Some running re-evaluation

To say that my running year has been lacking would be an understatement. It’s certainly not at the level of 2013, which was my lowest mileage year since running, but it’s not been as good as my recent years. This past weekend, everything came to a head in some conversations with the wife, and I realized that I’m having a hard time having fun with it right now. The biggest reason for that is that I keep pushing to do big challenges that are beyond where my training level is right now.

I had a tremendous set of runs in late 2015, into 2016. I conquered Moose Mountain Marathon, followed it up with my first 50K at Surf the Murph, then dived into training for my first 50 miler at Zumbro. My plan was to knock out two more 50K’s in 2016, Spring Superior and Marquette. I ended up crashing and burning on Spring Superior, and Marquette wasn’t even close to being in the cards.

My goal this year was to get revenge on Spring Superior, and finally hit Marquette. As my winter unfolded, and injuries sidelined me, I kept seeing those goals becoming harder and harder to consider. I didn’t run Spring Superior at all, and this weekend I decided that Marquette wasn’t a good idea either. It’s not that I couldn’t go out and try and train with tremendous intensity and get a 50K done this year; I just don’t want to.

That’s where the ‘fun’ part comes in. I used to have a ton of fun training for races, but this year (and frankly after Zumbro 50), it’s just not clicking mentally. Every time I look at the training calendar and think about what I need to do to make it through a 50K like Marquette, I start to hate the idea of going for a run. I’m shooting for the moon, and realizing I won’t make it, and then dreading what it would take to even salvage the attempt.

However, the three races I’ve done this year at the 25K distance, have been really enjoyable for me. Afton was a good time, Trail Mix was something new and fun, and even Zumbro 17 was an amazing finish to a great weekend. I’ve always been more comfortable at the 13-16 mile distance, and this year showed that maybe I need to just stick with that for a while until I regain some of my longer distance legs under me again.

Therefore, I’m dropping from Marquette, and signing up for a couple shorter trail halfs: Surly Trail Loppet and Bluff Tuff Half. I feel like these are goal races that I can achieve, and even show some improvement on. Most importantly, I feel like I can enjoy training for them. Making the decision has had an immediate impact on my thoughts about running. I’m excited to get out and try to make some improvements at this distance and not fret about the fact that I haven’t had a 20 mile run yet this year.

I would suggest that if you’re struggling with running, and getting out the door, maybe revise your goals a bit. If you’re like me and your eyes are bigger than your (running) stomach, maybe it’s time to step back and rediscover what you loved about trails and running. Running is more than 50% mental. If you don’t take care of that half, it becomes a dread rather than a joy. Let’s not forget why we run, and recover the joy, even if it means putting off the craziest of adventures.

Regaining the running groove

To state that this winter has been a pile of poop for my running training would be an understatement. Since the start of the new year I haven’t had a week over 17 miles of running, and my last double digit run was December 10th. Not the best way to go into the season with a couple 50Ks coming up. However, this morning showed me that all hope is not lost, and that I’ve been in this situation before and rallied. Today was the start of that rally.

I hit the Elm Creek horse trails for 2 loops today, and with temps approaching 40 at 8am, I was able to shed most of my winter running gear and go light. The trails were in adequate shape, not ideal, but I was able to navigate around most of the icy spots easy enough. For times when I couldn’t get around the ice I did my best penguin impression to avoid slipping and falling.

The sun was already up when I started, and I could tell that I would soon be able to lose my hat. As I approached 2 miles I ran into Mark, who was doing a final gear check before Actif. We chatted for a bit before we move off in our different direction. I kept my pace going as best I could for the rest of the first 7 mile loop. Around 5 miles I started to feel the groove, and before I knew it I was back at the parking lot. I felt myself cross a threshold, and suddenly everything clicked like it has in years past.

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I chatted with Mark again in the parking lot as I geared back up for the next loop. My wife also happened to call me, and the first thing she asked is if I was done running? A week or two ago I probably would have heard that question and decided it was more of a statement than a query, and opted to call it early. However, today I was feeling great, and I was excited to hit another loop.

I decided to bring along my trekking poles for the second loop, in case I wanted to hike some, but also to keep in practice of using them while running. After a bit of adjustment I was on my way and miles 8 and 9 felt awesome. I had a great pace, my form felt solid, and my attitude was upbeat. I had also been eating consistently, which helped my energy level.

A little after mile 9 I ran into Gary, another trail buddy, and I stopped and chatted for a bit with him as well. We talked about the upcoming race season, and marveled at how amazing the weather was this morning. Soon enough we parted ways and I began the final 5 mile push to bring it home. Unfortunately, as the weather warmed the thin layer of snow that was covering much of the ice was melting fast, and so even more icy spots were exposed. It was an inconvenience, but I probably used it as an excuse to hike a bit more than I needed to. Even when I ran I needed to make sure I knew where my feet were, as what may look like rough ice can actually be quite slick.

My pace dropped a bit during those last five miles, but I managed to keep it at 15/mile and under the whole way back. In fact my overall pace was 14/mile, which I was more than pleased with. I arrived back at my car and felt great. I felt like I could have attempted another loop, however, I knew better and my body needed me to stop. I stripped off my vest and gear and started looking for a little lunch.

I went home feeling amazing and hopeful that my old running self is still in here somewhere. I know I still need to lose some pounds, but today I felt like I still could regain the great shape I was in last winter. I’m thankful that Zumro is just a 17 miler for me this year, but soon enough Spring Superior 50K will be upon me. I’m more hopeful today that I’ll be successful this year than I was yesterday. I’m excited to get everything back into gear again!

Some running training analysis

So where did my fall running fall off the wagon? To no surprise, it all comes down to training. I started my year incredibly strong. I managed four consecutive months with mileage over 120 miles, and my long runs were feeling comfortable and regular. Over the summer things slacked off tremendously, but I still managed to pull out some 70-80 mile months.

The problem was that almost all of these high mileage summer and fall months were due to long races. Since the end of May (20 weeks ago) I have only had two weeks over 20 miles that were not due to long races, and only 4 other weeks over twenty miles. During those 20 weeks I have had 12 runs that were two digits, and 50% of those were races. Contrast this with the first 22 weeks of the year when I only had 4 weeks without a double digit run.

Training makes you a better runner, and when you don’t train you just end up relying on your base that you’ve built up during the previous training cycle. I had a pretty solid base built up going into Zumbro 50, and it managed to keep me going pretty strong throughout most of the year. Even my showing at the Afton 25K was strong and enjoyable. But that base can only last so long.

I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve used up that base, and I need to get it back again before I try any more ultra distance races. I need to get back into regular running, stretching, and strengthening that was what helped me with such a strong start to 2016. This means getting my legs feeling better, loosened up, and out on the trails for shorter distances while I slowly build my endurance back to where it needs to be. When I attempted the 50K yesterday, I felt great at the beginning, but that was all my body was ready to handle, and I need to spend the time in boring morning runs to get back to where I previously was.

So that’s where I think I’m at with running right now. I’ve also had to deal with some very minor injuries this year, which always throw things off. The goal moving forward is to keep moving forward and regain what I had at the start of 2016. It’s going to take time, and I can’t just jump right in (which is the hardest part), but I’m sure if I can get a solid base back up again, 2017 will have some exciting possibilities for me.