Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Evolution of My Running

It’s been almost a month and a half since the New RiverTrail 50k.  It’s been a month and a half since I have been training for anything, running hard or seriously or even blogging about running.  And yet, I’ve never been more “in love” with running.

The NRT 50k was an evolution of sorts in my still-young running life.  Sure, I started to come apart towards the end, probably didn’t fuel well enough and am still somewhat hobbled by the physical after-effects of training for and racing in that race.  Regardless, it can be counted as no less than the best running experience I have had to date.

Strangely, since running that race, the feeling I crave from running, the feeling I most want to feel when out for a run is the feeling I had at my lowest point in that race (mile 27).  I was down and out, just passing by the mileage marker of my longest ever run, under-fueled, limping and completely isolated (after having spent most of the first 3 hours of the race with some great folks).  I was struggling.

I just kept reminding myself, “I choose to do this, and I do it because I love it; This is what I’m here for, this is what I trained for.”

And the training paid off.  And that’s what makes me want to be back in that place, testing my training, testing my mind, my ability to persevere; testing my love of running.

The year is winding down now and there are no significant goals left to accomplish.  My mileage for the year will be well above the goal I had set at the beginning of the year.  I’ve run all the races I had planned to run.  I had some great experiences and some bad experiences.  Most importantly, learned a heck of a lot about how and why I run and running in general. 

Heading into 2013, I’m already focusing on a 24 week training cycle, starting the very first day of the year (just before that, actually), targeting at getting me ready for the North Face Endurance Challenge50 mile race in Washington, DC.  I’ll be lucky enough to run that race with Joel again, and we’ll go through our (vastly different) training cycles together as well.

Going into 2012, the focus was on running longer.  The hope was that I could run longer and lose only minimal speed.  What I learned, quite unfortunately, is that I lose quite a bit of speed the longer I run, much more than I had hoped.  Training for a 50 mile race is going to have to be about abandoning any idea of speed altogether.

I never fully grasped the idea of “running by feel” before the NRT 50k.  Call it a result of being under or over-trained for races, but the way I felt in races leading up to that one could only be characterized using negative terms.  If I were running by feel, I wouldn’t be running at all, it would seem.  But in stretching my runs out longer than I ever thought possible, I’ve started to realize just how amazing the human body is.  I haven’t quite determined if “running by feel” is fully coupling the body and mind, or fully de-coupling the body and mind.  The reality is that there are most likely times when coupling works best, and other times when de-coupling works best…  and it’s that adaptability that really defines running by feel.

Running by feeling really blows open the doors on my enjoyment of running, however.  Forgetting about the watch, about whether I’m running too fast or too slow for goal pace and focusing about my perceived effort has allowed me to become much more in tune with my body and with my surroundings.  This is especially true on trails, when not being in touch with my body and surroundings will result in a face plant.  Some days, after I get back from the run, upload it and see what transpired, I’m quite amazed at how much faster or slower the run is than what I perceived.  But I think the value of understanding how much effort you are exerting relative to how much energy you have in reserve, how to properly push the pace when you are hurting, and back off it (even when you are not hurting) to ensure you’re going to be able to finish and run the race you want to run is fully supported by training in this manner, and so it will be my motif during this training cycle.

I’m also working on my Metabolic Efficiency.  There was an article in October’s Ultrarunning magazine (one of the best running magazines out there, in my opinion, for runners of any distance) about how to train your body to become more efficient at burning fat as fuel.  This makes perfect sense to me.  If my stomach is off and I can’t take in calories for a period of time, I want to be able to keep pushing on without taking a huge physical or mental toll.  I want my body to operate as efficiently as possible in all conditions, and I realize just feeling comfortable on my training runs isn’t going to get me there.  So, for the past 2 weeks and for the next four, I’ll be eating a (vegetarian, as always) diet high in protein (with a bit more fat than usual) and lower in carbs than I normally eat.  I won’t fuel specifically for any training run, nor will I fuel during any training run.  Too, I’ll be running SLOWLY (so as to keep my heart-rate in the right zone for optimal ME training) and for a duration between 1 hr 30 min and 2 hrs for as many runs as I can.  This should lead right into the beginning the training cycle for the 50 miler, so the timing is perfect.  Generally, I would just build a cardiovascular base before a training cycle anyway, so it’s not terribly different from what I would normally plan, with the exception of the nutritional aspect.

Training for and racing in the 50-miler is going to take up the first half of next year.  I plan to throw in a 50k race in that time (hopefully the TARC Spring Classic) and possibly a fast half marathon with Todd (the Quincy Half again?).  Beyond that, I don’t yet know.  Maybe I’ll try for another marathon at the end of next year, see if I really can run as fast as I want to run for that distance?  We’ll see.  I think a lot depends on how the 50 miler goes... I could end up signing up for a 100 miler, or I could end up hanging up the shoes altogether.

But for now, I’m loving running more than I ever have, and I feel so lucky to have had such a great and relatively injury free year of consistent running (haven’t had a single week without logging at least one run all year).  I’m really looking forward to tackling the 50 mile distance and figuring out where I want to go with my running from there.  Onward!!

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