Having pushed through my daily running for the long weekend, surviving an out-of-town trip to visit the family –which is always a bit of a mental-time-jolt and can so easily throw off any carefully planned schedule, activity squeezed between meals and board games and easter-egg hunts– I actually found myself on the far side of the holiday with a handful of respectable runs. In fact, my Monday run (#6 in the the series) prompted me to do some random speed training and (while I had to push myself to the point of wheezing-spitting-foaming-at-the-mouth exhaustion to do it) broke a couple personal speed-and-distance records, along a particularly interesting but familiar segment of local path. If tradition holds, the gradual build to the two-week-daily mark is the toughest but most satisfying… and I’m right in the middle of that now.
April Every Day Status: A five klick holiday morning run through some still-icy trails, overdressed because it looked chilly, and still tired from 1 & 2.
I pulled myself out of bed at five am this morning and after giving myself about ten minutes to actually wake up I went out and ran a little over four klicks through our pre-dawn neighborhood. It had been a little more than nine hours (and a fitful sleep) since I had run a hill-training session with the group, and my body was not impressed. Alas, it is the price one pays to a daily running challenge, particularly when life gets in the way. Apart from squeezing in a lunch hour trot, our theatre tickets for tonight rudely informed me that the only chance I had to fit in my April 2nd mileage was to get up early and get it done. So I did. And that makes me two-for-two on the month which, while that doesn’t sound all that impressive, is actually my sixth run in seven days at a distance of a little over a marathon. Not awesome, but a solid start to a crazy month of daily running, to be sure.
It’s been a while since I gave myself a training challenge and I’ve got another half marathon at the end of next month… and the month after that… and probably the month after that, too. Oh, heck. I’ve got a half marathon every month for the rest of this year. It’s time to kick the training into high gear now that spring is here and the snow is disappearing. April is going to be running crazy: every day, if I can make it, and at least four klicks per day this go round. Ready… ? Who’s joining me?
Thirty days of September (plus August 31st, but who’s counting?) comprising a total of 32 consecutive runs. (Oh, because I ran twice one Saturday in the middle there.) The goal was to rebuild my strength. The goal was to buckle down, just get some distance in, even a little bit, every day. And now, as October rolls in, here I am: almost 170 klicks richer for the experience, four races stronger, and thirty-two consecutive runs spanning thirty days more sore.
The rules were simple: between waking and sleeping get in at least 3 km of running. Every day. No matter what. No excuses.
Admittedly, it was not much. Just a bit. But considering I was coming off a summer of failed training that (just a week prior to starting this effort) had resulted in me literally rolling on the street in pain during a race… three klicks was pretty solid. I never went more than about ten, but I never went less than three.
The result: 168.4 klicks run…. almost precisely four marathons worth of distance.
What did I learn?
1) Some days your body really does need a break.
Did I mention I’m tired? You can look at my log and you can see exactly how I was feeling. There are a couple of days in there when it was every bit of energy I had to lace up and do a meager three-point-four klicks. Just this past Sunday, in fact, following my awesome-sauce mountain race with a personal best 10km time in my back pocket… I dragged myself on a pathetic three klicks around the hotel where we were staying… just to get it done. In retrospect, I should have taken a break. But there was a goal to be met and a plan to be followed and a commitment to be upheld. So you just do it, regret it a bit later, and learn whatever lesson comes along with it.
2) There is rarely a day when a run is impossible.
Get out there. Yeah, you’re busy. Yeah, it’s raining. When you plan to run every day of the month, without exception, you are –I guarantee– going to run up against a scheduling conflict. There was a couple of days last week when I was booked pretty much solid from 6am until 10pm. Karin was out of town and I couldn’t just go out for an hour-long jaunt while leaving Claire asleep in bed. Solution: get up at 5am… and get in my run. Just get it done. There is always an excuse, but when you have a commitment on the line you sometimes need to make the time even when that time doesn’t seem to be there to be made. Now I know that if I need to find the time, yeah it might hurt or suck or leave me trotting around the local park in the pitch black of pre-dawn… but I can find the time.
3) You get back what you put in.
There are lots of ways to measure fitness progress, and I could hold up a couple of progressively better sub-one-hour ten klick race times (this slow-poke has never broken one-hour before!) as clear indicators of that. But I think what triggered in my mind was some data from my watch. My watch estimates VO2 Max… and for the most part I’m just a hair above average. My data has for the last year floated between 44 (in the weak parts of the summer) to a high of 46 back when I was training hard for that half I never ran. Three weeks into this run-every-day effort my watch chimed at the end of a hard run that “A new VO2 max has been detected.” I’d hit 47. Not amazing. But higher than I’d ever measured. Numbers are awesome that way.
4) Races are meant to have finish lines.
My secret confession at the end of all this is admittedly a bit foolish: it’s that my original run-every-day goal didn’t end at the end of September. I’ve never said this aloud or written it before, but part of me wanted to run every day leading into my next race… in January. Part of me wanted to defy whatever odds were stacked against me, defy every notion of reality, ignore the need for rest and recovery, and do what those extreme running plans suggest: run every day until race day. But I’m tired. I hurt. And the value of a day off for recovery become more and more apparent with each passing run. So, as bold as running every day might have been, and as short as those little three klick jaunts were, every race is meant to have a finish line. Mine was September 30th.
