Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dude, Where's My First Gear?

I know it's customary to dismiss technology. Well, I'm a nerd and although I agree that running without electronics can feel more natural than running with a quarter pound GPS watch and a HR monitor strap collecting more data than NASA does on a space shuttle flight, it's always interesting to be able to look back and compare numbers.

Cause my friends, it's easy to lie to yourself. When that happens, the main symptom of self-delusion is running too fast in your easy runs. Now I don't want to generalize, but looking at people huffin' and puffin' out there on Sunday mornings, it's a pretty common mistake.

I'm not sure how it happened to me. I think that the big problem is that running faster feels good. My stride feels more natural, the hormones start flowing, your whole body feels good. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Problem is, instead of running in zone 1, I end up running in zone 2 or 3, which can also be sustained for quite a long time.

So what's the problem, you ask? Well, after a few runs collecting data and comparing with the exact same routes last year, I have to face the facts, running at my "50 miles on road ultra pace", my hr has increased by nearly 10 bpm over the last year. I believe that my ability to use fat as fuel has decreased instead of improved over that time. Of course, other factors probably come into play: I gained about 8 pounds, my mileage is not as high and my life is more stressful.

So here's my plan: run a lot and run a lot slower. Running fast feels good, but it doesn't cause the right physiological adaptations for running a 100 miler.The only fuel source that is available to your body after the first few hours is fat. The glycogen is all gone. You burn close to 1000 calories every hours, yet you can't eat much more than 200 without puking. You do the math. Those calories have to come from somewhere. The speed you can sustain is basically dictated by how fast you can run on a 20% glycogen/fat ratio. Some people can run ridiculously fast under those conditions. Most of us mere mortal can barely run. But we can train to improve what pathetic speed we can achieve under those conditions.

Running slow brings about the adaptations that are needed to run on fat. It's boring. But I often use the quote "the will to race starts with the will to train". Haliburton is my A race, so even though my so-called racing doesn't mean much, it means I will try my best, so I need to train the right way.

The problem with running slow is that it's not very good training. There's a reason that hard training sessions are called "quality" sessions. Quality sessions pack a lot more punch per hour than slow running. Way more. But you can only do a limited amount of hard running every week before your body starts getting behind on repairs and ultimately gets injured. So a balance is needed. The point is, you do your quality sessions hard, and your easy runs slow. There's very little place for medium runs, which I have done a lot in the past few months, pretending they were "real" easy runs. They weren't easy, they just felt good.

So that's my plan: run slower, do one or two solid quality sessions per week, increase my mileage and hopefully that will take care of my extra few pounds. That, my friends, will bring me to Haliburton in tip top shape and leave me with no choice but to run the race of my life.