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?

1 comment:

Sean Lang said...

As someone who has often raced to hard, or did to much in training, I would suggest backing off slightly this week.

At Jed Smith I'd recommend running faster than you would in training, but save the race pace for races later in the year, especially if you are having some knee pain.

Whatever you do, it seems you have built a solid foundation of fitness so I'm sure you'll have a great race!

- Sean