What’s next? My official training for the half marathon in January starts after a couple days of rest. Stay tuned!
That there is a direct correlation between my volume of training and my overall fitness level.
22 consecutive days. 23 runs. 135 km. And no significant pain for nearly a week. I’m feeling like things are coming back together.
Having hit my fifteenth consecutive day running yesterday, I’m now officially shooting to try to break my standing record of three weeks “running every day.” My goal (not out loud, but all along) has been to run every day in September. Now it’s out loud. To run not-much-but-just-enough-to-count: 3km/day. At least three klicks per day to count as a run, once per day, at some point between waking up and going to bed. #atleast3 … By the end of today I’ll be half done. The “three” rule gives me opportunity to (a) rest between longer runs, by still (b) putting in a daily run but (c) keeping it short enough to just be a maintenance run that doesn’t overly fatigue and allows for recovery between. Last time I did daily running (my standing record is three consecutive weeks) that effort kicked off two great years of strong improvement. And whether or not it was the three weeks — by either kicking off a slow gradual strengthening or just getting me into the routine — I don’t know for certain, but as I get ready to jump into four months of half-marathon training leading to my January Disney race, I want to find a balance between revving things up and not pushing too hard as I get over that summer hump of lazy, injured me…
The original plan to run every day prior to our trip fell through. I’ll blame weather (it poooooooured rain on Friday) and a minor injury (ankle/calf thing on the same day) for me missing a couple day’s worth of runs. Thus the problem became “miss one… miss more than one.” So, I didn’t run on Saturday either. *sigh* Of course, lacing up and doing an almost (but just a few steps short of) eighteen klick run on Sunday morning sort-of made up for it. We followed a long twisty path through the neighborhood before dropping into the river/creek valleys and wended our way through a nicely shaded and rain-softened gravel trail. It helped to beat the heat. Coincidentally, we met up with the marathon group –who had left an hour earlier than us– who was on the final few klicks of their twenty-nine and had the same stay-in-the-shade plan as us. Now, the question is, do find the motivation to pick up my toppled run-every-day plan starting tonight again… or rest up for vacay?
It’s not going to be easy, but I think I’ve decided that in order to get myself back on track (at least until vacation) I’m gonna try and run every single day between now (well, yesterday) and when we leave on holiday. The rule will be to run AT LEAST three klicks every day until gear-up en route to our vacation destination. Day two having just completed, I’m cooling off from a short-but-hot not-quite-four-klick easy jaunt around the neighborhood. Hey… no point in over-doing it, right?
The “week of lists” continues as I dive into my fitness hobby of choice: running. I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said so instead I’ll just point out some of the things I’m personally getting mixed messages about thanks to the vast array of clinics, books, magazines, websites, and anecdotal advice from fellow runners. If there is a metaphorical ‘fence’ for any of these, I’m pretty much on one side of each contradiction — so make up your own mind and don’t listen to me. I’m just ranting about:
1 : Cotton
Perhaps just chalk this one up to out-of-touch race organizers, but the practice of giving racers who’ve signed up for a race — costing, nowadays, usually a $50+ fee — a “free” t-shirt — a cotton t-shirt — that they encourage runners to wear WHILE running, baffles me. After the athletic-wear companies have pampered us with ongoing advances in technical fabrics, those light-weight, chafe-free, moisture-wicking garments of running magnificence, there likely is no way I’m wearing a cotton-polyester blended, be-logoed t-shirt on ten klick fun run. Ouch. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for advertising.
To run every day or to not run every day? Some say yes. Others? Ooooh, rest, they say. Don’t push yourself. Running every day, we’re told, leads to injuries… which I suppose makes sense. I don’t know where to look for research on this, so I just tried it out — for a while — and ran every day. And then I got a lot faster and stronger. But that’s me… just my story. And it was hard work. There are lots of schools of thought on running every day, I guess, and most of them say “don’t push yourself” — and all the while the elite runners are going hard and strong three-six-five. I mean, I think maybe you need to work up to it but don’t discount it entirely… or at least talk to a doctor first?
3 : Technology
I go flipping through a typical assortment of running magazines and this struck me on a recent issue of [Magazine Name Not Really Important]. On one page there was an article about the over-use of technology in running. On the facing page there was an ad for some new GPS watch. On the next page there was an article about putting your heart-rate monitor away and just listening to your body. On the facing page, there was an ad for a new running watch that tracked heart-rate. And so on… this went on for a few pages. Now, either the editor was asleep at the wheel, or the guys writing the copy don’t agree with the guys paying for the copy. Just saying. Which is it? But I do like my GPS watch.
