It's time to start letting people in on my massive rethink.
When I started running trail ultras, it was a reaction to what was wrong in my racing career. I got tired of training like a maniac for months to drive all day to race a 5K or 10K, only to have everyone jump into their cars immediately after finishing to beat the crush of those still on the course. Ultras, if nothing else, provide the opportunity to know other runners as more than someone to pass or to be passed by.
I kept at it because I was learning. Everything I thought I knew about training and racing falls apart when one runs all day. And I was bad at it, so there was a lot of learning.
Being away from "real" racing has given me some perspective. It's time to re-evaluate some of the things that I've held to be inviolate truths. Here's number one, of what may be many, ideas in this string:
I recently became upset over the fact that I couldn't run fast any more, and by "fast," I meant that I couldn't get myself to run better than 20 miles per hour for even one second, as I could not so many years ago. Part of me was willing to say, "Well, I just got old" and leave it at that. Nerves fire a little more slowly, and you can't turn the legs over as quickly. Another part of me was saying that I was just out of practice, that years of running slow has made it harder to get back.
I've lost ankle flexibility. I have a common(-ish) heel deformity that's led to severe retrocalcaneal bursitis, which I though I've dealt with as well as possible. The bursa presses upon the achilles tendon, which effectively shortens it, causing a decrease in the range of motion in the joint. I'm losing a little bit of ground with every single step. It's time to work on that.
I've lost hip flexibility. Tight abductors cause me to take shorter steps, with longer "push-off," the longer ground contact slowing me down. This tightness and high mileage has led to overdevelopment of low back musculature, compared to abdominal strength. This has led to the swaybacked bad posture I've been trying to correct. It's time to work on the cause, rather than the symptom.
I've lost hamstring flexibility. 80000-plus miles of running has caused my hamstrings to become strong, but rigid (I've had tight hamstrings since being a teenager, but it's getting worse). My knee lift is poor, which I was attributing to the effcient ultrarunner shuffle, but which isn't improving at faster speeds. Add this to the hip problem and I get the next problem: lack of back kick. In photos of me running fast 20 years ago, my heels nearly reached my butt with each stride; now they barely go above my knee.
The idea "you get better at running by running" needs to be modified.