Friday, August 24, 2007

Too Much "Strain", Not Enough "Train"

I don't really want to write about the run today.

The original plan called for 18 miles, with the first 10 around 6:35-6:40 pace and the last 8 at 6 minute pace. When Mystery Coach saw that I quit a mile early and seemed to work too hard for the workout yesterday, he gave me a bit of a reprieve with a suggestion that I just run a steady pace for 10, then a good pace for 8.

While the first 10 went fairly well, I spent much of those miles with a doom and gloom cloud over my head as I worried about the last 8. I was moving along, but I definitely felt some residual fatigue and malaise. After ditching the soaked-through shirt and changing shoes and socks (damn blisters), I finished the first 10 and nervously hit the watch to start the marathon pace effort.

The feet seemed to be sticking to the ground early. While I didn't want to look at the pace, I had to see just how slow I was traveling. When two miles passed at 5:58 pace, I knew I could at least make it another mile to get some amount of work in. At three miles I decided to take it a mile at a time until I really started to slow. From mile 4 to 5 this started to happen, and as the pace slipped so did the form. The blisters made themselves known, and soon I felt like I was at mile 22 of the marathon. At 5.5 miles I finally stopped as the pace kept slowing, 2.5 miles short of my goal.

I'm left shaking my head a bit about stopping. I felt like I was slowly grinding myself into the ground today, and I was at the point where it felt like the stress I was putting on myself simply wasn't worth any potential gains from trying to tough it out any longer. But I have to wonder; On some level, am I training myself to quit when it gets tough?

The marathon is a difficult event for me, which is partially why I gravitate towards it. When I remember marathons where I've slowed during the last 6-8 miles, I give myself enough credit to say with confidence that I wasn't quitting by any means. At those points, if it was going badly, I gave as much or more effort than I put out during the rest of the race. Unfortunately, as the body breaks down, that same effort at the red-line just hasn't carried me along at a fast enough pace to match the rest of my race.

I think at the heart of Arthur Lydiard's training is the philosophy that instead of just training hard enough to simulate and then hopefully break through fatigue and breakdowns, it's better to train smart enough to avoid these difficulties altogether. Mystery Coach's insistence on "optimum" training rather than "maximum" is cast from the same mold.

"Train, don't strain" is an oft-repeated refrain of Arthur's, and slowly raising the volume, backing off, then doing it again seems to fit this philosophy better than pushing to the absolute limit. Some say you have to go over the edge to find exactly where it is, but after doing that twice now thanks to my own overzealousness I personally doubt this.

So where am I? Frankly, I'm a bit cooked from pushing too hard this week. The last two workouts (and my apprehensiveness going into them) prove this. I suggested taking a day off or going very easy tomorrow, but the coach suggested taking it a bit further and going easy through Monday. The coach knows this much "easy" will drive me crazy, but it also might make me faster in October.

Training: 16 miles, 1:43:01, 6:26 pace. 10 at 6:37 pace, 5.5 at 6:01 pace


Grellan said...

Mike, surely temperature will have a big part to play come marathon day. What sort of temperatrures are you expecting for race day - it can't be anything like the summer heat of Arizona. Should your marathon training pace be adjusted accordingly.

Mike said...

Hopefully temps will be in the 50's-60's in Minnesota for October, but who knows. I'm still not quite down to marathon pace yet with the 5:57's and 6:00's, or at least I hope to go a little faster than that.

jpete said...

O boy do I know were you coming from!

Amanda said...

Your run reminds me of the Prefontaine movie I watched the other night... he always went full speed to make sure he had nothing left at the end...I think marathoners do this during the early part of the run and sometimes pay for it at the end. But you've got great training, a great mystery coach and surely better weather for the race!

Thomas said...

If you never went over the edge, how would you know how hard you can push yourself? Not everyone has a coach who seems to have a crystal ball for how hard he can make you work.

Mike said...

Thanks for the comments jpete and Amanda, I appreciate it.

Thomas, I guess in my old age I'm coming to the conclusion that the only time to really see how hard you can push yourself is when you have a number pinned on.

I think there is some difference between how hard you can push yourself in training and how much you can positively adapt to and recover from, and I'm trying to focus more on the latter. I'm hoping that with enough experience I'll be able to tune in to both the subtle and more obvious cues that I'm nearing the limit, then make adjustments before the body forces me to back off. This is where someone like Mystery Coach really helps, though I have to give him enough information to go on.

I think allowing myself to recover before this week's back to back and then completing both workouts as prescribed would have served me much better than going in fatigued and bagging the end of each run (which is what I ended up doing). Yes, I found out how to go over the edge, but what did it get me? Two sub-standard workouts, a forced day off and a tender achilles.

crowther said...

Mike, I agree with the idea that you have to go over the edge to find out where it is. However, one or two bad experiences can be instructive for months or years to come, without the need to repeat those experiences. Make the mistake, suffer the consequences (so that you know it really was a mistake), and then remember what the mistake felt like as you were making it so that you can avoid it next time. For me, pushing myself a bit too hard for too long on a couple of long runs this spring helped me define the line between an effort that requires three days of recovery time and one that requires two weeks. I think I'm training more sensibly now as a result of overdoing it back then.