An Easy (!) 40 Mile Week

I just wrapped up week 15 of “my” training plan, and am headed into the final full taper week in anticipation of my two goal races next week and the week after. But this week was a sort of pre-taper: I kept the miles, but cut down the speed work, ending up with only 18% “quality” miles instead of the 25% or so for previous weeks.

So this was my third 40+ mile week in a row. And it was a breeze.

The fact that I can say that says something about how much this plan has changed me as a runner. I may be a bit behind on grading and class design and academic research, but what used to be unthinkable miles and frequency can now be called a “light week.” Nice.

Of course, I have no idea yet if this will translate to a faster 5k. I’m suspicious, frankly. All these long slow runs are awfully far away from the specificity of that particular race. At the very least it’s a nice foundation for the half marathon I’m planning in January, and I think it’s also been good for injuries as my legs feel generally stronger and so are perhaps a bit less fragile. Plus, it’s kind of cool.

Still, I can taste that 20 minute 5k. It’s going to hurt, I know. I can run a dozen 400s at 5:30 mile pace. I can run three one-mile repeats at 6:10–6:15. And I can hit a comfortable tempo run of 7:15 for five or six miles. But does this mean I string together three consecutive miles at 6:25? Nothing in my training says that’ll be anything other than just at the edge of the possible. But I suppose possible is enough. Give me a fast course, enough competitors at my goal pace, and a cool day, and it just might come together.

My first real shot at it will be in one week. Stay tuned.

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Lungs and Legs: Two Kinds of Running Pain

Many many years ago, when I was a skinny and comparatively quick high school distance runner, all of us on the track team were doing intervals—200s, I think. These were terrible for me. I was a pretty good distance runner, but I was a pitiful sprinter, and worse yet, the coach had split us into two teams of mixed sprinter and distance runners, and the intervals were a sort of relay race, one team against the other. I was obviously the weak link.

As we came around to on of the last intervals, the guy on the other team—I can’t remember his name, Jerrod, maybe, a decent but unexceptional sprinter—got the baton before me and jumped out to a significant lead. Everyone  knew what would happen. Jerrod may not have been a great sprinter, but I was genuinely bad.

But those 200 meters changed me forever. I was wiped out. Everyone was wiped out. It had been a hard workout and we were at the end of practice and people were bent over gasping between intervals. But I remember that race to this day, decades later. I started out pushing, feeling as usual like I was running through molasses. Panting hard, breathing heavy, and struck with that not-enough-air pain of running we all know. Then, for some reason, I just accepted that pain. I didn’t fight it, or even fight though it. I just accepted it. Absorbed it. Embraced it maybe. The pain was a message, not a statement of my limits, and I could listen to message but not obey it. Then I focused not on my gasping breath, but on my legs. They still had something. I might not be able to breathe, but it was only 200 meters and my legs didn’t need air.

I didn’t quite catch Jerrod, but I almost did, and the coach—everyone, in fact—asked me  what in the world had happened. What came over me? I didn’t know. I still wasn’t a sprinter, but from then on, no matter how much I was gasping for air, I could always find another gear by embracing the pain and switching my focus from my breathing to my legs. It’s my late-race strategy to this day.

Thinking about this, I’ve come to believe running hurts in at least two very different ways. First, there is the lung pain that fills your chest, telling you that you’re not getting enough air. Slow Down, it yells at you. At the same time, though, there is the leg pain that is your muscles hurting from too much—and too long—work. This is the dead leg feeling, the increasing difficulty of lifting each leg with each step.

So maybe one trick to running is to think about the pain that hurts less. Legs dying? Think about how solid and strong your breathing is. Gasping for air? Think about your strong and powerful legs. You pretty much always have more in the tank than your worst pain lets you believe.

I should clarify here: this still hurts. Switching focus to your legs is not a way of minimizing the pain you feel from overtaxing your lungs. At least not for long. It’s more a way of borrowing against that pain in the firm awareness that every moment’s respite will have to be paid back with interest when you cross the line. Sometimes before.

Today, for example, I was doing 1600 repeats, aiming for each to be around 6:15. As I was heading into the last quarter mile of my last repeat, I was wiped. It’s been two hard weeks, it’s still unreasonably hot and humid outside, and I was clearly outrunning my aerobic capacity as my lungs were getting to that burning I’m-going-to-die-soon feeling. So I turned my attention to my legs, and sure enough, there was something there. Stored glycogen? Who knows. I’m no biologist. But there was a strength there—or at least a pain that was less than that in my lungs—and I knew no matter how my lungs felt I could make those legs go a bit faster for at least another ¼ mile.  I knew it because decades ago, I almost beat Jerrod one time.

40 Mile Week!

I just finished my first 40 mile week since I was sixteen years old.

I know this isn’t much for many people, and is around the extreme lower end for marathoners… but it’s pretty cool for an old guy like me. And regardless, I’m training for a fast 5k, not a marathon.

For the next couple weeks I’ll stick to this level, keeping up the five day schedule of “my” plan, slightly modified to include with two speed workouts, one tempo, one long slow run (12 miles most recently), and one medium length slow run (7 miles).

