Thursday, June 16, 2016
I’m now 16 weeks into my mission of doing a 20 mile run every week for 20 weeks. Coach Lucho tells me that last weekend I had a “breakthrough.” The crazy thing is that, in the week following a solid week of training that culminated in a very hard trail half marathon in the midst of my weekly 20 mile run, I “doubled down” with my biggest week of training in quite a while. I ultimately put in 18 hours of training, all of it very specific, in fact, 17 hours of training were done in just 5 days. In the four days preceding my long run, I did hard bike intervals, hard run hill intervals and two solid long bike days on my indoor trainer. Not the run up that I would expect to what turned out to be my best 20 mile run since I began this journey. And….I didn’t even run 20 miles! But, I digress. My run started innocently, my legs felt tired, but at least they only had minimal soreness from the preceding week. My first mile did give me a positive indication of what was to come. I ran the first mile in about 8:50, which was faster than most of my first miles, especially when I really try to keep it mellow and comfortable. Around mile 4 my left quad was a little sore and I was wondering what the day would be like, but the soreness didn’t last more than a mile or so and I kept clicking off 8:40’ish miles. Hmmmm, this was interesting. I try to break my progression effort into thirds. The first seven miles were done very comfortably, and the for the next seven I picked up the effort a notch to a moderately comfortable effort, all the while noticing that my paces were still solidly in the 8:35 range. By the time I got to mile 14 and started picking up my effort another notch, I was starting to think about how far I’d run. Coach Lucho had given me permission to run longer than 20 miles ‘if I felt like it.’ So, I began thinking, perhaps I’ll just run easy and comfortably and get an extra mile in….but I kept running hard, and my paces were now closer to 8:20….hmmmm, this is very interesting. By the time I got to running Mile 20, I just went as hard as I could, with no ideas as to how fast I was going. Mentally, I was prepared to slow down and even stop if I started to slow appreciably. When I hit Mile 20 and saw my time of 8:07, the adrenaline certainly kicked in to not only encourage me to run another mile, but to give it everything I had. The final mile, Mile 21, was also done in 8:07. I probably had more miles in my legs, but I have no reason to be greedy, so I finished and began my recovery routine, which ultimately includes easy spinning on the bike, easy swimming and about an hour with my NormaTec machine. Over the past 16 weeks, my best pace for 20 miles has been 8:42, and I tend to average right around 8:50 when there aren’t extenuating circumstances. My pace on this day….8:31. WTF! And, it wasn’t even for 20 miles, it was for 21 miles. And, I wasn’t sore that day, and really wasn’t sore (at least not to speak of) the next couple of days. How and why did I have this breakthrough? Coach Lucho says it's for a few reasons, the simplest of which may be that I have steadfastly learned to listen to my body and not do anything stupid. I have built into this gradually, paid very close attention to my recovery, and known when to take it easy. Most of my weeks during this journey have had me training between 10 and 14 hours a week, with a high degree of specificity. I rarely run more than 3 total days out of the week, and many weeks have only run one other day than my long run. Of course, when I’m not running I'm biking. Of note, I only swim about an hour a week, although I'm ramping that up a bit as I close in on Ironman Boulder. I have been trying to swim 10-15 minutes a day, in order to maintain the “feel" of the water. So, back to my “breakthrough." Mentally, 20 miles no longer feels long. In fact, my “long runs” feel oddly short, as if I’ve traveled through some type of wormhole. The proof, of course, will occur in eight weeks, when I step off my bike at Ironman Boulder and embark on another “routine” 20 plus mile run. Over the last 16 weeks I’ve run on tired legs, sore legs, in oppressive heat and humidity, literally with just about every circumstance I might encounter on the day of an ironman. A few years ago, I put the number “8:47” on my bathroom wall. Until recently, it was a lofty (and unrealistic) goal for an ironman run pace. This week, it suddenly became a real number, if not in Boulder (and it’s accompanying altitude), then in Chattanooga seven weeks later. Either way, no matter what happens, the journey continues to inspire me and makes me rather bear these workouts than fly to those that I know not of (my apologies to William Shakespeare).