When we left for the North Shore, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to hike as much as I wanted, let alone trail run. I was delighted to be able to dispel my doubts with some wonderful trail time. When we returned, I knew I needed to refocus my training in a sustainable way as I ramped up for the final few weeks of intense training before a two-week taper. The time off left me questioning how my body would handle the longer distances, but I knew I needed to find out before getting to Missouri and toeing the line for the Mark Twain 100. Thus, I dedicated the last week to a “slow, steady, and long” mantra and put my legs to the test. I couldn’t have been happier with the result.
As I’ve gotten more and more tuned in to the trail and ultra-running community, I’ve become more aware of the training schedules of many of the elite athletes that I admire. It seems as though I’m constantly reading about 100-120 mile training weeks being rattled off as though it was a normal part of life. For them, I suppose it is a normal part of life, eh? Those numbers still seem amazing to me, especially considering I still only have one 100-mile finish to my name, and my training weeks still hover more consistently in the 50-70 mile vicinity. Obviously, everyone’s body performs differently and is able to handle different amounts of stress and distance. I know how important it is to listen to your body and get a feel for when you’ve pushed yourself too far. This is something I’ve been working on rather consistently for the last several years, but I know I still have plenty to learn about what my body can accomplish.
We arrived back in Iowa on Sunday afternoon, and I began to give my upcoming training week some thought. Pacing, or more specifically, slowing down, has not been my strong suit in longer ultras, and it has predictably come back to bite me in the ass. Thus, I wanted a chance to force myself to slow down and put on some slower than comfortable miles. This week was my chance to work on pacing and endurance, and see just what my legs had in them at this point in my training regime.
My weekly runs typically involve some speed work and hill work, with more repeated shorter runs. This time, I decided to push further during the week, and I committed to running four consecutive half marathons during the week. These four runs would force me to aim for around a 10:00 min/mile pace, and think more intentionally about form and nutrition. The weather fluctuated throughout the week but my legs held up beautifully. After each run, I still had plenty of gas left in the tank (as I should), and I didn’t feel the need for any recovery time. More importantly, I nailed my pacing goals, with overall paces within one second (or dead on) each time. What was even more exciting for me was I would be heading into my weekend long run(s) with 52 miles already in the books. This was by far the most miles I had ever tallied during the week, and it was exciting to know I didn’t feel any worse for the wear.
Although I was feeling good, I continued to be realistic about my weekend goals. I headed out to a groomed trail to meet some friends for a comfortable early Saturday morning run. The temps were comfortable, but the humidity was out in full force, and I was soaked fairly quickly. Humidity seems to sap my energy and weigh down my legs more than just about any other uncontrollable factor. I clocked in 20 miles on the trail, had a wonderful time chatting with friends about life, the universe, and running, and decided to break for a shower and some nutrition. It was a good opportunity to dry out, change socks, and squeeze in a little rest.
The most important aspect of ultra-training seems to be learning how to run on tired legs, which is why back-to-back runs are so important. Thus, I was delighted to meet up with some friends in the afternoon to join them for a run. This was their last large training brick in preparation for Ironman Wisconsin, so they entered the run after 115 miles on the bike. I love chatting with them about the similarities and differences between triathlon and ultra-running as sports, both in terms of the training and culture. It’s also a joy to have friends to understand the demands of ultra-endurance activities on a personal level. Our runs are always comfortable, and fly by no matter how tired we are from already running, cycling, or swimming. Well, they might have just gotten out of the water, but the only water I’m interested in incorporating into my workouts is the cold water I pour into my hydration pack!
The sun came out and cooked us a bit more than the early morning haze, but I still made it back home feeling energized and excited to have logged another 12+ miles. My shorter run on Sunday was a relaxing way to end the week, and the 7.5 miles I logged felt great, although the heat and humidity was beginning to wear me down. I had thought about the possibility of breaking 90 miles earlier in the weekend, but had put it out of my mind. My goal was simply to push myself and log some quality training miles. However, when I uploaded my data and realized I had hit 92.3 miles, I was ecstatic! Now, my goal is to once again run even further than this in a 24 hour period, so I am fully willing to celebrate in moderation. However, this week still seemed like a milestone to me. I proved to myself that I could log the big training week, and that my legs and body were at a level of fitness that could sustain those distances. I may never log repeated 120 mile weeks, but I’ll keep tackling my goals and setting new goals along the way!