Friday, April 25, 2014
Too Much of a Good Thing
Learning from past mistakes only works if you don't make the same mistake twice. Sometimes my gift is my curse. When I am actually feeling healthy and generally fit my exuberance for seeing what I can do at races can be amplified to a fault. After all, when you know your running is going well and your body is feeling good, it becomes incredibly tempting to want to go full out at every single race. This normally wouldn't be bad, except sometimes I forego better judgement and race too often. Can you blame me? Races afford me the opportunity to experience new surroundings, test my level of fitness, and often catch up with many old friends all at the same time. But, over racing has gotten me in trouble in the past, and with a little maturity I prevented myself from going overboard this early in 2014.
In 2008 and 2009, I sometimes ran an ultra , or a marathon on four to five consecutive weekends. Regardless that some were not at even at racing effort, the cumulative mileage added up to the point where my body had yet to fully recover from the previous weekend, and then here I was doing another race. Slowly, but surely I was showing up to races 95% recovered, 90% recovered, 80%, and finally to the point where just finishing felt like a slow miserable slog. Thankfully, over racing has never lead to injury, but it has lead to less than desirable efforts and hurt my enjoyment of running. From a personal perspective, the high number of races was more about me wanting to be part of something fun and adventurous as opposed to trying to rack up as many races as possible. But, even that has its trade offs. The end result in 2008 and 2009 was that I sacrificed potentially good runs at my focus races because of all the other runs I did in the months and weeks leading up. This is the main reason why my results over the years have been all over the place. In 2010 and 2012 I was a little better about not over racing, and my performances improved significantly, though I still should have cut back with the quantity of events at the end of 2012 which lead to a dismal 2013.
So, now at the end of April, 2014, I found myself very close to brink of over racing again. Thankfully, with a bit of self diagnoses and having more mature decision making I think I may have dodged the proverbial bullet. My dense schedule of spring races was mainly due to being antsy about hitting the race scene at full health, which is something my body hadn't been capable of in nearly 18 months. Again, the first couple races went reasonably well as my body was shaking off a little rust. This was followed by two decent road marathons run within two weeks of each other, with the latter being a personal best. Admittedly, setting a marathon PR two weeks after another marathon PR gave me a false sense that I could continue doing races very close together will no ill effects. That concept, however, got shattered at the Bull Run Run 50 Miler.
Bull Run wasn't even on the docket for my spring races, but getting off the wait list ten days before the event was tempting, as well as the fact it was the only older ultra in Virginia I have never run. Needless to say, I could feel residual soreness in my legs within the first five miles of Bull Run, and by the halfway point my legs were feeling pretty shot. When fully rested my legs have a familiar lightness and bounce that usually lasts a good way into an ultra, aside for maybe the last 10-15 miles as in the case of a 50 miler. 50 mile trail races can be tough as it is, but even tougher when you know you aren't going to be able to your best from the get go. Thus, instead of having a potentially strong showing I was reduced to not only walking small uphills, but also the downhills. I ended up finishing in a respectable 8:27, but it was well off my intended goal range of 7:30-7:45. It was one of those days where you almost feel bad when people congratulate you on a good race, when in reality it was a pretty crummy day as far as performance goes. That being said, though my race was fairly lousy, I enjoyed the event as a whole very much. I will certainly be back, and hopefully much better rested. After the race my legs literally felt worse than they did after some 100 milers I have done. It was a clear indication that I should have stuck to my original plan of NOT doing Bull Run, and to take some time off from races. My original strategy was to do a couple ultras in the winter to build endurance, two road marathons to gain speed, and then leave a month to recover before the C&O Canal 100 in April.
For the first time in a while I exercised some grown up judgement and withdrew from the C&O Canal 100. Part of me regrets not being smarter about my races so I could have raced C&O and attempted to break 18 hours per my original spring goals, but another part of me is slightly relieved at not running 100 miles. A 100 mile race would have taken a large chunk out of other potential training time, and it would have hurt some of the speed I worked to gain back all winter. I had also considered running my 6th Promise Land 50k as a replacement race for C&O, and because it's "only" a 50k, it wouldn't set back my training. But, again, I opted to take the smarter route and bowed out of racing that too. Now I have a full seven weeks between my last race and next potential race, though I may forego that as well in order to focus exclusively on Ironman training this summer.
In a bit of a paradigm shift, I am newly convinced that I am going to return to a more moderate schedule of races, which is what I did my first few years as a runner. It's no coincidence that my growth from a newbie runner to somewhat experienced ultra runner from 2004 to 2007 occurred because I limited myself to 3-4 races per year. Perhaps I will dial back to a couple ultras a year, a couple marathons, and probably no more than one 100 miler every six months to a year. Speaking of 100 milers, for the first time in a while I am not that interested in doing any 100 mile races. As I am getting a bit older, the novelty of running 100 miles (for me) is wearing off, as well as that blinding allure of panning for shiny new buckles. That certainly doesn't mean I wouldn't love to run Western States again, or volunteer at 100 mile races, but it means I'm not going to do a 100 unless I am 100% invested in the race.