Still Running Long

running until i can't

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Training Update: Tropical Week, Rest Week and Week Zero

Fall has so quickly turned to winter here, with a cold November bringing a white Thanksgiving and some tricky footing on the roads.

Tropical Week

I spent a portion of November, though, far from that New England cold, running in Costa Rica. It wasn’t a trip just to run but when work brought me close to the equator for nearly a week, running was one of the things I was most excited about.

Before I left, I imagined soft breezes and beautiful sunshine carrying me for effortless miles…and instead found a fair amount of struggle running in the early morning heat and thick, humid air. It’s just as humid in New England in summer, but somehow this felt really challenging, and I could barely manage any low heart rate miles, my rate spiking fairly easily.

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And that was only halfway up!

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I loved the feeling of a hard sweat on a hot day, and not gearing up for winter before heading out was a real treat. And then there were the hills. Now, I live in fairly hilly area in Massachusetts. But in Costa Rica, I found a hill.

With gradients as steep as 49%, I probably shouldn’t have run this more than once…but I kept going back to it, trying to be faster each day. I suppose it’s a good thing I was only in Costa Rica for a week.

Rest Week

I’ve written before about the difficulty of taking rest days, and yet the growing appreciation that I have for them. As I looked to map out a training schedule for a spring 50k, I realized that I might have an opportunity for a little bit more extended rest.

I’ve often read about elite runners who take several weeks, even months off, from running after the end of a season. I decided that when I returned from Costa Rica, I would take one week off from running. I could rest my forty-something year-old joints and maybe given my muscles and heart time to reap the benefits of a solid six months of low heart-rate work.

I almost managed to pull it off. In the week after I returned, I ran only 3 times in a period of ten days, for a total of just under 14 miles.

I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like not running. And I really didn’t like when I started running again. My body felt stiff and out of sorts, and I didn’t immediately feel like my heart had benefitted. I feared that I had thrown some of my training away. The whole week after my rest week was a bit of a slog through 34 underwhelming miles.

Week Zero

And then I hit the week zero. Two weeks after my rest week, I set a schedule that was roughly equivalent to week one of my 50k program. I wanted to see if I was back from the rest week, if I could find a rhythm again.

And I sure did. It was a week filled with runs where I felt fresh. Runs where I kept looking at my watch and couldn’t believe the pace I was maintaining at such low heart rates.

I finished the week with a not-very-long run of 10 miles over my One Hill course. When I hit the bottom of the hill, about three miles from home, I accelerated. Or, at least I let my heart rate rise to take the hill.

When I got to the top, I didn’t slow down. I kept the pace and the cadence up, running at paces in the 6’s and 7’s that I hadn’t sustained in a long time (only touching them in downhill trainings). And it felt fantastic. It felt like I could have done the whole loop again.

And so I find myself a day into Week One, week One of my formal ultra training program. I’m already questioning the wisdom of not belonging to a health club as I look at the week’s forecast of icy rain and snow. But that will only make me stronger in the end.

That’s what I’m telling myself.


Sunday Long: Only One Hill

The Mount Washington Road Race is on my running bucket list. There’s a lottery to get in, and between that, job commitments, and various injuries, I’ve never had the chance to run it. I’ve always loved running up hills, and this a 7.6 mile race that rises 4650 feet to the summit of Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in New England.

The coolest part of the race might be their slogan: Only One Hill. I really hope I can proudly wear one of those t-shirts some day. Sometimes I take a run that has only one large hill, and think about that race.

This Sunday’s long run was like that. It had essentially only one hill. It also had just about the only stretch of flat we have around here, but I woke up thinking about the hill. It doesn’t come close to Mt. Washington, but it will do the job for a typical Sunday, rising 328 feet and topping out at about 10% grade, and coming at about mile 7 of the ten mile loop I had laid out.

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Only One

Ever since I started doing a lot of low heart rate training, hills have lost some of their excitement for me. I used to revel in the chance to power up a set of hills on a hot summer afternoon, drenched in sweat. Hills were often my friends in races, seeming to give me a second wind as others grew tired.

But in trying to keep my heart rate below 139, they’ve mostly turned into a slow shuffle. They’re getting faster as I work on high cadence heading upwards, but it still feels a little bit like one of those dreams where you’re trying to run fast and can’t.

So on Sunday, I decided to stop just before the base and turn off the alert on my heart rate monitor. I hit the base and my heart rate popped by fifteen or twenty right off the bat. After initially falling back into an old rhythm of reaching too far with each step to get up the hill, I set my cadence back around 180 and kept going. Just based on feel.

And it felt great.

As much as letting go of caution and running more often this summer and fall has me feeling great, I am quite certain that running more slowly and easily along with that has also been key. But this means listening to my heart rate monitor and, yes, shuffling up some hills. To spend that one mile just pushing was a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

In a way, it was too bad that it was only one hill.

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Sunday Long: Summer Air & Autumn Light

The fact that I look forward all week to my Sunday long run probably puts me in the very select company of a few hundred thousand endurance junkies.

This past Sunday’s was actually fairly short. Sure, it was the longest run of the week, but not long enough that I actually put it into my training log as a “long run.” I managed to keep my commitment to take it quasi-slowly in my new Newton shoes, and went out for a little over 8 miles. With a 5k coming this weekend, it also seemed like a good idea to take it relatively easy. I managed to enjoy it anyway. Continue reading