Thursday, March 17, 2011

Beaten with Hammers

Last Christmas we were at Paige's folk's house in Albuquerque. I had just come back from a long run and Paige's sister asked me, "So what does it feel like to be in really great shape?"

Now most of the time, I'm just focussed on what I need to do to get this 47 year old body (shah-dup!) to move as quickly as possible. Being fit is certainly a nice side effect, but it's not my focus. But it was a fair question that I hadn't considered before in itself.

After a little reflection I replied, "Perpetually fatigued".

Certainly part of my response was a little tongue in cheek, but there is some truth to it. If you want to run competitively, then every other day doesn't cut it. If you want to seriously contend with the other folks toeing up to the line, you need to be running five or six days per week - and often more than once (doubles) on some days to hit the kind of mileage that teaches your body how to run fast.

And that time needs to be structured. There is your long run, your tempo run, track / speed work, second long run and of course the recovery runs not to mention the stretching, core work and strength training (a.k.a. uphill barf sessions). Every week is a balance to ride right on that fine edge of being just recovered enough to complete the next workout safely and with quality. Allow too much recovery time, and you're missing opportunity to push your body to the next level. Too little, and you get sick, injured or just stranded in the no man's land of feeling flat. Self awareness is your best friend, but sometimes you can get fooled. In fact, generally when you are feeling like a rock star, a crash or injury is probably in your near future. It's cruel.

Everyone is different. For me though, I know that I'm pretty much right on target with a perfect training load when I'm feeling slightly fatigued every day, with a sprinkling of occasionally feeling like I've been beaten with hammers. (side note - IB Profen on those days is a no-no, it hampers recovery and rebuilding - so there is no relief from the suffering). Yeah, if I'm feeling like that, then I know I'm spot on.

In fact, if I didn't run for a few days I'd feel like a million dollars starting a run, upon which I would run flat and sluggish. All of my fastest and strongest runs have been when the first mile felt fatigued and a little sore. Your body's fatigue indicators tend to lag recovery. You feel fatigued a day or so longer than your body actually is fatigued. At least for me. I've been thinking about it for a bit and have no physiological explanation for it. But it's constantly true.

A buddy of mine that runs a little to keep in shape was doing a couple miles three times a week. I told him I could help him safely ramp that up a bit, and he said, "No thanks, those two miles are tough enough". I laughed, "Well, you'd be interested to know that for even those of us doing lots of miles per week, the hardest part of any run is the first couple miles. In fact, I don't start feeling smooth until about four miles" - I suspect that's universal. I just try to get through those first couple miles and I know it will feel better once I do.

The only exception to the constantly fatigued feeling is near the end of a taper for a race. To properly taper you cut mileage for about 2-3 weeks (for a significant race - practice races might only be prefaced by a 3 day taper). However, during a taper you still run fast workouts. You finish those feeling like a million dollars. You don't have to slowly weight your feet and ankles when you wake up. You don't creak. To the contrary, you feel like someone erased 10 years from your age.

But by the middle of the taper, you have a hard time sleeping. You have to watch your calories since your not burning as much and don't want to put on pounds prior to toeing up. You fight doubts about your ability to hit your pace for the whole race (because your long runs during the taper are comparatively short). And you cringe whenever someone coughs or sneezes near you - because getting sick will toss months of prep and taper into the dust bin. By the time you are in the starting corral, you are bouncing off the walls. You feel like an unpaired electron. In short, the taper is no picnic either. We runners are a sad lot indeed.

But then that gun goes off, and those first few miles are pure heaven. You have to fight to reel your pace back in so you dole out your energy properly through the race. You are hauling along like you were built for it. There is no effort, no worries. It's magical.

Of course if you run the race competitively, there will be pain. If your trying to run a PR, then there will be a little dry heaving near the end. And most assuredly, the next morning you'll feel like you've been beaten with hammers.

And when I wake up feeling like that, I couldn't be happier!

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