Saturday, September 3, 2011

Running some numbers (pardon the pun)

All right, I think it's working. Now that I got the big stuff out of the way in that last updates entry, I feel liberated to devote an entry to some elaboration on the smaller stuff.

Shockingly (I've become so predictable, I worry), the topic I'm drawn to write about is running. In my pre-Seattle life, I'd never raced longer than a half marathon - and only one of those, at that. Since moving here barely two years ago, I've done 10 races longer than the half-marathon distance that once seemed quite daunting indeed.

Not that I really hold a candle to the many, many talented and prolific runners out there who are putting in huge miles way beyond what I do. The great thing about the running world is how simultaneously empowering and humbling it can be. Nevertheless, my move to Seattle clearly marked a turning point in my athletic life. As I head into my most dense period of endurance racing yet, I found myself crunching some numbers tonight - and turned up some interesting results.

Of the four marathons and ultramarathons I've run, there has been a distinct hierarchy in my mind on how I'd rank my performance in each, relative to perceived exertion.

#1: Eugene Marathon, May 2011 (3:45:16)
#2: Vashon Ultra 50K - Trail, June 2010 (5:34:34)
#3: Vashon Ultra 50K - Trail, June 2011 (5:36:24)
#4: Seattle Marathon, August 2009 (3:55:51)

Eugene was just a blast, hands down. I felt strong and relaxed pretty much the whole way. I knew what I was doing. It wasn't the longest distance I'd ever run before. I'd had more racing experience to fuel and hydrate properly on the run.
The 2010 Vashon was also a blast. Nervous about tackling a distance six miles beyond what I'd ever run before - and on trail, to boot - I started very conservatively. I had the wonderful Elodie to pace me the last ten miles. It was challenging, sure, but again, I felt strong and solid the whole way through - and even knocked out a miraculous first place finish.
The 2011 Vashon, though my pace reflected almost identical performance to 2010, was much, much harder for me - physically and thus, mentally. Things just didn't feel as good as the previous year.
The 2009 Seattle marathon was just kind of a mess. It was exciting because it was my first, and I had about 16 or 17 really amazing miles - but I just totally fell apart after that. Rookie mistakes. Got cocky, started too fast, didn't really fuel, and so forth.

Until tonight, I'd never really sat down and taken a hard look at the statistics of my training/preparation for each of these events. During my extremely brief stint working at 24 Hour Fitness when I first moved to Seattle, I remember consulting a personal trainer, Kyle, about marathon training tips. He'd run a bunch of marathons and ultras, and his biggest piece of advice was, "Don't underestimate the importance of running high weekly mileage."

If my general training strategy has a weakness, it is indeed in my weekly mileage. When I meet new people and am preceded by my running reputation, they often assume I must run all the time - every day, at the very least. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anywhere from zero to two runs a week is pretty standard for me, three runs a real accomplishment, and four runs a week a rare miracle.

Tonight, I looked at my training log and added up the average weekly mileage stats for the 8 weeks preceding each major endurance race I've done. I found some astounding and revealing differences that I'd never really noted in comparison before.

#1: 2011 Eugene - 25 miles/week + 1-4 cross-training sessions (max: 43-mile week, longest single run in training: 24 miles)
#2: 2010 Vashon - 32 miles/week + 1-2 X-training (max: 48-mile week, longest in training: 25 miles)
#3: 2011 Vashon - 22 miles/week, no X-training (max: 41-mile week, longest in training: 20 miles)
#4: 2009 Seattle - 19 miles/week + 0-1 X-training (max: 33-mile week, longest in training: 21.5 miles)

See? I don't run as much as most of you think I do. For all the rambling I do about it on my blog, I'm really quite a part time runner.

So what conclusions can I draw from all this? First, that Kyle was right: weekly miles matter. Second, that racing experience also matters - but not so much that it will totally compensate for under-training. Third, that cross-training is generally a good idea. Fourth: given that conventional marathon-training advice states that beginners should aim to run 30-50 miles/week in training, I could probably be a hell of a lot better of an athlete if I just put in few more miles each week.

On a curious sidenote, my overall body weight seems to have little effect at the margin. I don't keep consistently detailed track of my weight, but suffice to say that I was roughly ten pounds heavier when I ran the Eugene marathon than I was when I ran Seattle. In that case, perhaps overall racing experience did compensate after all. Hmm!

Anyway, here's to running higher mileage. I've logged 42 miles and 3 cross-training sessions this week, with six weeks until marathon day - so far, so good. Now, off to bed so I can get up and squeeze in some miles before hitting up the river in the afternoon for string band practice :)

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