Like a lot of people, I assume everything's okay until I hear differently. Then I go out of my way to make sure I don't have my assumptions messed up by actual facts. For example, many years ago, I had some very basic tests done: blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, etc. and expected all the numbers would be excellent; after all, I'm a healthy guy, right? My blood pressure was 119/79 (just barely under "borderline high"), and my total cholesterol was 212.
That was a shock. And again, like most people, I rationalized it as a one-time thing, that a second test in a couple of weeks would be completely normal. Again, I was wrong. So, I had to take a hard look at what I was doing that wasn't right and could be fixed. A couple of dietary changes (here's the first thing I've ever endorsed on this blog! The DASH diet) and my blood pressure was 106/64 and cholesterol 171 (HDL=57).
So, what does this have to do with anything?
I'm training to run a particularly difficult race (Superior Sawtooth 100) and I'm assuming that I have the basic fitness I need to do it, having finished a couple of 100's and having run most of the course. That assumption might just be faulty, however. For one thing, my two 100 mile finishes involved some severe back pain along the way.
The 100 is a strange beast. It hunts out your weaknesses. Most runners have very strong hamstrings and assume they have equally strong quadriceps; then downhill trail running for several hours proves them wrong. Runners frequently find out that it's the smaller, little-known muscles that are problematic: piriformis, popliteus, etc. (I personally have had problems with the attachments of semi-membranosus and semi-tendinosus muscles.) The small muscles fatigue faster than the big ones and, if one has fatigued the larger ones, the smaller ones get called on to a greater extent and then they fail.
For me, there's been problems with "core" muscles. I find it harder to stand and watch a marathon than to run one, as my back starts to ache; that makes 30 plus hours of running an even bigger challenge. Thus, I started doing some basic exercises to strengthen the weak links.
I felt I was doing enough. Many ultrarunners do a lot of strength training, but they tend to be in "I want to be able to do anything" super-fitness mode, whereas I just want to be able to run a little bit further and a little bit faster. I remember telling Adam Harmer, after he started in "primal training" and boasted about how many squats he was doing, "If I have to do 50 squats during a trail race, I'll just cut down my fiber."
But do I have the just-barely-there strength I need? Erika's blog had a post that got me wondering how I'd stack up against some basic measures: the army standards and the Presidential Challenge. I ran indoors at the Metrodome Tuesday and, in my 10 miles in 76 minutes, did 5 in 35, with each lap faster than the one before, getting me 2 miles under 13 and the last 1 at 6 min./mile (it's hard to get an accurate measure there); that would be at the top of the charts for anyone. I also passed the sit-up tests. The push-up test was a definite failure. The pull-up test was a huge, embarassing failure. The shuttle run I passed more easily than finding a place to do it. The V-sit flexibility test was a failure (I've always had very tight hamstrings), but just barely; a little warm-up and I'd probably have passed.
I have my excuses. I have my rationalizations. I also have the hard facts. While I've always known my weaknesses, now I know exactly how far I have to go and how to get there. I still think that running hills for hours will give me the specific strength I need for my race, but perhaps I should be doing other things as well.
I'm a confessed dinosaur: "you train to run by running." Has the last dinosaur gone extinct?
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