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.

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Saturday Long & Sunday Too

One change I’ve been planning to make to my training in preparation for running an ultra (or two, or…) is switching my long run to Saturday. Because my long runs have always been on Sundays, and Mondays make a perfect rest day, this has meant always resting the day after going long.

In the grand scheme of things, maybe this is a good idea. But in training for an ultra, I need to build in more opportunities for running tired–which right now means running the day after my long run, and eventually means a few back-to-back long runs.

So it was that I set out Saturday in the early morning darkness. Getting ready for fourteen miles, I strapped on my hydration pack, headlamp, and some reflective gear and headed out. The morning was cold, dry, and quite still.

The hydration pack is new and another change. I’ve always done long runs, even up to twenty miles, without any hydration. Bad idea. But I always loathed carrying something in my hands, and well, something like a hydration pack is expensive. When I came into a gift card from my work colleagues last month, it seemed like time to step up.

But back to the run itself. I stopped here as the sun rose to stow away my headlamp and reflective bands (hydration pack bonus!).


Sometimes I’m jealous of people who live, and therefore run, in more interesting or exotic places, especially in the West. But as I look at this picture, I suppose I am quite lucky. And there is nothing except running that would get me out at sunrise on a Saturday morning, miles from home.

Saturday’s run had a fair bit more vertical, and therefore more downhill, than my usual routes. By ten or eleven miles in, I was really feeling it. Not in my quads where I expected to feel the downhill, but in my knees. They were trying to tell me they were forty-two years old, but I don’t think I wanted to hear it. Even so, they carried my up the last hill at a decent clip, as I let my heart rate rise for the final couple of miles.

And so Sunday came. It wasn’t exactly a B2B, but I went out there for five miles, which is five more miles than I’d run after a long day in the last twelve years or more. Physically, it didn’t feel great. My knees were declaring their age a bit more loudly, and so it was mostly about putting in the miles and building the habit.

In fact, if running long in this way is all about mental training, I’d have to say it was my best day in a long time.


Friday Rest Day

I have had different sorts of relationships with rest days over the years.

In my mid-twenties I ran with a group for long runs on Saturday mornings. I was running six days a week at the time, which meant I typically took my one and only rest day of the week on Sundays. That was a good relationship. I enjoyed the time with friends, and often (being in my mid-twenties as I was) I would have been out late on Saturday night, so it was a good day to set aside for, well, just about nothing. Continue reading