Friday, December 12, 2014

The need for speed

Ok, I think I'm just going to put it out there: I'm tired of being a plodder! I figure I can tackle several goals in one blow by increasing my running speed.

1) Complete a 100-mile mountain run, i.e. +30 hours of running. If I can run faster, presumably (which means "from what I have read on the internet") this will also help me for my endurance.

2) More efficient training. By that I mean, more bang for the buck, less actual training time perhaps, less risk of injury than simply focusing on piling up mileage (which I'm not good at in any case). This has led me to establish the following simple training program: 3 runs a week - 1 intervals and/or hills; 1 tempo run; 1 slow long run - and some cross training (swimming, boxing). I started last week with my first real speed session (5 1k laps), my first real hills session, my first real tempo run, and my first real long run at a slower pace than I would usually run for. I realized that I was doing my long runs just slightly too fast, and going slower actually makes it more enjoyable... Fun so far, I hope the novelty and fun doesn't wear off too quickly, otherwise I'll have to get inventive, like fartleks, which sounds like a dirty word.

3) Definitively quit smoking. Ok, I'm not a heavy smoker. I often go a few days without smoking (usually on weekends), I've done bouts of several weeks without smoking at all, and in any case I only smoke 3-7 cigarettes in the day when I do. But if that doesn't prevent me from finishing a 50-mile race, it certainly interferes with efficient speed training and will undoubtedly prevent me from finishing a 100k race in less than 10 hours (the new barometer to apply for Spartathlon in 2016).

4) Compete in Spartathlon in 2017. Yes, I've decided that this is my new long-term goal (hence signing up for a flat 100km race next fall). If I am able to complete the Istria 100 next April with some modicum of success and desire to pursue these long distances, then the race I'm really gunning for is the Swiss Irontrail T201, which I has everything I love running for: beautiful alpine setting and a new level of ultra distance (201km, or 125 miles) combined with 37,752 feet of elevation gain. It could take up to 50 hours.... And Spartathlon is the equivalent in foot races - but is unique in that it requires pretty much running the whole way to stay within the time barriers. For a long time I knew that wasn't for me - now, I see it as an added challenge.

So, as I said, I'm putting it out there. Perhaps all this will be moot, depending on how it goes at the Istria 100. But after 15 years of running, it definitely makes me feel like I'm just starting out - and that's exciting.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Low training mileage and family life

Ah well, who hasn't been plagued with time to train? Or rather I ask myself: considering that work and mainly family life mean that I only have so much time to train (I refuse to go on more than one B2B, 8-10-hr total training block per three months, in addition to a race; I don't want to do more than 3-4 races in a year that take me away from home for an entire weekend or more), should I even consider competing in a 100-mile mountain run?

The answer, based on 15 years of semi-ultra-running and training is a definite yes. My training mileage before last year was so ridiculously low and my general lifestyle so poor - yet it still saw me through 40-mile races without real trouble. The advantage to DNFing my recent 100-mile attempt for what I consider to be 90% mental reasons means that physically I believe I can handle it - particularly if I decrease my mileage, since I overtrained and have been recovering from ITB-related issues and other stuff since August, and train smarter. I think I upped my average mileage by about 50% in 2014 - too big a jump for sure.

So, here's my outline of a training plan that makes use of cross-training, lunch hours, and time with friends and family.

But first, the mental hurdle: my main concern is pushing on past the 24-hour mark when I'm dead tired. The approach to this is two-fold: 1) don't stress so much and ensure that I get enough sleep; 2) pick a race with less elevation! I told Cyril at the UT4M that if the next stage wasn't so steep, I'd attempt to take it one step at a time - but I couldn't bear the though of a 5000+ foot climb in only 5 miles! So my next race is actually than 108 miles (173km) but with "only" 7,000m (23'100ft) of elevation. But more importantly, no steep slopes since the highest point of the race is at 4'600ft (1,400m), just a lot of up & down. This means replacing some of the more vertical training hikes I was doing with longer runs and less elevation (and actually running more than hiking and learning to power walk).

Anyway, in 2014 I realized that I was trying to hit a finite number of miles per week, basically throwing in as much as I could. This time around, I want to spend less time training but make it count. And instead of junk miles or even "recovery runs", I'm going to swim. Finally, a friend of mine has taken up kick-boxing, and I think this would be a great way to work on strength and core.

So an average week will look like this (weekday activities always take place at lunchtime):

Monday: Swim (1-2k)
Tuesday: Biking/Crosstraining
Wednesday: Tempo run (10k + warm up and cool down; 13k total)
Thursday: Hills
Friday: swim or rest
Weekend: long run, 25-40k depending on elevation

On certain weeks, I'm going to ramp it up with a longish run early Wednesday morning and/or a run home on Thursday or Friday evenings (particularly on Friday, when it can combine with a  Saturday run to make it a block run). Since there'll be quite a bit of skiing going on this winter (I hope), I may replace the long weekend run with a Wednesday morning-noon-run block of runs (Wednesday being the day when I don't have to take the kids to school). Finally, I hope to bike to work 2-3 times a week, and though it may only be 10 miles roundtrip with a few hills, I'll be doing on my wife's 7-speed, 3-ton, basket-in-the-front town bike...
So that's it essentially for the training - with a 50-mile race thrown in (which I will do at moderate speed) 7 weeks before the 100-miler, with mild tapering before, but almost none after depending on how I feel (but I'll quickly switch to swim and bike if necessary to avoid any chance of injury) to then start tapering 3 weeks before my race (3rd weekend in April - I had to choose another after finding out that the one I wanted to do in June fell on the same weekend as my daughter's theatre show).

So 30-odd to 50-miles per week (50-80k), but focused miles (speed, hills, long) with quite a bit of swimming thrown in and some strength training. Anyway, that's the plan. Depends on how the situation at work evolves, but definitely doable, and takes minimal time away from family, which is necessary to my mental well-being and good running. For me, it strikes the balance between staying fit to the point that benefits the family without making sacrifices that I will be the first to regret, while enabling to set ambitious challenges and face my fears by daring the ultra...

We'll see if it works!

(For a more accurate update on this see Training Rants)