Saturday, March 12, 2016
About six weeks ago, my coach put an idea into my head. One of my great challenges since I began ironman racing has been my run. Not that my ironman runs have not been adequate. I’ve been pretty consistent in doing the marathons in under 5 hours, but the fastest I’ve been able to go is right around 4 1/2 hours. I know that I’m still probably capable of running an open marathon in almost an hour faster than that, so I’ve had in my mind the idea that I would love to run an ironman marathon in under 4 hours. Like anything in life, if you want something, you have to put in the necessary work to achieve your goal. So, the idea that my coach put into my head was that of doing a 20 mile run every week for 20 weeks. The moment he said it, I knew that was what I had to do. It’s remarkable how sometimes you just know something to be true when you hear it, and this was one of those things.
For a little background, I had taken off September and October completely from all exercise in order to recover from some pretty ingrained adrenal fatigue. By the end of December, I had increased my long run to about 11-12 miles, but somehow managed to “tweak” my ankle using an elliptical machine at a hotel fitness center, so I actually ran very little during January, but built up my bike riding pretty solidly. With my coaches idea in my head, I went out five weeks ago and ran 16 miles comfortably, stopping immediately when I felt my IT bands tighten up. The next weekend, I did 17 miles, again stopping when I felt good. I also began to develop a recovery process, that I think has been very helpful. As soon as I finish these runs, I get on the bike for 20-30 minutes, then soak my legs in a cold pool, then I compress my legs using my NormaTec machine for an hour and finally, if I’m able, I take a nap.
What’s remarkable is the progression that I’ve made in the last three weeks, having now completed my first three twenty mile runs in three weeks. I’ve only got 17 more to go! What’s amazing is how my body and my mind have come together to make this happen. Somehow, the fact that I’ve made the commitment to doing this is not only pushing me to do it, but to do it right. I’ve made these first three 20 milers into progression runs, where the first 7 miles are done very comfortably, the next 7 miles are done with greater effort, but manageable, and then I go as hard as I can until I can’t, and back off as needed in order to get my 20 miles in. The first two 20 milers had me backing off pretty quickly during the last phase, in order to complete my run. Today, however, was another story.
On thursday, I actually managed to ride my bike over 3 hours, with a solid last hour of intervals thrown in to work my legs. I then did a short run afterwards, so I definitely built up some fatigue from the days work. Yesterday, I just did an easy bike ride to keep the blood flowing. When I woke up this morning, I was a little tired, but my mind was set. I was going to run 20 miles! The first 7 miles went by reasonably well, my mind wandering to a variety of thoughts, including calculating the fact that I may be able to just get my next 17 twenty milers in before my taper for Ironman Boulder. With that said, my mind wasn’t focused. My legs felt ok, although they were a little tired. My breathing was easy, which corresponds to a breath every 5 steps, and my pace was just under 9 minute/mile pace. The next seven miles was when the fun started. I immediately upped my effort, breathing every fourth step, and my pace dropped to about 8:35/mile. This effort corresponds to a high Zone 2 effort, and my legs were still fine, not surprisingly, my cadence increased from about 165 to 170 foot strikes/minute.
Something else happened during the second seven miles, my mind began to focus. It became all about the run. Nothing else could find itself into my brain, and time stopped in a way. My legs were fine, they still felt a little tired, but they didn’t hurt. As I neared the end of the 14th mile, I began planning for what was to happen next. By this point in time, I already knew that I could easily relax and slow down a bit, take the pressure off, and get my 20 miles in without any concerns. I also knew that I wanted to see what my body could do today. Originally, I contemplated taking a mile easy in order to prepare for going harder, but I quickly overruled that thought and decided to “go for it!” As soon as I finished the 14th mile, I picked up my effort yet again, increasing my breathing to every 3rd step. This was my “tempo” effort. It’s a hard effort, but not overly so, at least until it would just get harder. My pace increased a little to about 8:33/mile, which showed that I had reached a point where in order to maintain my pace, my effort needed to increase. My focus was like a laser, as the only thing that mattered was my form and my running. As the completion of each mile approached, I would look at my watch, somewhat surprised to find my pace holding. My breathing frequency was the same, but it was getting harder, and I even began to grunt, which has been my trademark approach to maintaining focus. I kept contemplating the idea of slowing down and just getting the miles in, but as I neared the end of the 18th mile, I realized that I was just two miles from completing an almost perfect progression run. That was enough incentive.
The last two miles were a bit of a daze, holding close to 8:30 pace, while my breathing alternated between every third step and every second step, which is closer to my 5K effort, but not quite there. My legs still felt ok, and in fact, there was very little soreness. There were times that I actually felt like my form was as solid as it has been in some time, and that was encouraging. There were no intruding thoughts, no negativity. I knew that I was going to complete one of my best runs ever today. That thought certainly helped me through the last mile. I got home with an average pace for the entire run of 8:42/mile. I realized that the last six miles could easily be akin to the last six miles of a marathon, and was happy to know that I didn’t slow down and didn’t waver in my commitment.
The idea behind the twenty miles for twenty weeks is that marathons are 26 miles long, regardless of time or place. Getting my regular training runs to 20 miles with consistency brings me right up to the edge of where I need to be to feel both strong and confident for those last 6 miles. The progression runs also create both a mindset and a legset, if you will, that prepares me for those last six miles, when I have invariably slowed down considerably.
I will not be a slave to this concept, insofar as I will end one of these runs if I don’t feel well, or my legs rebel. But, somehow I don’t think that will happen. Part of the reason is that every week becomes a balance in my other training to enable me to effectively get in my twenty mile run. It’s not like I’m taking it easy all week. I’ve been getting in some speed work with my run, and some definite power intervals on the bike. At some point, I’ll have to increase my bike volume, although a 3 hour bike ride on my trainer just two days before today’s run certainly isn’t too shabby. I don’t have a set training program any more, as I just chat with my coach once a week to make sure that I’m on the right track. My training is all about listening to my body, and not pushing too hard. At the same time, it’s recognizing how hard I can push at times. It’s been pretty cool, reaching this stage of training development.
In the end, I really feel that the commitment is what is now driving me. I think about this run during the week, and am preparing for it almost every day. That means eating properly, getting enough sleep, and trying to manage my stress level. All of those factors go into my ultimate ability to successfully achieve my twenty miles for twenty weeks goal. It’s amazing what commitment will do!