Monday, October 3, 2011

The Last 16

dig deep
Perhaps the most notable feature of the [Hanson-Brooks marathon plan] is the absence of a sacred cow—the 20-plus-mile long run. For non-elite runners, the long effort tops out at 16 miles. "People say, 'How can a long run be only 16 miles?'" says Kevin [Hanson]. "Then they'll finish that run and say, 'Gosh, I don't think I could run another 10 miles.'" And they'll be right, he says. With the plan's emphasis on high mileage and hard workouts, "you're not running the first 16 miles of a marathon, you're running the last 16. We're duplicating that final-miles feeling."
You've sold me, Kev.

Yesterday was my first 16 miler (this training cylce, this year, and in recent memory; I can't tell you when the last time I ran 16 miles was because it was too long ago to remember). It came at the end of a six-run, 54 mile week, and the day after running 11 miles with 6 of them at half marathon pace.

I won't lie to you. I went to bed last night with tired, achey legs (the tweaky tendon in my left leg and pulled/strained spot in my right calf didn't help) and woke up with tired, achey, stiff ones. My first thought: "There's no way in hell I can run sixteen miles today. It's just not happening." Actually, that was my second, third, and fourth thought as well. (Honestly, this really wasn't me being dramatic or wimpy; I couldn't walk normally, and I was legitimately worried about making the tendon and/or calf issues worse.)

I'll spare you all the internal drama & negotiating (there was a lot of it); in the end, I decided I'd get dressed, head over to Golden Gate Park, and see if there was any hope of my getting any running at all done today. On the off chance that I was able to get in the whole 16 miles, I stopped at Safeway for Nutri-Grain Bars and Gatorade. Gatorade because, out of all the sports drinks I've had over the years, there's only one that makes me absolutely chunk-blowingly ill, and guess what they'll be serving on the course at CIM? :P So, I'm resigned to carrying my own sports drink with me & just drinking water on the course & figured I should get some practice with that. Nutri-Grain bars because I'm still experimenting with fueling, and actual food packs a lot more calories than those little packets of ectoplasm. I haven't had any digestive issues with those, so the next step seemed to be to try solid food & see what happened.

HG huckleberryHG tropical

Flavors of the Week: Hammer Gel Montana Huckleberry & Tropical. MUCH less disgusting than the two berry-flavored Gu's I tried out a couple of weeks ago. Now these, I can get behind.

Golden Gate Park & the Panhandle together make a pretty nice eight-mile loop. That way I figured that if I was really suffering getting close to eight, I could stop then. (I did not have a great plan for what to do if this happened after four or twelve miles, but couldn't face the idea of four, four-mile loops so there it is.) This also made things a little logistically easier; I could carry one gel with me to have at mile four, then when I got back to the car, refill my Gatorade bottle, grab a Nutri-Grain bar for mile eight, and another gel for mile twelve.

Normally I'd run all the way down JFK or MLK & then go back along the other, but this weekend was Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a giant free music festival in part of the park, so the western end of JFK was SUPER crowded (not to mention full of crying children, dogs on thirty-foot leashes, & pot, all of which I am allergic to in varying degrees).

But sweet baby Jesus.

Less than a mile in, and all I could think was, "This is going to suuuUUUUuuck..." Not because of the pain in my tendon or calf, which stayed fairly low-grade the whole time, but just because I felt so beaten up already, and my legs felt like lead. I think the only way I got through it was by telling myself a) you can stop whenever you want, b) you can take walk / rest breaks whenever you want, and c) you can run at whatever pace you feel like. Just get in as much mileage as you can without breaking.

Which brings to mind another quote from the Hanson-Brooks article:
"Everyone wanted a regimen that would leave their legs feeling fresh," says Kevin. "They wanted to know, 'How can I get that spring in my legs?' That was the wrong question. The question should be: 'How can I train my body so that when the fatigue hits me, I'm still able to respond?'"
Yeah; this was that kind of run. 'Fatigue' was the name of the game from mile one.

While it wasn't at all what I'd call fun or pleasant, though, I have to admit that I was bracing for it to be a lot worse. The first four miles were tough. The second four (the way back to the car, mostly uphill) were probably the toughest. The first four of lap two actually weren't bad at all; around mile ten I was actually feeling pretty optimistic, and I knew at that point that I would make it to sixteen without a problem. The last four miles (uphill again) were hard, but I was prepared for it mentally & just kept reminding myself of how great I was doing considering how I'd felt that morning. (Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying I wasn't INCREDIBLY overjoyed to hear that last beep, or that I didn't feel immediately sore and achy in about a million spots as soon as I stopped running.)

Although it didn't feel like it most of the time, I was encouraged by the fact that I was able to keep an average 9:04 / mile pace (with wind in one direction & uphill the other), which is in line with my other easy runs. Also, very little shin splint trouble, and no digestive issues with either the Hammer gels or the Nutri-Grain bar (although the next time I do Nutri-Grains I'll break the bar up into smaller pieces -- eating the whole thing at once gave me just the tiniest bit of reflux). All things considered, I don't have much to complain about.

Just a few small issues:

  • My left posterior tibial tendon is clearly swollen and quite painful. Based on what I've read on the Inturwebz, posterior tibial tendonitis is pretty common in over-pronators (same as the MTSS), so I'm hoping this is just a bit of minor inflammation & the custom orthotics will take care of it as long as I don't overdo it between now & then.
  • A spot on my right calf that's been perpetually sore. Not so sore I can't run on it, but it hurts, and ice / massage doesn't seem to do much.
  • Weirdest of all, there's now a small spot (maybe two inches in diameter) on the side of my right thigh (in the ITB area, I think) that feels almost as if I've been kicked there, or rammed my leg into something really hard. Based on the way it feels, I keep expecting to see a dark purple bruise, but I didn't do anything to it today (except, y'know, run 16 miles on it).

Phew. So I'm totally bought into this cumulative fatigue business; the current issue I'm having is the age-old problem of the engine outpacing the chassis in terms of fitness. My cardiovascular system is dealing fine; in that sense, this was actually a super easy run. It was my musculoskeletal system that struggled. As much as I'd love to tick off seven miles today and my speed workout on Tuesday, I feel like I'm in the orange zone with a couple of those bullet points up there and am more inclined to take a few days and let everything heal up.

Oh, and HUGE congrats to everyone who ran Rock & Roll San Jose yesterday, especially all you folks that PR'd! ROCK STARS! You make me that much more giddy about racing a half again. Can't wait to read about your races! :)

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