Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rule of Specificity Sucks

Running is pretty simple. One foot in front of the other. Repeat. Repeat again. Yet the more you read and run, you discover all sorts of extras. Turns out running isn't that simple. Well, at least improving your running, and racing, are not that simple. There are tons of theories, rules, laws, principles, coaching advice, and the like. One rule that tends to hold up well is the "Rule of Specificity." It may be the grand rule of them all. In fact, I've seen it discussed as the "Law of Specificity." Basically, to perform well, you need to mimic the race situation and all of its conditions and demands--distance, pace, weather, elevation, terrain, etc.

With limited resources and time, we always make compromises. But, with a particular race focus, we can specifically train for the demands of that single race fairly well. And when we repeatedly race, and train for, the same distance (or similar range of distances), we become quite good. The rule of specificity is confirmed.

This specificity rule sounds pretty grand. Great guide to racing well. But what happens when you are racing disparate distances...across different terrain? I have a road half-marathon coming up in October (St Louis RNR on Oct 19) and a trail 50-mile ultra in November (Tunnel Hill 50 on Nov 15). One short road race, the other a long trail race. Training? This rule of specificity sucks! I need speed and stamina for the half-marathon and massive endurance for the 50 miler. Trails vs roads? Don't get me started.

Here is my compromise. Between now and the half-marathon, I'm training primarily for the road distance. The concentration will be on developing my speed and increasing my lactate threshold. No runs over 13 miles. I have a solid aerobic base from past ultra races. I don't have speed. I'm also not comfortable running on roads. And I'll shift to lighter road shoes. An example week follows:

Mon = off (stretching, core strength)
Tues = 7-10 mile road run (1 mile w/u, 5 to 8 x 1-mile repeats at 7:00 pace, 1 mile c/d)
Wed = off (walking, stretching, core exercises)
Thur = 10-13 mile trail run (4-5 mile w/u, 5 mile progressive tempo, 1-3 mile c/d)
Fri = off (stretch, core)
Sat = 10-13 mile easy road/trail hybrid run (70% HRR)
Sun = 5-7 mile easy road run (70% HRR)

After the half-marathon, the weekend long run will move to 15-20 miles. Mile repeats and tempo runs will continue, but the mile repeats will be at a slower "marathon pace" (7:50/mile). Oh yeah, and all the runs will be back on trails. Can't wait until October 20. Trails are my sweet home.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

I Was the Last Man Standing!

Yesterday I ran my 94th ultra/marathon. It went well and I ended up winning the sucker! It helps if there aren't too many entrants and it's more of an informal fun run among friends. I think we had 13-15 starters for this "Last Man Standing" event. The idea was to run a 5-mile trail loop every 55 minutes. Keep going until only one runner is left. Everyone remaining must set off at that 55-minute mark each time. Run fast and you can rest. Run easy and there won't be rest for you. Too slow and you're out. Kind of odd to start a race and not know how long it will go. No pre-determined ending time or mileage. Hmmm...this could be fun.

I wanted 30 miles for the day, but was ready to go 35 or 40 if needed. Brought lots of fluids and food. Had spare shoes and socks. Even brought extra shirt and shorts. I was ready. Knowing my running buddies, I figured several would go for a 20 mile long run, then call it a day. Maybe one person would go 25. I didn't think anyone would do 30 or more. Well, no one except me! I was ready to go one more loop than anyone else. Still, I felt 30 miles was my sweet spot for the day.

My strategy was to stick toward the back of the pack and finish each 5-mile loop with about 2 minutes remaining to grab a drink, snack, and get ready to go again. This plan worked well for the first 25 miles. I actually ran just a little too fast each loop (often finishing with 3 minutes of rest between loops). I felt great for those first 5 loops. No stress, no problems, just smooth and steady. People dropped earlier than expected. After 15 miles, only two runners remained: John and me. After 20 miles, still John and me. After 25 miles, John and me. When we headed out on that 6th loop, I was starting to feel tired. It actually felt like an ultra! It was a great day weather-wise, but things were stating to heat up and the sun was now shining. I walked the hills much slower than the previous loops. I started to think it would be hard to do another loop. Maybe 30 was my limit. If John wanted a 7th loop, I'd try, but it wouldn't be pretty. I finished that 6th loop (30 miles) with about a 1:30 time cushion. John stopped short (doing 27.6 miles). I was relieved. It was over and I won.

