Friday, June 25, 2010

Much Ado About Nothin'

Nothing much to report. Training is proceeding as planned. I've slowed down my easy run a lot and I'm starting to see positive results, with my hr being noticeably lower during my easy runs. I'm no big fan of hr monitors except that I find that they keep me honest on slow runs. For faster runs, I prefer to use a pace-based approach because hr is a bit of a crap shoot that goes up and down at the slightest hill, according to the weather or what time you went to bed the previous evening. For slow runs I don't care since they are supposed to be slow. Of course, I have to suffer the humiliation of being passed by basically everybody and their sister, but such is the life of the ultra distance runner.

Creemore Elevation Profile from my Garmin (2 loops)

Can you believe it, Creemore is next weekend! The biggest challenge for me in that race is the length of the hills. They just keep going. I had a pretty good race last year. I actually ran negative splits (2h54 and 2h51 for a 5h45) despite equipment failure (my Nathan bladder split open) and increasing heat. I'm going to try the same strategy again, maybe going even slower on the first loop and then I'll try to run some of the hills on the second loop. We'll see what happens. Should be a fun race.

Like I said, not much to report. That's all she wrote.

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.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Post Race Rambling

This post is more of a personal journal entry. Before a race, I like re-reading those entries. They are a bit narcissistic, but hey!, this is blogging and you don't have to read it. This post explores how my mental game has changed, now that this shiny new toy called ultra running is not so new and shiny anymore. I've never DNF'd, but my ultra "career" hasn't been that long and I've run only 4 races with distances of 50 miles or more (three 50 milers and one 100 miler). I can't speak for other runners, but those are the distances that truly get under my skin. My prepared answer to myself for those moments where I wonder if I should quit is: "Am I doing any long term damage?". Up until now the answer has been no, so I've kept running.

Up until now though, I didn't quite realize that running those distances for the first time, I was drawing strength from a deeper well, what I shall call "the newbie well": I had to know whether I could do it. In my first races, it was an easy to understand, black and white battle. I either finished or I didn't.

Now that I have run those distances successfully, in a weird, counter-intuitive way the temptation to quit during a race seems to have increased. In the immortal words of Jean Chretien: "A proof is a proof, and when you have a good proof, it's because it's proven." Well, I've proven it: I can run 50 miles. I can even run 100.
Last weekend, many things happened: I started too fast, it was hot, and finally, I had nothing to prove. Oh, I did have goals, but speed goals are a shady concept easily dismissed when sufficient excuses are available and I had plenty of those. As I got closer to 60k, my body started to tell me that I had made a huge mistake. Then it started. "JD, we know we can run 50 miles. This is too hot. You screwed up. You're going to have to walk. Actually, you're walking now! Really, what's the point? Look at you. What is it that you think you're doing? You call this running?". I knew I could finish, now the question was, should I? Where was that mental strength that I thought I had when I was sitting on the couch eating bon-bons? Out there in the "real" world, I was quickly crumbling under pressure.

There were two key moments where I thought about quitting: when I first felt (at 55km) and then knew (67km) that my race goals were slipping away from me.
As far as I can remember, here are the reasons why I kept going:

  • The absurdity of quitting. How could I quit, 70km into a 80km race?
  • Fear of regrets. I trained for this. What am I going to think tomorrow when the pain is only a vague memory?
  • Respect for other runners. As I kept whining about whether all that (mostly mental) pain was worth it to finish with a crappy 10:15, I realized how stupid I was. Plenty of people were behind me. Plenty of people were suffering. Even though I was slowing down, very few people were passing me. Hell, I even past one or two. Who the fuck do I think I am, that 10:15 isn't good enough for me?

At some point though, I realized that this was EXACTLY what I wanted, why I was there. A mental challenge disguised as a physical one. Finishing although I can't think of a SINGLE REASON WHY I SHOULD. Those 3 reasons I mentioned above are really flawed logic. You have to have gone down the (ultra) rabbit hole before any of them make sense. You have to accept that it should be done at all. Most people would beg to differ.

That being said, we don't really care what those outsiders do think. For all of us who somehow ended up down here in Wonderland, wanting to do it is enough. We all run for reasons we probably don't fully understand and that seems to be ok with us. It's just fun to think about it.