Sunday, January 28, 2024

Slowly Coming Back to Life...

Running in Virginia at the Mountain Masochist 50

For the past several years, I've established somewhat of an ad hoc routine as November approaches. As the colder weather begins to set in, and the academic semester hits its apex, other components of my life necessarily ease back. This includes the running, the riding, and most of the adventuring. In many ways the early Winter months have become my "rest" time. From mid-November through the Holidays, I use the time to allow my mind to ease itself of stress, I do what I can to truly enjoy the break, and I rest my body from what has usually been months of constant abuse and miles. In many ways, I look forward to this time, and enjoy doing a whole lot of nothing. Lately though, as I've gotten older, I find that I am not as able to enjoy this time as much as I used to, mostly because I know as I rest, and my fitness diminishes, it will ultimately be a longer road to getting it back. Come New Years, I usually have a few extra pounds I need to shed as well.

Thankfully I've been able to keep to a rather strict rebuild routine each year. I almost treat it as something of game...and track all of my health and workout data as my strength and fitness slowly return. Each year there is a moment when I flip the switch and commit myself to two very distinct goals:
  • First: I commit to starting back up with an annual run of loops in Florida on Christmas Day (while visiting family). 
  • Second: I commit to streaking for the entire month of January...meaning I commit to run every day for at least the entire month (although it usually carries well into February

Christmas Loops

One of the ways I stay on track for my second goal, is to sprinkle in several shorter "Tune-Up" races in January and early February. This way, I am somewhat forced to keep up my fitness build. If I do stick to my usual plan, I typically find myself an entirely new person by February 1st. I am generally leaner, stronger, fitter, and faster...with a well-built fitness base and more overall endurance. On Christmas Day it's a struggle to run those 6-8 miles, but by Feb 1, I am out running 20-milers every Saturday with relative ease. I simply love the process of getting fit and how just the simple act of consistency really does work. It's not about banging out occasional big days, or getting in some tempo's about just getting out every day and training the body to move regularly.For whatever reason, this year has been particularly rewarding so far, and also one where I've really tapped into the data. 

In Early November, I went out for what is often my last big effort of the year: the Mountain Masochist 50-Miler in Virginia. This event is not only a great one to ease back my running for the year, but is always a delightful time, given that I run the entire course with several of my Barkley friends. This year was no different. I ran with my friend (and Hardrock Pacer) Travis, and we had a blast trading stories along the way. We were also accompanied by another friend Mark, and of course were able to see Barkley Legends David Horton and Ed Furtaw at the finish. We had great weather, took our time, and eeked out a sub-12 hour finish by just a few minutes.

Along the Masochist Course with Travis (photo: Mark R.)

Normally, I'd start shutting things down after Masochist, but I decided to go back to the Fat-Ox 6 hour event just before Thanksgiving. I wasn't in great shape, and hadn't run a step since Masochist, but still managed to get through 32 miles in under 6 hours...placing me third in the event (I have no pictures from the event sadly).

Following Fat-Ox, the only notable effort I carried out was over Thanksgiving weekend when I did a fast-pack style hike up and down Mt. Baden-Powell outside of Wrightwood, California. It was a fun effort, but definitely a one-off and I could tell that I wasn't really building any real fitness by completing the hike. It was of course still fun regardless.

Mt. Baden Powell

...and then, I shut things down. Other than my daily dog walks, and one short local hike up a nearby hill in town, I effectively took the first three weeks of December entirely off. And it was nice. I read a lot, caught up on some research, and watched as my fitness evaporated away, and the winter weight slowly trickled on.

When Christmas morning finally came, I was again down in Florida visiting family. I brought a lot of running gear knowing I needed to commit to starting things back up again. On Christmas morning, I got up well before dawn, laced up my dusty running shoes, and began what would be the first of many days of trying to build back my fitness.

To keep myself on track I decided to register for a series of events in Arizona (in January) that would force me to train. Each of these events was "shorter" (i.e. less than an ultra), but were still long enough that I couldn't just "wing it". They'd still require some fitness if I actually wanted to run them all. The first event in this series would be just two weeks after Christmas, at the San Tan Scramble 26km (16-Miler).