I think I’m getting faster. My four mile tempo run felt solid at just over 7 min/mile, and my last round of 12x400m were all coming in at about 1:25 each with about the same rest in between. Of course, it might just be the fact that it’s slightly cooler these days.

Anyway, three weeks from now I’ll start a two week taper with a 5k race at the end of each.

And one of those races better be the magic sub-20 I’ve been working on for the past months!

A Tiny Update

I’m back to teaching–and more to the point, I’m back to grading papers–so that explains the super light posting schedule.

But, just a few quick running updates:

I’m on week 13 of my plan, which should be my first 40 mile week. The increased distance hasn’t actually been bad, but the time involved is really sucking up my free time (rhetoric research time, blog time, etc.).

The 12×400 interval session, with my current pace being just a shade under 90 sec per, with about the same rest period, is the toughest one by far. I dread those.

I’ve come to think three speed sessions per week is one too many, and that I need to replace one with a long tempo run. I’ve done a couple short tempo sessions at 5k pace + 30 sec/mile or so (2 mile, or 2×2 mile with one slow mile in between) . I think I’ll try a longer slower session. Maybe 6 miles at 10k race pace + 30 sec/mile? But I’m not sure which speed run to bump. I suppose I should rotate, but getting rid of those 400s is awfully tempting. (But no–the fact that they hurt so much likely means they’re precisely what I need.)

I’m not convinced all these long slow miles are really worth it. They add a huge chunk of distance to my totals and make the numbers look a lot better, but are they making me faster? I don’t know. Maybe they’re at least keeping me healthier, as I haven’t had an injury. Then again, maybe that’s a bit of a post-hoc fallacy right there. Hard to know. They do seem to work as recovery, at least.

The weather is finally just beginning to drop away from sweltering. Still some 80 degree/90% humidity mornings, but there are now frequent 70 degree/90% humidity mornings. I’ll take what I can get.

The plan is almost over. I have three hard weeks and a taper week left. Then two races in consecutive weeks to see if the last 16 weeks got me where I needed to be.

After that… I’m not sure. A bit more 5k training, maybe, as the weather cools. Then probably a move to a 1/2 marathon plan for the McAllen half in January. 1:42 is my time to beat. Pretty sure I can without too much trouble, since I slammed into the wall at mile ten last year.

Oh, and the rhetoric research comparing the narrative forms of Bernie & Hillary is looking like it’ll lead to some great results. But a ways to go there yet.

Compared to What? An Old(ish) Runner Ponders Race Times in South Texas Summer

Here I am on a Saturday, having finished week 8 of “my” Unofficial Running Science 5k Plan for Old(ish) Folks, as well as the fourth of five races in seven weeks. Oh, and it’s the most brutal time of summer in a region where summer starts in February and ends in November.

I’m surviving.

The plan is going well; I’ve adapted to five days per week and made my initial mileage bump to 32/week (25% of those being high intensity miles).[1] And my accidental plan for 5k racing as 5k training seems to be working also.

But am I getting faster? The answer to that turns out to be surprisingly complicated.

My first trail run this past July was 6:56/mile, and today I ran 6:46/mile, so that would say yes. But my fastest 5k was a 20:01 in April, which is 6:30/mile, so I’m actually much slower now. But that April race was all paved road, and the trails were much tougher (read, slower). Plus, it was substantially cooler in the “early summer” of April.

All this led me to want to see my times in a graph. So after an hour of data entry, here it is, my 5k race pace since I started running again a bit over two years ago:

Steve's 5k Race Pace_9_2_17

Some observations:

  • You’ll note first that I’ve taken the vertical axis down to 5:45/mile. Have to leave room for miraculous improvement!
  • Those times sure did drop fast when I started running.
  • They sure stopped dropping fast by the onset of fall, last year. In fact, that’s a darn flat line from October 2016 – May 2017. Darn flat indeed.
  • Summers are slower. (Note that N=2 here, so consider significance accordingly.)
  • This summer has been a lot slower, but that’s in part because of my injury and sickness, neither of which was quite gone for my June 2017 race, and the fact that three of my summer races were trail runs. The one road race I’ve done (while healthy) was a respectable 6:36/mile. So actually, this summer is, on average, probably a bit faster than last summer. Maybe?

 

So here’s what I think is going on. Basically I’ve got three major trends intersecting in this chart, along with some other smaller and more variable inputs:

  1. As I get in better shape my times get better, but that’s a curve that flattens. It was much harder to go from a 6:45/mile pace to a 6:30/mile, than it was to go from 7:45—7:30.
  2. As I get older I’m getting a bit slower. I don’t know the slope of this, but I hope it’s a very shallow line. Very very shallow. But, of course, it slopes up. My gains from training are fighting against my losses from age.
  3. There is a seasonal pattern, with time jumping in summer and dropping in winter. Remember, a South Texas “winter” rarely requires more than a long sleeve shirt. Our marathon is in January. (And it was still too hot this past year!)

Other stuff matters on a smaller scale. I haven’t been tapering for races because I’m using them as part of my training rather than as goals, for example. And then there’s course conditions, start times, and the many variables of food and sleep and so forth. But the three trends above are the big ones.

