Saturday, January 3, 2015

Month in Review (December)

December training history.
Well, I managed to survive the holidays-- and my first month of training for Hardrock-- intact.

So far, so good.

The highlight of the month was our annual hut trip-- this year to Uncle Bud's, up above Turquoise Lake. Each year, about a dozen of us (HMI faculty and friends) rent out an entire hut for three nights and enjoy backcountry skiing, eating, and drinking in equal measure. It's always a challenge to haul the kids in, along with the ridiculous quantities of food and alcohol, but it's always worth it. This year Santa gave me some sweet new Black Diamond skis to replace my aging Tuas, so it was especially fun. And the skiing was as good as it gets. Hero snow.

After my less-than-stellar experience at Leadville this year, I spent the fall simply trying to recover from my summer injuries. No fall races for me. I was done for the season. I'd test my Achilles and my knee a few times a week with short runs on the trails around town. And, I joined my wife on a few longer runs as she trained for the Golden Leaf half marathon. (It was a ton of fun. We rarely get a chance to run together like we did when we were first dating. Ah, kids...)

Initially my soreness/stiffness faded relatively quickly, but it took quite a while for it to fully disappear. The last 10% or so of my recovery dragged on and on. (In fact, I probably still have 1% to go.) I diligently followed every Achilles and runner's knee treatment protocol I could find (mostly calf dips, foam rolling, and single leg squats, plus higher-drop shoes), but it took wearing an embarrassingly awkward night splint for about a month before my Achilles finally recovered. It wasn't bothering me much on my runs-- just a few brief periods of stiffness during the first mile-- but my first few steps in the morning were always a little sore. The splint fixed that. Old-fashioned static stretching for the win! In retrospect, I wish I had experimented with the night splint way back late May when I first came down with Achilles pain. That might have saved me from the tedium of 1,000,000 calf dips.

During September and October I just ran whenever I felt like it, with no particular goal other than to overcome my injuries. In November, I started trying to string together some very modest workouts, all run at MAF. I just wanted to see if I could actually train multiple days in a row without regressing. After a bit of trail-and-error, I finally convinced myself that I was progressing in the right direction. So, when December rolled around, I was ready to give it a go, and jump back in to everyday early season training. The Hardrock lottery was still a week away, but I wanted to get started a bit early, just in case.

Of course, seeing my name drawn for Hardrock was a dream come true. Five years of waiting. Think about it. Five years. That's the amount of time I spent as an undergraduate and graduate student combined. Damn. That's a long time to wait. However, it's undeniable that having such an inspiring race in front of me is fantastic motivation. And, I'm almost certainly better off having waited. More experienced, and in a much better position to appreciate it.

I'm still nervous that my body hasn't fully recovered from the summer, so I'm trying to be very disciplined about my training load and my recovery. I don't want to screw this up! Looking back, I noticed a pattern of getting injured every other year. ITBS in '10, injury-free in '11, ITBS in '12, injury-free in '13, and Achilles tendonitis and runner's knee in '14. So, I should be fine in '15, right? No problem!

During the fall, I obsessively poured over all my training data from December through May, looking for an explanation as to why I became so injured this year. At the month-to-month level, nothing immediately jumped out at me. It's not like I trained twice as much as I had in the past or something crazy like that. My training hours each month were approximately the same as they had been previously. Yes, I was training a bit more trying to prepare for a big June race (as opposed to my normal August-focused schedule), but nothing too dramatic. I won't bore you with all the details, but I eventually came up with a theory which involved too much cross-training, too much "quality", and not enough easy, midweek jogs to support the long runs I was running every week. Basically, I was pushing too hard on a regular basis without enough of a base of easy, midweek runs. Though I was probably fitter than I'd ever been at that time of year, it was a "fragile" fitness. My body just wasn't prepared to absorb the crazy race schedule I set for myself in May. Simply put, I had spent too much time on the bike trainer and not enough time jogging.

The other funny quirk I noticed was that I never got sick in early '14. So, I had no enforced rest from January through May. In contrast, I came down with an illness in late February and in early April in '13, which forced me to take a few days off from training and recover. Probably a blessing in disguise. In '15, I'd like to be a little more willing to take a few days off each month if I'm feeling beat up. I don't want to blindly chase a training streak just for the sake of streaking.

So, in light of all this, I've tweaked how I track my training this year. It's all about time now-- not miles. And, I split apart my running, biking, and skiing into separate categories to help make sure that I maintain a properly run-focused ratio of workouts. Instead of retreating indoors to my bike trainer when the weather is grim, I suck it up and plod down the Boulevard. I'm always bundled up and running on snow, so my times are pretty pathetic. But, I don't care. In fact, more time is better! I start by saying to myself something like, "This month I want to train approximately 7 hours/week, with no more than 1 hour of cross-training per week. And, I want to get in two 3 hour runs." Then I start to slot in workouts to match the required time. At this point, almost everything I'm doing is at MAF. If I'm feeling motivated I might push things a bit-- but only once a week. No more. And these quality runs aren't planned in advance. It's all by feel. I want to build up a solid base of easy jogging so that when I really start to ramp things up in the spring I can properly absorb it.

Primarily tracking training time makes sense to me for a variety of reasons. It's something I've always thought about doing, but never truly embraced.

First, it's the best metric I can think of to track and compare training across multiple sports-- my primary activities being running, biking, and skiing. And, believe me, I need some variety to survive Leadville's winters. It can't all be running all the time. Of course, time is not perfect. An hour on the bike is not the same as an hour jog (that's part of what got me into trouble last year), but it's a better metric than distance. (I mean, how much is a mile of skiing "worth" compared to a mile of running? How about a mile of biking?)

Second, it's the best metric for my training environment. I'm training at 10,000 ft. I just can't get in as many miles as I could at sea level. Comparing my weekly distance to runners at lower elevations is just depressing. And, during winter, I'm very much at the mercy of the current snow conditions. Sometimes I'm wearing screw-shoes, sometimes microspikes, sometimes snowshoes. My pace (and thus distance) is all over the map. I can't really control it. But I can control the time I spend training. For example, if I set for myself the goal of 40 miles/week, that would be relatively easy to accomplish on a business trip to Boston or a family vacation to Florida. It might only take me, say, 6 hours. But in Leadville? During a snowy week? Probably 8 hours or more. Those are two very different training loads. Better to start with a goal time and work backwards from there.

Thirdly, coming off an injury-plagued season, I feel like I need to do everything I can to "reward" easy running. Tracking training time doesn't incentivize speed. Of course I want to be fast, but hopefully that will come naturally once I've put in the required time. I've got to be patient. The quality will come. And when it does, it has to be balanced with the appropriate amount of jogging at a conversational pace. (The 80/20 rule.)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I'm going to be very focused on high-altitude vertical in my training for Hardrock. (Duh.) That will eventually mean a ridiculous amount of hiking up the local mountains. Comparing the miles I log this year to the miles I logged in previous years would be misleading. Even though I plan to train harder than I ever have before, I may not actually log more miles! Again, using training time for comparison purposes seems like the best option to me. I can better gauge where I'm at compared to previous years.

What I've been up to since Leadville. Yellow = bike. Blue = ski. Green = 90+ min workout. Distance is run-only.
December-August training hours per week. Blue '13, Red '14, Orange '15. The huge spikes that go off the graph are Bighorn and Leadville. Ideally, I'd like a 4-week chunk above 15-hour mark just before Hardrock.
What I've been up to the last 5 years! Training time by month, generally peaking in June/July each year (but May last year).