What was different this year with my winter build up, was that I decided to fully embrace the data. I began regularly monitoring all of the information I could that was recorded and presented from my smart watch. This wasn't just obvious things like "steps", or "calories", but also data like "intensity minutes", "training readiness", "training status and load", "respiration", etc. I kept detailed spreadsheets of everything so I could monitor my progression using real data (and not just my "feel"). I religiously recorded every run or effort, as well as total mileages, average heart rates, training zones and intensities. I tailored my training such that I ran tempo runs when I had the highest anaerobic shortages...not just on "tempo Tuesdays". I was careful to listen to my body, but to also trust the data. If my apps were telling me to "recover", I would go easy on the next run, even if I felt great. The result of all of this is that this may have been my most productive post-holiday fitness build-up in years. I went out yesterday for a long 20-miler, and it felt effortless. My heart rate never topped 140, and I felt like I could have continued for hours. I felt so good, that I ran the last 10 miles faster than the first completely unintentionally. Despite my advancing years, it feels really good to know I can still bring myself back up to a decent fitness level and I'm excited about the races that I still have on the calendar, most notably the Black Canyon 100K in two weeks.

So...let's do a quick rehash of the past 5 weeks. Christmas week I definitely jumped in a little hot, starting out with a 50-mile week. This was probably not a great idea, but I suppose I was eager to get going. I remember that first week I was quite tired as my body started realizing things were getting real. On the Saturday of that first week, I was so sore, that I ended up doing a long bike ride instead of running. That ended up being the only day since Christmas that I didn't run (December 30th). That week did end with another annual tradition: "The New Year's Revolutions." Since 2014 I have been running a looped course of my own choosing the first weekend of the new year. It was originally a real event in Pennsylvania called CJ's Resolution Challenge, but has since become a virtual/unofficial event. This year, I ran 1 mile loops around my neighborhood for 16 miles. It was a struggle given my still lack of fitness.

Each week since, my mileage has not only increased, but my tiredness has ebbed, and my fitness has grown. In the first week of January I finished out the week with 51 miles, and my first race: The San Tan Scramble. The event went well, but racing felt like a struggle. I definitely had to push to maintain a decent race pace, and it was quite apparent I wasn't in shape yet.

The following week, I eased up a bit on pacing, but still managed to maintain my mileage at 51. For the week starting January 15th, classes were now beginning, adding another level of stress and time commitment to my days. I adjusted quickly and began doing runs out of my office on lunch break or at the end of the day. This also allowed me to finally get back to tackling my multi-year effort to run every street within the city limits of Flagstaff. So far I've run about 300 miles of streets in the city, and I am now getting close to being about 50% complete. That week I ended with 60 miles and a solid running at the Coldwater Rumble 40k. I ran every step, and finished feeling fairly strong...although still not quite fully fit.

This brings us up to this week. For the first time, all of the data I have been tracking were indicating that I have reached a plateau...meaning that given all of my efforts, I am now "fit" and can work on maintaining. Of course I can try to step it up to another level, but I'm not sure I realistically want to do that. I'm ok with my 60-mile weeks...and don't really want to push beyond that. Regardless, the data don't lie, and when I went out for my 20-miler yesterday, it didn't even feel like work. It was fun, casual, and enjoyable. By afternoon, I had no fatigue in my legs and was already "recovered" according to my digital health data. What this all means is that in two weeks, I do think I'll be in really good shape to do well at the Black Canyon 100k (assuming decent weather). While I don't know if I can get close to my 2020 time of just a smidge over 12 hours, I'm certainly going to do the best I can and see how things shake out. More than anything, I just want to be consistent, and not go out too fast. Of course before Black Cnayon, and in just one week, I do have the elephant Mountain 35k (22 miles)  first...but given its proximity to the Black Canyon (just one week prior), I will purposely be taking that run very easy...treating it more like a casual weekend long run. Still, I'm hoping I fell just as good coming away from it as I did yesterday on my 20-miler.

At any rate, I guess I'm just excited to feel back on track again...and that it didn't feel like a chore getting here; it felt good; it was fun.

As far as what I have planned after Black Canyon...well let's just say it's up in the air at the moment. I have some good ideas, have my name in a lottery or two, but so far, nothing official yet. Regardless of what I do, I will certainly not let this newfound fitness fizzle out...and will start putting some things on my calendar to keep myself accountable and on track.

A January of Running...

My progress so far on Flagstaff Streets

San Tan Scramble 26k

Coldwater Rumble 40K

1 comment:

Dennis Paul Himes said...

To someone of my generation (I'm 69) "streaking" has a different meaning. Streaking that way for an entire month would be an interesting project, but you wouldn't do it in January.