When one's season is over or one's forced into an injury lay-off, it's natural to think about what to do differently next time. Anyone who's followed this blog from the early days would say that I veered crazily between no mileage and 80+ miles per week, raced too often (e.g. six races, five of them ultras, in six weeks), went out too hard in every race, didn't allow injuries to heal, didn't pay attention to fueling or weather or terrain...
Well, that's common sense. This is about what I think went wrong. It's like everyone telling me to take some time to just run easy and enjoy myself; if a run isn't challenging, specific and purposeful, I won't do it. You're telling me I should be someone else.
I went into ultramarathons as a mental challenge, more than a physical one. Many people have tried to systematize marathoning, turning it into formulas and schedules, but no one's done that with longer races; that's part of the charm for many runners: there's no rules, no right or wrong way (well, until one's passed out at an aid station, anyway). The "experts" are simply those who have found what works for them. One could experiment and find what works, or one could try to duplicate what's been done by others. That second choice is a rookie mistake, which I fell into - just as one can't look at what champion marathoners do in training and scale it back to suit one's needs ( just how do you scale back 130 miles per week at 6 minutes per mile for a 4-hour marathoner?), one can't do it at longer distances either. For example, one top ultrarunner said his long runs were all about 4 hours long (about 30 miles!); does that mean one should try to run for 4 hours... or 30 miles... or does a slower runner need less... or more... was that done on roads or trails, on mountain trails, on a treadmill...was that done very slow and relaxed or was it challenging...
I've found that one can divide marathoners into groups depending on what number is important to them. For beginners, "26.2" is the only number, and the length of long runs is all-important. For the next group, what they care about is the number of finished marathons; they might run a marathon every weekend and what gets them there is continuous high mileage. Then comes the group for whom finishing time is the number that matters; for them, pacing and speedwork become more important than cranking out junk miles. Lastly, there are those who care about placing, where being #4 is a nightmare finish; oddly, these often are not working nearly as hard as the previous group in a race, as they pick and choose their races for easy wins, but they approach the race differently, as a race against others and not against themselves or the course or clock.
Ultras are exactly the same in those groupings. Training then becomes obvious - first you have to be able to do the long runs, then you worry about training volume, then about pacing, then about what others are doing.
This is getting long, so I'll try to cover the specifics of what I plan to do differently in another post.
2 days ago