Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Month in Review (April)

4/2010: 163.3 miles
4/2011: 135.0 miles
4/2012: 164.9 miles
4/2013: 175.0 miles
4/2014: 200.1 miles

TL;DNR: Training is going well! I have lots of races coming up! I overthink things!

Well, somehow, I actually managed to survive April intact. All things considered, I'm pretty happy with where I'm at training-wise and I'm certainly excited for the next three weeks of racing.

I've been looking forward to May for a long time.

Three races, three weeks, 106 miles. One final month of training before the Big Horn 100 in June.

Heading into this year's training I knew April would be logistically tough. Perhaps my toughest month. Two months out from a hundred miler, variable spring conditions (to put it mildly), a family vacation, ten days of single parenting while my wife was off backpacking in Utah, and my precocious daughter's 5th birthday. There were a lot of responsibilities to balance. I'd have to get creative with my schedule and sneak in workouts whenever I could.

Colorado National Monument, Fruita, CO. A nice escape from winter.

This month was an incremental improvement over previous Aprils. Nothing fancy. No radical departures from my typical spring routine. I ran more or less the same routes I usually do this time of the year. I just tried to focus a little more on quality, pushing it a bit more than usual once or twice a week. Usually on the downhills. Earlier in the year, I was worried about trying to get a lot of vertical in April and I imagined myself climbing Mt. Elbert and/or doing laps up and down Ski Cooper. Instead, I eventually decided to let that dream go and focus more on speed. (Or, what passes for speed for me at 10,000 ft.) It was logistically easier, if nothing else (i.e., less driving to trailheads, more road running from my door). Plus, looking at my monthly totals over the years, it struck me how much my average pace slows down in June, July, and August when all I'm doing is running up and down the local peaks. April has always been one of my fastest months, simply due to the fact that my long runs tend to be flatter and at lower elevations. Perhaps I've under-appreciated the benefits of a 3 hour 20-mile run. Of course, aesthetically, I'll always prefer the 5 hour 20-mile trip over Hope Pass and back in June. There's no question about that. It's just more fun. But that doesn't necessarily mean that a flatter option run at a faster pace doesn't have its place. Variety is the key to adaptation and improvement-- or so I tell myself.

On top of Red Hill, Carbondale, CO. 800 ft of vertical in 1 mile. Mt. Sopris in the distance.

So, with the generous help of my wife, babysitters, Aunt Jennifer, and some PTO, I managed to string together four weeks of relatively consistent training. Sure, I spent a fair amount of time on the bike trainer, but no more than last April. I ran a long run every week, plus a couple of 10-milers midweek when time and weather permitted. Though we still have plenty of snow leftover from winter, April's weather was actually pretty nice. Much better than the blustery, grey April we had last year, that's for sure. I set a few PRs on some local routes around town, so that was a nice confirmation that my training was headed in the right direction. Still, I had some nagging doubts about my fitness as I never quite nailed a long run. I was putting in some solid efforts, but generally a bit slower than similar runs I ran last April. On paper, I was supposed to be in better shape this April as I had more miles, more time, and more long runs under my belt than ever before.

Expectations are dangerous things.

Last Friday, on my long run down in Buena Vista, I finally nailed it. As has become my tradition, I run a 20-mile loop on the course the week before the race. I took the first 13 miles pretty casually, up until the top of Lenhardy Hill. It was a gorgeous spring day. Checking my watch, I was about 2-3 minutes slower than my effort up until that point on last year's training run. Then I gritted my teeth and pushed for the final 7 miles, making up ~1 min/mile, and set a 5-minute PR for the route. It felt great.

Around mile 14 on the Collegiate Peaks course. Mt. Princeton in the distance.

Setting a PR on a long run was the final missing piece of evidence that I was hoping for. All my training these past four months seems to have paid off. And, maybe-- just maybe-- another PR at Collegiate Peaks is possible this year.

I consider last year's race one of the best races I've ever run-- second maybe only to last year's Silver Rush. It was a good day. A very good day. I surprised myself. I honestly think it would be easier (though by no means easy) for me to set another PR at the Leadville 100. So, another PR at Collegiate Peaks will be very tough-- far from guaranteed. If I could improve my time by 5 minutes and go sub-4 hours, I'd be thrilled. Of all my races this May, I find Collegiate Peaks (the shortest race) to be the most intimidating-- precisely because my PR is so stout; the margin for error so slim.

Even though it isn't a focus race for me, I am still very motivated run Collegiate Peaks as well as I can. I often tell myself that I should just relax and quit obsessing over splits... If I PR, great. If not, who cares? But, I do enjoy the challenge of setting a PR. It's a very personal challenge-- I'm racing against my previous self, chasing my own ghost. It's an affirmation of all the extra work I put in during training this year. All those slow, snowy slogs up California Gulch. I know at some point the PRs are going to stop. And I certainly can't expect the ridiculous PRs I managed to set last year to continue indefinitely. I love trail running for its own sake. And I can think of no better way to spend my days during Leadville's wonderful summers. But, I can't deny that working hard and seeing an improvement is very rewarding too. So, I guess I'll enjoy it while I can! Like everything, there's a balance. You want to see constant improvement, but there are limitations and factors beyond your control. Tight calves. A side stitch. Heat. A strong headwind. A cold. Any of those things could easily slow me down the few minutes it would take to put a PR out of reach.

So, we'll see... I'm excited. I'll be grateful to show up at the starting line healthy, ready to race. Who knows what will happen? That's why we run these things...