(Prologue- In going back and rereading this, I see it rambles a bit and is choppy. I have still decided to post it however, because it defines how I have truly changed the way in which I am training. It describes how someone may need to alter their training and regard it in a new perspective. Tunnel Vision, OH NO!)
Fool me once- Shame on you. Fool me twice- Shame on me. Here is the story of my learning experiences from yet another summer of pushing myself a little too hard. An incredible awakening not to be forgotten this time around.
I was overcome with emotion. I had just finished one of the hardest races of my life. Finishers were streaming in with smiles on their faces after 13 and 14 hours of extreme endurance racing in 100 degree heat. I couldn't believe it. These men and women earned my respect regardless of their times. Finishing time is irrelevant, finishing was everything. The obstacles one overcomes to reach that line are everything. I had finished in 11:30, which was 45 minutes short of my goal. I took it way too seriously. I was disappointed. It was eye opening standing there watching these incredible athletes finish. The most overpowering emotion I felt was relief however that Ironman #2 was complete and I could take some time off.
Last summer, I opted to not run another 100 miler to focus on Ironman. I managed to dig myself into overtraining syndrome in the process. This year I thought it would be different. I decided to keep an amazingly strict training log, and use every bit of detailed training science to fight overtraining. I would treat April through August as Ironman training season primarily, and would detail every HR zone and build up threshold work to prevent overtraining. I still dug myself into a hole after my strongest spring racing season ever. By June I was cooked after my run in the Mohican 50 miler. My training suffered. I tried to cut back hours. I tried everything, but nothing worked. My heart rate was super low on most of my workouts. I treated it all as a job. I wanted to push myself to the edge and balance there. I pushed right over that edge. Performance started to decline. I cut back hours again and tried to alter my weekly training plan to just maintain. My overall Ironman finish was still in the percentile that my goal was set for, but I could have been stronger had I realized my training was not allowing enough recovery.
Last year after Ironman I felt better than I had felt in six months. This year routine is king, because September is proving to to be the best month of the last six. I can't believe in retrospect how hard I was pushing myself. I wasn't enjoying training. I wasn't enjoying sitting on the couch, or sleeping. Everything was a job to be completed and there no room for enjoyment. I was pushing myself to the frayed ends of endurance. I was strung out and maybe a little depressed from an honest lack of perspective. I wasn't a professional athlete, and I failed to realize this! The conundrum is however, that upon taking it easier, I would actually become strongest and reach my potential. It is almost paradoxical. Be willing to give up complete tunnel vision training and then, and only then, can you reach your potential!
So anyways, there I stood at 10PM watching everyone finish Ironman Louisville 2010. I resolved to never find my my self-worth in racing and training again. These athletes inspired me as I watched them finish. I fully expect that I will actually reach my highest potential as an athlete by doing so. As well, I also can't wait to train now- only for fun and not anything else! This isn't how I make my living, this is how I have my fun, and therefore I can't wait to get back to it! This is a strange realization. I looked back at my training logs, and my best races have sometimes been the ones in which I didn't necessarily care as much about. Maybe that is because I didn't push myself quite as hard in training and I was able to recover and allow training to make me stronger. The one exception to this rule is my 50 miler at LBL this year. The LBL 50 performance was flawless, because I didn't push it too hard in training. I knew the dangers of overtraining and stayed away. It was an A race, but for the most part, I was only putting in 12 hours weekly of trail running. Quality was A+, as opposed to quantity!
I have a huge race in November. The Pinhoti 100 mile trail race. Only 2 months after Ironman this could have been trouble. I know with certainty however that I will be in top form because of attitude and training philosophy. I decided not to push it too hard in September. I learned from my training log, that I adapt quickly, and I needn't even train at all through September to be ready for Pinhoti. This lack of stress has oddly enough, allowed me to feel great and carefree, and I have actually been having the best running month in over half a year. One aspect that can NOT be overlooked is that I countered my overtraining with cutting my hours in August and July, and so the last two months were actually like base training, but I am still treating September easily. It has been amazing. On days which I don't feel great, I am not running and I am allowing recovery, and then the following day, I am able to do perfect threshold runs. Allowing recovery is mandatory, and I can see the results instantly. For the first week of September I did nothing but take the dog on walks since it was the week after Ironman. The second week of Sept, I decided to tackle some trails. My one stipulation was that for the entire month of Sept, I wasn't allowed to go over threshold on any of my runs. Here is an example of what I am doing differently. Last week, I had 5 days off of work, therefore I planned on running 5 days. I had an incredible run just under threshold @ 9 miles in one hour which I haven't done since Marathon training in April. Wednesday I was going mountain bike riding with my wife which we had been planning for a while. I planned on doing a run after mountain biking since I had the day off. I decided to cancel my run however, because I felt content with the ride. This would not have been the case this summer. I would have pushed through the run, and Thursday's run would DEFINITELY have suffered because of it. Instead, I cancelled the run, and rested after MTB riding. Thursday's run in turn, was another one of my best runs in months. (14 miles on trails in record time). The same held true last week when I planned on running after a day of rock climbing. I cancelled my scheduled run. I took a rest day, and then the following week I had some of the strongest runs of the year!
Doing what you want, Imagine that as being the perfect training! It is surprising to feel the difference. I am getting stronger and I feel incredible. Mileage is increasing and endurance is growing. Body fat percentage is down, and I am sleeping more soundly than I could have dreamed of. (pun intended!)
This is the philosophy that will carry me through October to Pinhoti as I run 100 miles again. I am shooting for a strong race, but I am going to take each day as day it comes. Resting HR be damned, training plans be damned! I am experiencing the best training ever, and couldn't be happier. DAY BY DAY. Most importantly, training is fun, and life is better overall. I am sure my loved ones appreciate my improved mood as well! I am sure this attitude is actually getting me more trail time in the long run, it truly is a win-win situation and I am grateful for the two seasons of Ironman training which taught me these lessons. I don't plan on racing another Ironman for a while. I am sticking to what I love, TRAILS. I am sure that whenever and if ever I do another Ironman it will be better than ever, thanks to a new training philosophy and attitude.