4 : Stretching
I’ve taken about fifteen running clinics in the last four and a half years and every instructor quotes a different bit of advice on stretching. First it was the controversial practice of “cold” stretching before a run versus “warm” stretching after a run. Then for a while I had an anti-stretching evangelist teaching a clinic who claimed he’d never stretched in the last five years and encouraged us to avoid it too. Then there was the pro-yoga folks who’s answer to everything was “you need to do yoga.” And now I’m with the uber-stretchers who spend half-an-hour after a run doing these impossible-to-emulate deep stretches on the pavement in front of the clinic store, getting their clothes covered in dirt and dust and leaving sweaty-bum-prints on the concrete. I’m confused. So I usually just do a few quick standards and go home.
5 : Over-training
This is sort of like the “run every day” question of earlier — but a little more subtle. Over the years — but more so lately — I’ve encountered a whole series of well-meaning advice-givers who are all up on the perils of “over-training” in running. Don’t push yourself. Set your pace to this exact speed. Don’t go too far. Rest when you need to rest. You’re going too fast for THIS particular training day. STICK TO THE PROGRAM. Actually? It’s the Gospel According to John (the Running Room folks know of whom I write.) It’s not John’s fault, of course. It’s just his program. A good program. And he’s built a business around it. But there is a cadre of folks who treat it like the bible of running — and those who, well… not so much… and with more under-their-breath four-letter-word replies than I’ve included here.
6 : Racing
“If you’re not training for a race, why are you running?” The mantra from so many sources is GOAL-setting, and in running the ultimate goal is a race, right? Well, that’s what you’d believe too if you paid attention to the ads, the pamphlets, the clinics, the… this… that… everything. I have mixed feelings about races. They do tend to make you run faster and give you a medium-term goal, sure, but at the end of any race you’re stuck with this one-off time, a single-run assessment of your ability on that given day (as opposed to a collection of training runs — TRAINING runs — that measure progress over a span.) And, to boot, you never end up running with friends — the running buddy thing always evaporates when the gun goes. It’s just you and the road. Often, I’d rather keep it social, actually, and do a leisurely jaunt around the neighbourhood. Forget the races.
7 : Shoes
And then there were shoes. The only topic that comes up on virtually every single long-ish run I’ve ever done: shoes. New shoes, shoe fit, shoe brand, shoe style, the tightness of your laces, support versus motion control, training shoes versus barefoot-style shoes. The only topic I dread more is male-nipple-chafing. I mean, I’m not surprised shoes are so controversial: there’s money in shoes and it’s the one piece of equipment EVERY modern runner needs at some point — and according to the “experts” multiple alternating pairs with tracked mileage for maximum injury protection. I have lots of shoes. I have a brand. I even have a preferred style. I’ve bought into the hype, I guess. And speaking of that, I should really go shoe shopping here soon…
I’m not fast. I never claimed I was. And after slogging along like the proverbial “running penguin” for the last four-plus years I’m pretty much okay with that.
For the last few weeks — twenty straight days as of today, in fact — I have uncovered some manifest truths about my past efforts that have left me slightly bewildered and reconsidering everything I’d been doing.
Some of these realizations have come from external forces. I’ve been reading lots of running blogs and magazines for the last few months, the last week in particular, and have come to clearly understand the type and level of improvement I would need to accomplish to actually call myself a runner in any competitive sense. For example, to qualify for the Boston Marathon — something I’ve never really set my sights on, but hung it out there as a “maybe one day” goal — I would need to run as fast as I have ever run, my very top speed, a speed I would normally consider a sprint, and I’d need to run it for 42 K straight through. If I did this, I would just barely meet the minmum requirements to get on a wait list to register.
Other realizations have come from sidelong factors. I have a great group of people with whom I run, and we’ve been trotting along for years together. But the fact is that collectively we’ve really set a fairly low bar. We don’t run fast. We don’t run far. And as soon as I kicked up my training a notch — that wee little bit for a few silly weeks — I’ve found myself getting ahead of the group, figuratively and literally, on a routine basis and without too much extra effort. That same group that keeps me motivated to come out is now threatening to hold me back. This is an uncomfortable fact that I will need to reconcile at some point in the coming months, I’m nearly certain.
Even more realizations have come from internal factors. As part of my training I’ve also been lifestyle hacking. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m comfortable with who I am and happy in my own skin. (I mean, who doesn’t consider dropping a pound or two though, right?) But the last time I tried a half marathon I almost ruined my ankles. A combination of a slower pace with my body (even relatively trim after a summer of running) did a thrashing of horrors upon my joints that required much patient healing to get over. This time I have a parallel weight goal to match my running goal, and have been carefully managing my snacking and sweets for the last month. Not only has my little mental hack seemed to work (so far) but in thinking about it — whatever combination of factors “it” is — I’ve come to better grasp and control my own lifestyle in a way that seems liek it might stick. In an important way I guess you could say that I had a transformative upsight about eating following and falling out of the efforts of a few weeks of hacking and running and thinking about it all.
After twenty days of straight running I’ve logged the moderate sum of 75.2 KM, and I’ve dropped about two kilos in the process. For those who need a visual (of the running not the two kilos) the attached map shows a rough approximation of 75.2 KM as measured from the corner near my house all the way south past the Wetaskiwin turn-off on the QE2. It’s quite the slog.