatigued throughout the day – a classic sign of overtraining. I had no energy to run, and my performance at the gym got worse during the week instead of remaining steady or improving. Time for an enforced break.

Fortunately, this long weekend was just the ticket. With enforced rest, sleep, and lots of eating, my energy is returning. It hasn’t been easy. I feel like a lazy slug for sitting around, and worrying about gaining weight. As if putting on a couple of pounds during recovery is a bad thing. Just goes to show, you can always find something to worry about if you try hard enough.

It’s not all sloth and gluttony, however. I have gotten in an (easy) bike ride and a (somewhat easy) run. Can’t take the edge off completely, can I?

Happy Independence Day to all!

Flag fireworks

Rx for Recovery: Eat, Sleep, Stretch


After all my races this year I’m on a recovery break, and I was expecting to feel re-energized, even restless. Instead, I’ve had less energy and been more sore. I asked the head trainer at my gym, Body Specs, about it.

“All year long, running more races than ever, I felt great,” I told him. Now in my recovery time, I feel run down. What’s going on?”

“It’s very common,” he said. “Especially among competitive athletes. They’ve been going hard, working toward their goals, and then they’re done and they don’t know what to do next.” He coaches college athletes and former NFL players, so he sees this a lot.

Body Specs is good at making sure I don't slack off too much.

Body Specs is good at making sure I don’t slack off too much.

“One thing we encourage people to do is to try something new,” he continued. “You know, you train at your sport and never have time to try out other activities you might want to try. Now you have the time.”

As it happened, I was considering trying yoga, both for its body conditioning and for its mental aspect – calming and focusing the mind. The downside I’ve heard is that the extreme stretches can be detrimental to running. We rely upon a certain amount of “spring” in our muscles, and overstretching them – becoming too flexible – can cause a loss of that spring. One fellow runner told me that running strong is “all about how flexible you are not.”

Yoga pose - Drew_Osborne_3 - Wikimedia Commons

Right. Sure. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Well, Running Fit to the rescue! They’re offering a Yoga for Runners class in December and January. And with my Aikido class on break during that time, it fills that spot perfectly. The only drawback is that it’s in Northville, which means fighting rush hour traffic. But Skip’s advice nudged me into signing up. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m making a change to my regular habits as well. I’ve always been a night owl to some degree, but as I get up fairly early for work, it means I get by on about 6.5 hours of sleep much of the time. I’ve started to make myself get at least seven hours. It’s already making a difference in my energy level.

And I’m trying to keep in mind that a rest and recovery period, where I feel less motivated to run and want more idle time, is natural and healthy. Many elite runners take off several weeks entirely and allow themselves to gain a few pounds. Scott Jurek, one of the world’s most successful ultrarunners, does no running at all during his break. I enjoy running too much to stop, but it feels good to just run for fun for a while.

Of course, your definition of "fun" may differ from mine.

Of course, your definition of “fun” may differ from mine.

MORE: Running Times says Give It A Rest: the lost art of recovery between training cycles.

Already bouncing ideas around for 2015. Looking forward to another year of adventures out there!

Run Woodstock Recap: The Good, the Bad, and the OFI

I’VE HEARD THAT FOLLOWING AN ULTRAMARATHON, a runner can experience a letdown. No such problem here. I’m enjoying the recovery period after a summer of long mileage and many hours of training. And this was not a “once per lifetime” event for me, as another 50-mile finisher told me it was for him. Assuming I stay fit and healthy, there will be more ultras to come, and more goals to work toward. For now, however, I’ve basked in a week of relaxation and reflected on how the race went and what I learned.

Music to my eyes!

Music to my eyes!

Biggest lesson learned? I really can run a 50 mile race!  And with two trail ultras now under my belt, I know that I like them better than road marathons. They are easier on the body and the aid stations are much better. Plus the other runners are more friendly. Just about every time I passed people on the trail, I got words of encouragement from them. I even had some conversations, like on group runs.

So I said to her, if we're going to keep meeting like this, we should at least have a photo.

So I said to her, if we’re going to keep meeting like this, we should at least have a photo.

One fellow 50-miler named Carolyn both inspired and confounded me all during the race. I met her a couple of miles in, and learned that she’d run a double marathon earlier in the year. I ran ahead, but she caught up at the aid station and went ahead until near the halfway point where, again, we met at the aid station (see photo). At that point I picked up the pace, and figured I’d seen the last of her. And so it proved – until the final aid station at mile 45. As I walked away, finishing my drink, she motored on past me. “Oh, hi!” she said, before disappearing into the woods.

Huh? How’d she do that? However it happened, it just wouldn’t do. I was tired and sore, and walking felt darn good, but I kicked it in again, and caught up and passed her for the final time with about two miles to go. I didn’t see her at the finish, which was too bad – I wanted to thank her for inspiring me to finish strong.

One other trick helped me stay mentally focused during that long, long race. While running 50 miles seems intimidating, the aid stations were just 4.2 miles apart – a distance less than my normal training run. So I divided the race into 12 stages of 4.2 miles each. Instead of saying to myself, “I’m at mile 35 – 15 to go,” I said, “I’m in stage 9 – just 3 and change to go.”

(Click here to see the map of the race courses, if you’re interested.)

"...And she's buying a stairway to Heaven..."

“…And she’s buying a stairway to Heaven…”

This worked wonderfully until those final few miles, which seem to take forever no matter what race I’m in. The campground music I finally heard was like the choir of the angels. Nice that they sing Led Zeppelin up there.

As for the rest of the race plan, here’s a quick summary of how things worked out – or didn’t work so well, which as a QA professional I have labeled Opportunities for Improvement (OFI).

Training plan:  Success. The “bricks” (long runs followed by long bike rides) gave me the cardio function and leg strength to complete the 50 miles.

Compression Sleeves 2Gear: The running backpack was fantastic. I hardly felt it, and it was handy having the camera in a front pocket. The compression sleeves (pictured here) helped with circulation – no leg swelling – and protected my legs against branches and thorns. They may also have prevented more of whatever rash I ended up with on my thighs.

Fueling and “elimination”: Gratifyingly, I had no problems with either end of my digestive tract. The pre-race carbo-loading must have done the trick, because I had plenty of energy throughout. I also made sure to have some salt at each aid station.

Two big OFI:

Lubrication. I applied Vaseline to certain sensitive areas before the race, but during the final loop I had some pretty bad chafing. Next time I’ll be sure to apply more at regular intervals.

Crossing the finish line is not actually the end of the race plan. I needed to keep walking, eating, and drinking for at least a half hour. Failing to do so meant an experience much like after the Ann Arbor Marathon last year – wooziness followed by a seat in the shade with a bag of ice on my head, being watched over by concerned race organizers. Fortunately, some salted potatoes and lemonade brought me round.

Finally, I know some of you are wondering if I was able to complete the Weekend Challenge again this year, including some “natural miles”. First of all, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Second, I skipped it – too sore. Maybe next year.

This was as close as I got to anything "natural" this year. (And I didn't even drink it.)

This was as close as I got to anything “natural” this year. (And I didn’t even drink it.)

Next on my race calendar are my standard fall short events – Halloween races, turkey trots, and the Holiday Hustle. No sense of urgency like I had last year, since I’ve met my goal of a 5K under 20:00. But that’s okay. Next big decision: whether to stick to my regular schedule of races next spring, or try for a spring ultra. Sure, why not?