I went against my plan to write more than 2 posts for the "what runners think about" theme but it's been so long since I have written anything that it seems like that ship has sailed.
About 6 weeks ago I felt like my running went to another level. I had been running pretty well last year, completing some good races, and finishing my first marathon, but it still felt like I was holding on for dear life, clinging to what used to be, instead of running with confidence about where I was in the here and now. About 6 weeks ago that changed. O.K. Maybe it was 8 weeks, I don't know. But like most intangible changes in our lives, it's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment of decision or transformation. It mostly happens over time and is a compilation of numerous small commitments over time.
In this post, and maybe the next if I run out of room, I'd just like to share what seems to have led to this break through in my running life. There are some clear differences in my training, my preparation, and my racing that have contributed to this new phase of my running life, my second "career" if you will.
*Side note: The majority of what follows I have not come up with out of thin air. Some of it, I hope, is what I've learned personally, but a lot of it has been influenced directly by friends or coaches, and primarily the site www.strengthrunning.com by Jason Fitzgerald. So, Fitz, you probably won't read this, but if you do, you get most of the credit here. This blog will be more of a testimonial to the fact that this stuff works.
The Trial of Miles
Nothing has made more of a difference in my running than, well, running. I used to be so skeptical of high mileage runners thinking that they were just begging for an injury or wondering where they found the time to put in the miles. My old way to thinking was to run like 30-40 miles a week but to run them all pretty hard with tons of speed work. My new motto is: "every mile counts." It really does. Last month I ran 262 miles which was the total of all of November, December, and January combined. It's true that I was battling some injuries during those months but the reason I'm feeling strong is that I'm running more.
The thing is, you can't just decide to run 60 miles next week because it's good for you. Starting after the Paris Marathon in early April I began a slow build which took me to 70 miles a week at the end of July. That means it took nearly 4 months to get to the place where I could just begin to enter the conversation as a "high mileage" runner. Most guys I know thing 75 is the minimum in that realm. So, it takes time, but the build is worth it.
Strength is the Secret
If I was writing this post 10 years ago I would have titled this section "Speed is the Secret." Strength was for discus throwers and football players. All I needed to do was run, and run faster. The problem was I could never run for more than 3 months at a time without being seriously injured. Stress fractures in the shins, IT band problems, Runner's Knee, Achille's strains, Sprained ankles, Compartment Syndrome, and all around fatigue were just some of the injuries that have plagued me in the past. What I didn't know is that you can actually prevent these injuries. But that takes time too. The routines on Fitz' previously mentioned website have done wonders for my legs. I start every run with his Standard Warmup and then routinely incorporate Myrtl, Lunges, Calf Raises, IT Band rehab etc. I should also credit Jay Johnson for a lot of these ideas.
The other thing that I've committed to in terms of strength is core workouts. When I read Ryan Hall's stuff, I see him committed here as well and on hills it makes a major difference.
Speaking of hills, I love these workouts. Whether it's hill sprints, longer hill climbs, or just incorporating hills into almost every run, my legs are getting stronger, my heart as well, and I'm noticing a difference. I recently posted on Daily Mile that I'd take these hill workouts over everything else, including intervals on the track, when it comes to my race preparation. I run a real "hill workout" at least once a week.
Intelligence and Perspective
It's not hard to figure out that if you're getting hurt all the time you're doing something wrong. But it took years and years to figure that one out for me. I'm kind of dumb, or at least, very stubborn. Why I kept returning to the "way I did things when I was 15" is a mystery to me, but we use what we know for the most part. So, thanks to some guys on DM and also reading online, I've come to realize that when an "easy" day is on the schedule, you must run easy. For me that means about 7:20 per mile (I can cheat to 7 minutes in my HR zone). The thing is, I could run everything at 6:30-6:40 pace if I really wanted to, but not every day is a race. Easy days are there for a reason. And the main reason that they're there is to keep you healthy to that you can rock your hard days. When my legs are fresh, my hard days are totally under control.
The final thing that I'll share is just about perspective. It's related to my mental approach, so I've combined them. Basically, I've been married 9 years, I have two kids, I'm doing my dream job, and while life has hard parts, things are going pretty well. So, whether or not I PR or smoke a tempo run or whatever is really just beside the point. I love to run. I like to explore my limits, but it's all relative. I log the miles because I want to. I could do something else, like watch TV or waste time online or something but I'd rather take the extra time and run where I can think, pray, listen to books or whatever. This perspective is crucial when I miss a workout or something because this is a long term commitment, not a short lived fad.
And that my friends, are some of the things that have led to my recent break through. In technical terms this means that I'm seriously wanting to go sub 34 in the 10k, probably 1:17-1:18 in the half and maybe 2:48 in the marathon this fall. But you know what, if I don't hit any of those goals, who cares? I'm in the best shape of my life and loving every minute of it.