So, am I faster? Yes, I’m faster than I was a month ago, and faster than I was a year ago, but not as fast as I was six months ago.

Can I get a 19:59 5k before I age out? That’s only a few seconds per mile better than my best, so probably.

Can I reach my super-lofty goal of an 18:59? It’s not looking good. That curve seems to be flattening about 20 seconds/mile too slow. But I’ll give it a go. The plan is harder than any I’ve done, and I’m not getting any younger, so if it’s going to happen, it best happen soon.

 


 

 

[1] I should note that I recognize that five days and/or 30 miles/week is slacking for many people. But isn’t for me. And one thing I’ve (mostly) learned from running is that you can only compare yourself to yourself in the end. I’ll never belong on a course with the elites, and though I may be faster than some weekend joggers, who’s to say they suffer any less? So I’m after a PR, or a few, and that’s it. No apologies.

Trail Races are Hard(er)

I just wrapped up week 6 on my Unofficial Running Science 5k Plan for Old(ish) Folks with a 5k trail race in place of the planned superset. And I have to say, trail races are significantly harder (read, slower) than your regular street 5k. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. Today’s race comes in at 6:53/mile, as per the Garmin.

runners-1438373

The plan seems to be going well. This week was the same total miles as last week (32), but had a bump in hard miles (from 18% to 25%). Still, I felt good. The hard runs were hard, but the long slow recovery runs actually did the “recovery” part quite well, and I felt almost as good at the end of my recovery days as I generally do at the end of a rest day. Almost.

So the question is, why was this run 17 seconds/mile slower than my street 5k a couple weeks ago, and a mere 3 seconds/mile faster than the trail run three weeks back?

I have some ideas:

  1. As noted in the title, trail runs are just harder, or at least slower. This course was about 75% winding single-track with switchbacks, tons of roots, some overhanging branches, and a few ups and downs (though not really much of the last). All of these things force you to slow down, and this slowing in turn makes it easier to settle into that slower pace without realizing. Plus, it can be deceptive: all those branches whipping by make it seem like you’re flying along. So maybe I need to compare this run only to my last trail run?
  2. I’m being ridiculously impatient. I was a bit out of shape after the injury/sickness/traveling layoff, and though I feel like I’m back in regular shape, it has only been six weeks. The plan calls for sixteen.
  3. I’m fatigued. The jump in mileage in week five and the jump in intensity this week might just have tired me out. I took a rest day yesterday, before the race, but I’m in the middle of a ramping-up section of the plan, not a taper, so I’m supposed to be fatigued! That’s the whole point of this part of the plan: get fatigued so my body will adapt.
  4. My running isn’t paced correctly. I’ve never been a long-slow runner before, so even though it’s only a couple days per week, I still feel a bit strange about those runs. The old “principle of specificity” says training is most useful when it’s closest to race pace. Obviously this would mean my plan is trash, so I’m not going here just yet (talk to me after week 17). But, I am thinking I might add a couple miles at lactate threshold into the middle of at least one of my long runs.
  5. It’s too hot. This feels like a bad excuse, but it is crazy hot here in the depths of south Texas just now. At 7:30 this morning it was about 80 degrees and 88% humidity. A slight change to those numbers and I’d be swimming. I know this matters, and one reason I started the plan now was so that I’d finish in late October or early November once it had cooled off (into the 60s at least). Still, I resist this explanation. Perhaps stupidly.
  6. I’ve hit a plateau. This may well be the case. Part of the impetus behind creating this plan was to break through that barely-over-20-minutes 5k plateau. But I’m not even back to that level. I’m a plateau down from my plateau.
  7. It was just an off day. They happen. Eat something that sets your stomach off, miss some sleep, forget your lucky socks: who know what causes them, but they happen. But again, that’s one reason I love the 5k—I can race another in a week if I want!

Any of these are perfectly reasonable explanations for a mediocre run. Maybe all of them.

But for the moment none of this is important. All that matters, really, is that I get up tomorrow and head out the door for my scheduled slow six miler.

My Life in Miles

Five weeks in, and I’ve survived the big mileage jump. Actually, it wasn’t bad at all.

The last three weeks of “my” plan were about 25 miles each, with a bit less than 25% of that consisting of “hard” miles (intervals, etc). Week five, though, had a scheduled jump to 32 miles, and I was worried.

I’ve never been a high-mileage runner (I’d rather go fast than long), only breaking the 30-mile mark a couple times since I got back in to the sport two years ago, as you can see from the chart below:

weekly miles

But part of my plan was built on the realization that I just wasn’t covering the miles I needed; fast is great, but long and slow is vital as well. I did try to soften the blow of the (totally rule-breaking) 30% jump in mileage by ensuring pretty much all those new miles were also “easy” miles. It helped. Now to add in some more quality miles.

Maybe before too long I’ll put together another chart of my 5k race times to see how it matches up to the above graph, but for the moment it’s fun just to look back at all those little blue bars and think of the many hours they represent, and more importantly the countless momentary decisions to get up early, to head out the door, and to keep going even when it hurt.