Thursday, January 19, 2012

2012 Mileage Goals

It's that time of year again: January. Spreadsheets beckon and plans for the upcoming year are hatched.

In 2010 and 2011 my mileage totals from January to August were almost exactly the same: 1,200 miles. Each year I basically started from scratch. In 2010 I hadn't run a step in years and could barely manage a 3-mile run without collapsing. I'd never even run a 5k, never mind a 100 miler. In 2011 I hadn't run step since August-- I had stopped cold turkey after my first successful Leadville finish, thinking that I was done with running for good. In 2010 I finished Leadville in 29:36 and in 2011 I finished my second Leadville 100 in 29:22. One would think that 1,200 miles of training predictably results in a 29 hour finish for me. Maybe so, but I'm convinced I can do better without drastically raising my mileage.

Though my total training miles were basically the same in '10 and '11, their distribution was very different.

  • I slowly built up to big monthly totals in the spring (Well, big for me. I ran 240 miles in May).
  • As I got more confident, I started to get lazy with my shorter, midweek runs and began skipping them. (What good is a piddly little 5 mile run?)
  • I ended up running slow, big miles on the weekends. (For example, I ran 50 miles each weekend in June while running basically nothing during the week.)
  • Not surprisingly in hindsight, I injured my left IT band in July and pretty much took the entire month off except for a few weekend runs. (Basically, I took a way too long, injury-enforced taper.)
  • I power-limped almost the entire 100 course with multiple, pre-existing leg injuries (left IT band, right hamstring, and a compensatory left shin splint). I couldn't move downhill without ibuprofen. I owe my first Leadville 100 finish to Advil!
  • I felt strongest while going up Hope, during which I probably passed 50+ runners.
  • I stopped running.
  • I slowly built up mileage until March, making use of my bike trainer in January and February whenever the temperatures were ridiculous.
  • Multiple nasty head colds and stomach bugs in April and May limited my training. (I blame my daughter's plague-infested day care!)
  • I consistently stuck to my shorter, midweek runs from June through August. I broke many PRs on my shorter local training routes. My average pace over the course of my training was way, way faster than in 2010.
  • However, I didn't go on as many 20+ mile training runs. Pretty much the only time I would run 20+ miles was when I was running a race.
  • In contrast with '10, July was my most disciplined, highest mileage month.
  • Despite taking it super easy to May Queen, I ran to Winfield a full hour faster than in '10. Absolutely no leg pain. I never took a painkiller the entire race. Instead I fought nausea. I couldn't get enough calories in me after mile 40, slowly faded and walked it in.
  •  I felt strongest from May Queen to Twin during which I passed ~200 people. I ran the ~90th fastest split from Half Pipe to Twin. I was ecstatic. Sadly, it would not last.
  • I continued running 20 miles a week for the rest of the year.
As I look back at my training logs from these two years I'm convinced that ideally what I need to do is to basically combine the best parts of both of them. I need to run strong during the week and run long on the weekends. The faster, shorter midweek runs open up my stride, keep my legs flexible, build aerobic capacity. The longer, slower weekend runs build endurance and provide opportunities for running on dead legs. It's easy to trick yourself and inflate your training mileage by simply running more shorter, faster runs. And it's easy to get caught up with trying to set PRs on the routes you run every week. And those PRs can lead to an over-estimation of your fitness at longer miles. I was probably in pretty good shape to run a half marathon in July last year! While valuable by itself, the midweek run is primarily there to support the long weekend run.

Don't get hung up on mileage totals-- whether they be weekly, monthly, or yearly. Look deeper. Look at the distribution of those miles. Think about time on your feet. Think about elevation gain. Think about altitude. Get in those longer runs and exhausting back-to-back runs. Forget the first 50 miles of Leadville, it's the second 50 miles that you're training for!

I work 40 hours a week making computer games. (A rough life, I know.) My wife works 60+ hours a week in the summer directing the High Mountain Institute's summer programs. We have a beautiful, precocious two and half year old daughter who demands our attention. (Rightly so!) Number two is on the way this July! It's tough to find the time to run. It certainly doesn't just happen organically. It takes a lot of communication, planning, and plenty of baby sitters! 3,000 miles a year is just not an option for me.

That's OK. I'd rather have a realistic training schedule with goals I can actually attain than disappoint myself trying to keep up with an over-ambitious training schedule that doesn't mesh with reality. I enjoy and appreciate the time I do have to run. And you can certainly run a 100 miler successfully on 50 miles a week. You just have to be smart about it.

While a pretty good predictor of success, total training mileage doesn't necessarily tell the whole story.

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