Sunday, April 29, 2012

Thoughts on my training

I am a romantic, yes, but also to a great extent a scientist and a realist. This creates the conflict from which I emerge occasionally victorious, but out of breath.
Henri Matisse

I had planned to run a piece of the Foothills Trail this weekend. I’ve been threatening to dip my toe in that monster that a bunch of my local runner friends have made their personal Moby Dick, doing it in pieces, or the entire length, or one crazy cat’s double crossing. I had hoped to have company, but I’ve run thousands of miles alone in both familiar and strange woods. 
Then life popped up. My children take precedence over everything, and they have made some sacrifices for me to go running all day. All of a sudden, the timing fell apart, and late Saturday night, the Bench became impossible.
I figured I’d replace the run with 25 or so miles here at Croft, and cut out the 3 hours driving time. But I woke this morning nauseous, through all the preparation for the run, including the drive down to Croft and the 100 yard jog to stash water. I bagged the run.
The Bench
Cue voices: The Bench isn’t going anywhere (unless some crazed runner throws it into Lake Jocassee). I’m more fit than I’ve been in years, and my endurance is at its highest ever. I have to let these life moments and physical hints in, even though a significant part of endurance training lies in ignoring those signals. I guess I have to decide when to listen.
All this reminds me of an interesting discussion that has gone on in ultra-running for some time now, and which was elegantly added to by two top ultra-runners these days. Geoff Roes (Western States 100 and Wasatch 100 course record holder) and Ian Torrence (a long history of running, coaching and winning) have opposite views of the importance of speed training for ultra-running, but the bigger question they raise is about their own tendency to plan or not plan a training regimen. 
Torrance, a more old school runner and coach, holds that training for any distance requires three parts: endurance, stamina, and speed. The structured plans with the scheduled workouts keep him focused and confident when he races. Roes runs by feel, and says he doesn’t decide more than a day or two ahead of time what he’ll run. He may have a goal in mind (strength, or endurance) that informs his decisions, but other than that he runs with no plan.
Deciding which is “better” is pretty impossible, given the success each has had. Obviously, what works for Roes and Torrance works for them. But over 28 years of running, “what works for me” has varied greatly, depending somewhat on job, school, family, maintaining or regaining fitness, and all the other variables of life, the universe, and everything. Sometimes I have been very focused, and fairly rigid in my plan, in part to schedule with my running partners, too. Other times, I have run when I could, balancing family and career needs, especially when my kids were very young. Now I have one plan--to run every day. Beyond that, I still fall between Roes and Torrance.
I run long one day every weekend, with very few exceptions unless I’m injured or sick or worn out. “Long” has varied, but I generally have time at least one day a weekend to wear myself out. These days I count backwards from a race and write “20+” or “25+” on particular weekends. So I have some sense of what my schedule may look like.
But even then, I will change my plan if circumstances call for it. At this point in my preparation for Highlands Sky, I need to stay rested, mentally and physically. I know I’ll get some long runs in.
It seems to me that what this comes down to is art versus science. But we know that the best art involves science and the best science involves art. No one has yet come down on which is more important, or “better.” Certainly there is science behind Roes’s penchant for the vertical, though his approach may be more like art. Torrance’s art comes in the arrangement of the parts, the structure of the structured plan.  
The Snail, 1953, Gouache on paper, cut and pasted, on white 
paper, 287 cm × 288 cm (112 3/4 × 108 inches), Tate Gallery, London

This could be my training plan.
I train in patterns: long run on the weekend, a medium run or two (7-10) during the week, and the rest recovery runs. Since I’ve been running every day, I run three hard weeks building mileage, then one down week to recover. Because I’m running a 40-mile distance I’ve never run before, I’ll add some mileage to my weeks, which will likely fall in the 50-60 mile range. The pattern flexes in many spots, which is to me its strength.
Through all of this I keep in mind something that George Zack, a versatile runner and popular blogger whom I admire for his commitment to training and family and the balance, has been writing about lately.  We have goals, we train to improve, we sometimes put a hurt on ourselves for it. But I’m not making any money at this. “This ain’t the Olympics,” he says. 
When I lived in Charlottesville in the mid-80s, I was running faster and faster times. I’d been running for a full year by then, and I was logging higher and higher mileage. I had no family, no girlfriend (hence all the running, right?), and Charlottesville was (and is) a great running town. I was starting to get into the idea of training, learning from running guru Mark Lorenzoni about training strategies. We did weekly speed workouts, weekly long runs, some tempo running, and my times were plummeting.  
I wanted to break 17 minutes for 5K, and went to local race to do it. There was an accompanying 10K. Mark told me another fellow was also trying break 17 minutes, and said I should hook up with him. I asked this fellow if he minded if I tagged onto him. As we talked more, he told me that he preferred 10Ks, and if “I had my choice,” he said, he would run the longer race that day.
“Had his choice,” I thought? Who is keeping this guy from running whatever he wants to run? I guess it was his training plan. I knew then that I would not train like that. I was loving the 5Ks at the time (and other than the local beer and doughnut run, I haven’t run one in several years). You can imagine what happened. I ran about 16:40, the other guy about 17:20. I ran a distance I loved, he ran a distance he didn’t.
Those Charlottesville days were my schooling. I’ve never had a coach, and days hanging out in the Ragged Mountain Running Shop lacing shoes with Mark were my education. I still value Mark’s greatest running lesson: to love what I’m doing, and to do what I love, whether it’s art or science, romantic or realist. 

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