Thursday, March 23, 2006

An End of A Beginning (also file under: Long Run Gone Awry)

I was scheduled for a 15k run yesterday - 9.3 miles. I'd had a solid week of rest after last week's grueling 13.5 miler, and I was looking forward all day to getting out and doing my run. I've had such consistent improvement week after week after week that I was curious what this week held. As it is, I fought the run and the run won.

My first 4 miles felt great. Better than great. I was cruising so easily, and so fast (around 8:00 pace) that I wondered for a minute if my watch had gone haywire. I pulled back on the horses to at last an 8:30 pace, thinking I'd run my first 1/2 hour between that and 8:45, then speed up a notch for my 2nd half hour, and then blaze in victoriously on my last few miles. My legs felt good - my left calf felt totally fine, and my right one had a bit of the tightness I experienced all week, but nothing at all like the screaming tantrum I was dealing with from my calves last week.

All was well until about mile 4.5 or so, when I started to suddenly feel a little low on energy. This was a complete mystery - I didn't change at all my pre-run nutrition habits that have worked so well this entire base training season. I felt low on fuel and started slowing up a bit. So I took in a gel - nutrition 20 minutes earlier than I'd expected to - and that revived me after another quarter mile or so. But by the time I got to about 5.5 miles, just over halfway, my pace was slowing significantly, and my right calf was feeling more and more tight. It wasn't making legs were feeling heavy where just a few miles before they were light. And this short into the run...and this short of a distance anyway.

At mile 6 I decided to stop and walk .15 miles. Early in the season, and my past and then-existing race plans, had me walking every 2-3 miles. As I've become stronger and better educated, I've abandoned that whole idea, and now there are no plans to walk, ever. There is too much time lost walking, and if it becomes part of a structure, later in the race - as I know from last year's Half IM and Marathon - it becomes too easy to justify "only a little further before I run", and then it's harder to get going again. So now, walking is strictly a tactic, and not a survival technique. If I walk in a race (obviously, barring a melt down that requires it), it's because walking 2 minutes now might save me 30 minutes down the road. It's intentional and strategic. In training, I walk all the time - my workouts are broken up in ways that require that kind of rest. But today's workout was not to have walking, so this was a strategic decision - if I could walk just a bit, regroup some, I might be able to straighten up and finish these last 3 miles strong.

So I walked a bit, then picked it back up, but just never felt strong again, and my right calf was getting tighter and tighter. I felt weak for some reason, and slow. The slowness is related to the weakness, and it's all about nutrition - if you fade at the end of a workout, you weren't well fortified going in.

At mile 7.5 my right calf whispered a new kind of pain, a concerning kind. Nothing dramatic, just a gentle stretch that wasn't consistent with the muscle soreness I'd been experiencing. I immediately pulled up to walk, and had a talk with myself. Normally, however miserable I am, I finish what's to be finished. If I have to walk there. If my pace is so slow that little children and grandmothers are passing me. But finishing, a workout or a race, is critical. But something was off today, and particularly now with my leg, I needed to have the discipline to know that these 1.8 miles left does not matter in my long run (pun always intended). That I'm a total idiot if I allow myself some kind of injury for no reason at all here. That it's a long, long, long triathlon season.

So, I turned around and walked back to my car.

I had about 2 miles of walking to cool down and stretch, and really get some perspective. Training is full of peaks and plateaus, and the more fit you get, the less dramatic your results will seem - early on you're making pace improvements of half a minute, but as you get more fine tuned, those improvements will shrink, until they're hard to come by at all. I've had some 12 weeks of nothing but improvement, and I had been expecting some kind of correction like this for a few weeks - though I didn't think that, and don't know why, my nutrition would be part of it. Most importantly, I'd been undisciplined, and lost sight of my big picture for the euphoria of "another great run". This is base training. The whole point of training with snow on the ground is just to develop a solid aerobic base so that when "real" training begins, the body is ready. I chose to develop that base around my biggest limiter - the run. And my whole goal with that was to improve my running, so that I wouldn't be subject to such major meltdowns in races. Lately I've been too attendant to my pace - pushing my pace faster, pushing myself harder, having a better time than last week, and the week before. Some of that is good and useful and appropriate, but not the level I've been thoughtful about it. I've been working too hard for no reasonable reason; whatever pace I train at, or even run a running race at, has little practical application to what will happen in the midst of a triathlon. It's been good to be this focused on running, and good to work towards these improvements. But I've already accomplished my base training goals. I'm in great shape. I'm mentally and physically ready to start harder training. I've improved my running. Period. I lost sight of my big picture - this 9.3 mile hard training run will not impact my race in September...and in fact my perspective should have been to do this 9.3 miles slow and easy, at a comfortable pace that was far easier than where I was running it. Were I exclusively a marathon runner, or the whole point of my existence was this Half Marathon in April, then it would be a different conversation. But I'm a triathlete, and this is the time for laying small brick upon small brick upon small brick, and not moving large stones. I allowed that to escape me. It's a foolish and critical error, because there are no small errors in Ironman. It's this kind of error that leads to burn out and injury.

This morning my right calf remains sore. I think I slightly strained the muscle - it's not black and blue, so there is no bleeding to indicate a tear, and I have full motion and can move around fine, with just a tinge of discomfort. Nothing to obsess about, but I am going to ice it a lot and rest for the next several days. I can't afford any kind of injury this early in the game.

So, I regroup: I declare my base training officially over. Starting Monday, I'm scheduled for full on Ironman training. I'm going to rest until then - no running whatsoever, and maybe only some light swimming. I'll spend a lot of mental energy studying some tactics, techniques, and reviewing my strategies - particularly nutritionally. Next week, I may not run at all, or maybe just in the pool, giving my leg plenty of time to heal up. My long runs from now on are going to be long and slow - I'm going to start at a very easy pace and build only when it's sensible to and my body wants to; though now that I get into IM specific training, I kind of start back back at square one with runs no longer than 45 minutes to an hour, and lots of drills in the first month. I don't care anymore about pace, except where my training indicates pace-specific workouts. The 13 mile race on April 15th may be my next "long run", and is utterly unimportant, and I'll approach it as a completely educational experience and a small step to larger goals - it is not a goal in itself. And if for any reason my leg isn't 100% before or during that race, I'll have no problem stopping. Got to think big picture here.


Libor said...

Just some hints. As Gordo puts it one of the best things you can do in long runs is run at Steady pace ans alternate the last half with up tempo interval sets of 2-5min , cruise interval sessions. Doing it at the end of long runs stresses the already sore muscles and improves the stamina. Make sure that after these runs you recover with a proper meal. Proper food after a workout is critical to fast recovery. Good stuff keep it up

xt4 said...

Good advice Libor. Work smarter, not harder, as the mantra goes. My recovery nutrition seems on point so far, but man, yesterday's pre-workout nutrition must've been haywire somewhere. What's your pre-long-workout strategy when you're working out late afternoon?