Glad John kept pushing through the day. It would have been sad to "win" with only 20 miles under my belt. We both ended up with an "ultra distance" for the day. Good efforts for each of us. I was tired, but not injured. Perfect. A day later, I'm feeling sore, but good. I'm excited to start training for my next ultra...Tunnel Hill 50 miler on November 15. I think we have almost 20 buffalo runners doing that race. It'll be fun. Unfortunately, I have a half-marathon on October 19 in St Louis. Not looking forward to that "sprint race." I'm a trail ultra runner, not a road racer.

Thanks to Seth for making this unique event happen. A few of us had talked about this Last Man Standing idea, but no one made it past the talking stage. I enjoyed the day and would definitely do it again. Maybe we can have a summer and winter version? With all of the local ultra runners, I think we can easily double or triple the participants and really get some good competition going among friends. Next time it'll take more than 30 miles to win. I'll be ready to defend my title!

PS: My Skechers Go Run Ultra shoes worked great for this run. So did Tailwind Nutrition sports drink. I'll use both at Tunnel Hill 50.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Last Man Standing Race

Next week I'll run in an informal "Last Man Standing" race at our local forest preserve trails. We'll start at 8am, run the 5-mile trail loop, and then line up again to repeat the process every 55 minutes. If you run fast, you rest in-between 55-minute starts. If you run too slow (can't make the 55 minute cut-off), you are out. Keep running 55-minute 5-mile loops until only one person is left! Simple. I suppose the real strategy question is how hard to run each loop. Do you run fairly fast and have lots of rest time or run slowly and barely finish each loop in the 55-minute time allotted?  If you run well, you can rest, drink, eat, change socks/shoes, whatever. If you run slowly, you'll conserve energy, but not have any breaks. So many choices.

The 5-mile trail is gently rolling grass/dirt with not much elevation change. It's wide and well-groomed. Pretty easy. If I run hard, I can finish in 40 minutes. If I run easy, I finish in about 45 minutes. If I walk the hills, and go easy on everything else, I finish in about 50 minutes. Hot weather will slow those times. My plan is to start out attempting 50-minute loops and try to maintain that until I'm done. When will I be done? Not sure. I'll get at least 5 loops (25 miles), but hope to run 6 loops (30 miles). I might manage 7 loops (35 miles). That would likely be my limit. How far will others go? Not sure. It's a fat-ass style run with no entrance fee, no support, no prizes. An ultrarunner's dream. Winner simply gets the respect and admiration of their peers. Nice.

I didn't run very well at the Howl at the Moon 8-hour ultra in August...this is my chance to turn things around and get back on track. Perfect opportunity for a group long run too. With the Tunnel Hill 50 miler in November, this is a much-needed extra long run. And, if I can grab 6 loops, I'll notch another ultra on my march toward 100! This will be #94. Can't wait.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Season-Based Running Plan


I'm trying to think about longer training cycles for my running. I'd like to believe it's because I'm growing wiser, but I think it's because I'm getting older and can't train hard year round! Anyway, I need to cycle through hard/easy days and weeks, but also hard/easy running seasons. I thought of a simple training cycle tied to the natural seasons. It should work well for a typical running and racing cycle too. Here's my plan.

I will cycle through 3-month training cycles. Easy three months, then hard three months. Repeat. My plan is to start (or end) the year with a three month winter training block (December-January-February) that focuses on lots of easy, aerobic training with no speed work. There can be some racing, but those races will be complements to the core aerobic training, not key high-profile races. Then I move into a harder training cycle for three months (March-April-May) which includes speed work and races. Some of these races will be key ones for the year. Then I return to a recovery period of another three months of easy aerobic running (June-July-August). Again, there can be a couple of races, but nothing of significance. Finally, the year has its final hard three month cycle (September-October-November) of hard training and racing. Lots of good fall races that can be pushed hard!

This overall yearly plan allows me to race and train hard, then recover (mentally and physically). The two easier periods (winter and summer) support strong recovery and rest, with a build up of a solid aerobic foundation. Then spring and fall are the hard racing periods that draw on the foundation that was developed in the previous cycle. Hopefully my aging body can handle, and even enjoy, a three month hard period. By cycling through these 3-month macro-stages I hope to race well, but also recover and stay healthy and injury-free. I envision the three month easy periods to be Maffetone style pure aerobic running. Might be a good time to push total mileage. The harder periods will shift into tempo and progression runs, fartleks, and speedy intervals. Still some easy runs each week, but the focus is on developing speed and sharpening my race abilities. Total mileage might be lower, but efforts higher.

Well, that's my simple yearly plan. Any thoughts? Do you organize your running into larger cycles?