Monday, January 31, 2011

Hard work beats talent (when talent doesn't work hard)

Here's my "problem"... My training is finally starting to go well again. I've been consistently (slowly but surely) ramping up my weekly mileage since mid November. I seem to be getting into excellent shape. And I've had some great early-season race results including a 2nd place finish at the Summit Rock Sanborn Skyline 1/2 marathon in December and a 2nd place finish at the Crystal Springs 50K in Woodside. Everything really seems to be clicking. Not only is my running going great, but I'm stronger on the bike than I've ever been. I'm able to effortlessly sit in on group rides where I used to struggle to stay on the back of the pack. I even find myself taking the occasionally flier off the front or helping chase down a breakaway. So, it's all good, right?

But here's the dilemma. From past experience (oh too many past experiences) I know that when things are going so well, there's always the risk of feeling too good, pushing too good, and ultimately ending up injured. It's happened to me several times in the past. And I'm worried it could be about to happen -- or already be happening -- again right now. My left knee has been hurting a bit lately. I'm not sure if it's a result of doing too much running in Vibram Five Fingers (so as a precaution I've switched back to my road shoes, at least for now) or just a result of the increased mileage and workload. In any case, I'm worried that disaster might be about to strike.

On the one hand, I've been reading a lot of motivational quotes about "hard work" that inspire me to go out and do some killer workouts. For example, long-distance Kenyan runner Josphat Menjo was recently quoted as saying something to the effect of, "He might run faster, but he won't run harder." I like that! It definitely makes me want to push hard and give everything I have in every workout. And then there's another inspiration, local Bay Area ultra-runner and teammate Jean Pommier who has been putting in some crazy track workouts in his prep for the upcoming Jed Smith 50K (I'm signed up the 50 miler). No pain, no gain! Right?

On the other hand, apparently there is such as thing as too much of a good thing. The title of this blog post, "Hard work beats talent (when talent doesn't work hard)" is based on an inscription on the wall in the weight room of the Iowa Hawkeye's football team. In case you didn't read about it in the news, 13 player of that same football team were recently hospitalized for kidney problems resulting from a intense workout session gone wrong. Hmm, maybe a little common sense and restraint isn't such a bad thing. Maybe slowing down, backing off, or stopping when it starts to hurt is a sign of intelligence rather than a sign of being a sissy?

I have a 50 mile race coming up this Saturday (Jed Smith 50M) in Sacramento. Part of me (let's call him "Big Johnny") wants to continue training through this week at my regular high intensity and mileage without easing off at all. Big Johnny wants to try and race the 50 miles as hard as possible, shooting for a PR. Big Johnny probably even wants to try and go out with the much faster race leaders like last year's race winner, the 19 year old phenom Michael Kanning. However, another part of me (let's call him "Professor Burton") suggests that I should take it easy this week, maybe backing off the mileage a little and doing a a few more easy bikes rides for cross training. Professor Burton points out that this is too early in the season to start doing 100 mile training weeks. Professor Burton also warns that trying to race 50 miles at e.g. 7:30 miles/minute pace is certainly going to result in failure, if not injury.

So, here I am, wondering whose advice to take? Do I listen to Big Johnny and put in a big training week culminating with an all out (balls out) effort on Saturday's race? Or do I take the advice of Professor Burton and take it easy using this week and use the "race" on Saturday as just a long training run? Oh, what to do?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Crystal Springs 50K @Woodside, January 8, 2011

Race start (in the center dressed like a ninja)
Quick Summary: My first race of the new year. Wore my Vibrams. Everything went great! Ran all the hills, no walking. Won my age group and finished 2nd overall just a few minutes behind winner Jed Tukman. Went out real easy and controlled. Stayed on top of fluids, calories, and salts. Maintained discipline. Started picking it up on the way back, and then hammered the last 6 miles. Caught quite a few people in the final miles. Felt awesome. Woo hoo. Here's a link to the official results.

Long-winded rambling: Ok, so there I was. Standing at the start line of the Crystal Springs 50K at Huddart Park in Woodside, California getting ready to do my first 50K (make that my first race of any kind) in 2011. I was nervous. 2010 had been a pretty crappy year for me running wise. I had struggled with a slew of random injuries last year, including a torn calf (during a heated town-line sprint at a noon-time bike ride), a mysterious hamstring injury (I think from sleeping in the cramped trunk of my Mustang GT -- don't ask), and another calf injury (torn muscle from the world's most intense and painful calf cramp). As a result, I only logged 1,500 miles all year long -- down from 2,300 the previous year, and I brought home a nice collection of DNS's (did not start) and DNF's (did not finish).

So there I was, standing at the starting line in Woodside wondering if this is going to be the year that I get back on track with my running. November and December had actually gone quite well and I'd managed to log 40 to 50 miles a week. I'd had a couple of good race results including a 2nd place finish at the Summit Rock half marathon at Sanborn Park (wearing my Vibrams) as well as a respectable finish at the Rodeo Beach 50K (despite a little off trail upheaval of the Ensure protein drink I slammed moments earlier). I was feeling confident in my recent training, but I knew I would need to avoid going out too hard with the race leaders and then later dying (a mistake I seem to repeat compulsively, almost professionally). So I came up with a plan. Go out easy, jog the early hills, stay disciplined on the rollers, take it easy on the downhill to the turnaround point. Then, and only then, start to pick it up if you feel good. Push it on the uphill. Attack the rollers. Hammer the descent.

So, I had a plan. And I was fairly well trained. But I still felt I needed some edge. Hmm, why not try this Vespa stuff that I got in my Christmas stocking? So what if I never tried it before in training? Worst case scenario I will feel nauseous, stop and puke, and only lose a couple of minutes. (But I needn't have worried; the Vespa worked like a charm and I never felt tired the entire race.) Also, I figured if I wore my Vibrams instead of my trusty Salomon Speed Cross, I could save a few grams and run the uphills faster than normal. Another risky bet, considering that the longest distance I had previously run in my Vibrams was only 13 - 15 miles. (But again, I needn't have worried; a little heel bruising and sore calves were a small price to pay for the giant can of "awesomesauce" they provided).

In the end, I managed to stay disciplined and to execute my plan perfectly. I resisted my normal bad tendency of getting lured into going out hard with the race leaders. I stayed on top of my calories, fluids, and salts the entire time. At no time did I never need to sneak off to the side of the trail in order to regurgitate anything. My finishing time of 4:22:08 (8:31 minute/mile pace) was by far the fatest trail 50K I have ever run. My previous fastest trail 50Ks had been 4:42:12 (Quicksilver) 4:46:24 (Dances with Dirt, MI), and 4:48:22 (Pacifica). For a guy who is accustomed to running in the 4:40's, it was dream to finish in the low 4:20's.

All in all, it was a perfect day! And it didn't hurt that we were running on some of the most beautiful, scenic trails in all of the San Francisco Bay Area. If you haven't run Huddart Park and Wunderlich Park before, you really need to treat yourself!

Here's a link to the official results. And here's a link to Scott Dunlap's excellent race report.