Things are going well in my preparation for the Chippewa 50K. More importantly, I'm learning a ton and enjoying myself and these three things are interconnected. Here's what's going on.
Just because I'm not getting faster doesn't mean I'm not improving.
I have always been able to go faster easier than to go further. I would build up to a certain number of miles (or minutes) per week and, as I got used to the volume, the average pace would improve. That has not been happening of late. I was on track to run 5:00 a month ago and I'm on track for 5:00 now. But the odds of hitting that time are improving. The overall weekly pace is the same, the overall pace of the hard runs is the same, but the workouts contain more quality work with slower recovery.
One of my failings in training for marathon/50K has been to have all the elements covered, but not being able to put them together. What I'm doing differently this time is to put my fast runs and long runs together. My Saturday run is my long run, but I'm trying to make the last miles of it marathon pace or better; this generally has been mile to two mile repeats at pace - but I fall a little short, as I tend to go out just a bit fast at the start. This brings me to the next lesson:
It's the idea of the run, not the numbers, that matter.
I have always been an obsessive numbers guy. What that leads to is setting a workout in stone, fretting about it, dreading it and, when it's not perfectly executed, getting depressed or angry and trying to make up for it in the next workout. Knowing the purpose of the workout and keeping it firmly in mind while doing it allows me to now know I'm accomplishing my goal, whether or not the actual numbers are what I want.
My Tuesday run is my other hard day. To not let Saturday's too-slow pace worry me, I do this one starting hard and then having a very long cool-down that becomes exasperatingly slow as my body rebels. This by itself would also bother me, as I'd be worried I couldn't maintain pace for long enough, but, combined with Saturday's run, I have the bases covered.
A day off has unexpected benefits.
I'm intentionally not running at all on Fridays. I knew that this would help me be ready for Saturday's hard run, but it's had psychological benefits. On Thursday, which is a moderate day, I tend to flag toward the end as the cumulation of the week has been grinding me down, but knowing I have a day off makes me work a little harder; it's a boost to think "just do this and you can rest tomorrow."
In the past, this would be an easy day, rather than a completely off day and that doesn't have the same feel. On Friday, I simply do not think about running at all; the incessant planning and analyzing stops. My day is completely filled with the rest of life, as whatever I have to do, I find myself saying, "I have all day Friday for that." The week's worries become one day's worries.
Sprinting isn't just about running fast.
I've been doing a lot of 100m strides at 1 Mile pace and a lot of all-out sprints (of about 35 meters). Knowing that I have these gears - and that they are separate gears - is reassuring. Also, it's fun! These workouts have unexpected benefits, as well.
My Sunday run has been a moderate run, fairly long - which I'm hoping will give me the necessary stamina for the 50K without having to do all the long run on Saturday. By adding speedwork to this, I find I concentrate on the speed and the miles click off, one by one, much easier than if I had nothing on which to focus except getting the mileage in.
The sprints leave my upper quads and hip flexors tired; in the first workouts, they were dead and ached the next day or two, but I've adapted nicely. This has made my hill runs much easier, as these are the same muscles that tend to fail on hills. I've recently run 10-11 miles with 200 feet of climb per mile at exactly the same pace as on flat ground and with no more effort! I look at these hill repeats as "easy" workouts now and look forward to them, as I can let my mind wander as the miles accumulate; these runs just happen to be the exact pace I want to run at Chippewa! This is far preferable to my old hill workouts - which, frankly I miss, as they're completely "me" - where I'd do my 5K-paced interval workouts, pushing my heart and lungs to their limits.
Unlike the Daniels or Hudson plans, these sprints and strides are not after a run, but one-per-mile during it. This allows me to fully recover, to get the average pace of the run a bit faster and I'm not doing the sprints uphill a la Hudson, but separating the ideas of speed and hill.
Pace judgment is better than accuracy.
I'm still doing some interval runs. I'm doing them on a flat-ish loop home course where I know the quarter mile marks (within a few yards), rather than on a track or relying on a GPS to tell me where I am or how fast I'm going. Doing hard runs on tracks has always led me to heel injuries and I'm avoiding that for the most part, though the hard runs that were forced indoors by weather always ended with sore heels. By not having constant feedback on the numbers, the distance, the time, the heart rate, etc., I'm getting a better feel for effort levels and for the concomitant paces.
I'm hoping that this will serve me well in the 50K. I'm known for going out hard, dying, getting angry and then rallying or just stubbornly slogging to the end. I don't have the 5-6 hour training runs in the bank, though, so going that long is going to be enough of a challenge. I need to go out conservatively, ultraconservatively for me, and push the second half. To do that, I have to have a feel for pace.
I'm starting to build confidence that I've got this figured out. That confidence is as important as preparation.