Friday, July 20, 2012

gettin' real for a quick minute

Let's get real for a quick minute here, last week's 5k PR was no lucky coincidence. My body didn't magically go from being burnt out as all hell to strong and steady just like that. It took a lot of conscious work, hard work. And it wasn't the kind of work that made my legs burn and my head feel ready to get out there and crush it like a pro, it was a more focused and patient work where I had to learn to work with what little I have right now.

Over training and burnout aren't a joke, they can really do a good number on someone. I'm not going to pretend that the past month has been all gumdrops and rainbows, because it hasn't. There have been a lot of very frustrating days where my body has let me know that it's not quite ready yet for the workouts that I have planned and that it needs a bit more quality time coasting through lighter mileage and intensity. I've had to be very flexible and forgiving with myself because plain and simple, I just cannot handle the workload that I could 4 months ago. The one thing that I don't want to do is play things out here like I beat myself to hell and then somehow magically recovered, because that DID NOT happen. Not even close. Truthfully I'm still recovering, and most likely will be for the next few months to make sure that I ward off any reoccurrence.

Sometimes it pays to be realistic by adjusting lofty goals and far fetched plans. I'm still holding on to and building all my efforts towards that sub 1:25 goal for the fall, just now with a few minor adjustments.

Ditching the Garmin.
This "tool" has become more of a hindrance than an aid to me in the past year and I've trusted the false send of security it has provided me for far too long. Yes it's controlled by GPS satellites, but whose to say that those satellites are 100% correct all of the time? The Garmin peeps? Of course they are going to say that. Last weeks race, and the Chicago Marathon of 2011 for that matter where it told me I ran just shy of 27 miles, pretty much sealed the deal for me that it isn't always as accurate as we all like to think. I spent most of the race trying to clock a 6 flat pace according to my Garmin to hit my goal time for the day where it was telling me that my pace was sitting in the 6:20 zone for most of the race. Logically, I know that this doesn't add up to an 18:56 finish and I'm pretty confident that this sanctioned course didn't make a mistake. I spent those 3.1 miles racing my watch instead of focusing on what was going on with my body and the trail instead of feeling the situation out and run with my guts. Sure the watch gave me a basic idea of how fast I was going, but what it didn't tell me was that I could have pressed a little harder and focused my efforts on getting closer to my edge which isn't defined by time. Instead, it let me play it safe where I was still able to score a PR but had zero soreness the day after.

That's always a bittersweet feeling.

Bastille's Day pre-race photo

Training by feel vs. splits.
I know that we all say we do this, but I think that I don't do it enough and it again turns back to the Garmin. This summer has been a great test of my strength with all of the 100+ days Chicago has had, most of which were grossly humid as well. I still laced up and headed out the door for my workouts, even though I knew splits would be less than impressive. Instead of going by pace for these workouts, I pushed entirely by effort, meaning what 5k pace should feel like. Some days when it was 100 degrees with 75% humidity that meant I could barely push below a 7 minute pace, and other days my body was feeling comfortably strong settled into sub 6 pace. There was even a kick butt speed workout done without a GPS watch that was probably my best workout all year. Coincidence? I think not.

Braving the elements.
I'm a soft pansy when it comes to racing in extreme conditions. Often times I would avoid them in training and always pay for it come race day. Monsoon-like rain, wind, heat, you name it I've crumbled in it. Obviously I have to change things up because this avoidance isn't getting me very far. This summer I've been heading out in the early afternoon and late morning hours when conditions aren't exactly the most ideal for outdoor exercise, and I think it would be safe to say that it's paying off a bit. There have been quite a few days where I'm the only one out there on the lakefront and I'm moving as slow as molasses, but this is how I feel it should be. You can't control the weather, you can only control how you respond to it where I've found abstinence to be a hindrance. Preparing for the worst will make make me a bit more prepared to respond appropriately in future races.

No more sweaty disasters like this crazy hot race

This time last year I was averaging 70+ mpw on a consistent basis where right now my mileage is sitting in the high 40's to low 50's and will most likely stay there for the remainder of the summer. I would love nothing more than to hit the ground running for hours and hours a day, but at this time I don't think that my body could quite handle it. It's hard to not accidentally turn an easy 6 into a 12 mile steady run and has taken quite a bit of will power from me because I love riding it out along the lakefront.

How could you not get carried away with this view?

But I think this mindset is what gets me into the most trouble as I tend to bend the rules for myself. Keeping my mileage a bit more conservative allows my body to stow away energy for key workouts and hit the ground running with a bit more zest.

Likewise, easy runs and recovery runs have become slow enough to the point where I barely break a sweat these days. There should NEVER be pressure to hit a certain pace on a recovery run because these runs are basically active rest days. I take all of these runs ridiculously slow for me now, and I'm really liking it. Gives me time to just kind of chill out and enjoy the ride. The thing that I think about now is an article that I read several years ago about elite athlete Tera Moody (think it was this article), who hold a 2:30 marathoner and 1:12 half PB, and how she chugs away on her recovery runs at about an 8 minute pace. This woman's running is light years ahead of my own, meaning our recovery pace shouldn't be identical and really puts things into perspective.

Basically it all goes back to ditching the Garmin and tuning into whats going on with my body on a daily basis. I'm not perfect and I make a lot of mistakes with my training even after 16 years, but if I can learn just one teeny tiny little life lesson from each disaster it'll only make me that much stronger to climb the next mountain.


  1. I set my half marathon p.r. two years ago on 40 to 50 miles/week training. Upping my training to 50+/week mileage has surprisingly resulted in slower half marathon times. Likely, my p.r. training was better because I was conservative with my weekly mileage and I was able to "stow away energy" for my hard training and my race.

    1. Thanks for sharing this Pete because the whole mileage debate has been weighing heavy on my mind. Starting to think for myself that less may mean more. So we're going to give this whole lower mileage higher intensity thing a whirl.

    2. To second that, I ran my fastest marathon, 3:11, on less than 40 mpw, and enjoyed it far more than my crash and burn marathons with higher mileage and sticking to a plan over feeling, I think they need to be balanced. I'm definitely leaning towards less is more, and you make the "less" miles REALLY count.

  2. Great post. I'm definitely not as far up there in MPW as you, but agree with the above. Another bonus of not taking out the garmin? You get to add some color to that wrist tan it so unforgivingly creates.

    1. Was just talking about this with my running partner! I like that I dont have a strange past wrist!

  3. I need to go back and see your 5k race report! :)

    Good for you that you have unleashed a bit. I haven't ditched my Garmin lately, but running by heart rate has helped me in recovery. Nice to know that my slow running might be getting me somewhere :)

  4. As much as I too would like to run high mileage weeks, I have found, lower miles has made my body happy and injury free. Plus... I am getting significantly faster :)

    Hope it works out for you too lady.

  5. I feel like I am on the exact same wavelength as you - I couldn't agree more with all of these things! While my high mileage week is only in the 50's, I am not getting so stressed out about the need to get my miles up there and am instead listening to my body, and running garmin-less and incorporating truly easy runs, something that has always been hard for me to do. I know it will pay off in the end when I am at a much happier, more well rounded place going into every race. awesome post, thanks for sharing:)

  6. Even Garmin has admitted that their measurements aren't perfect, that they are off by a small percentage. There are a couple good articles out there that explain it, but basically in the trip from the ground to space and back, over and over and over again, things are going to get slightly off. So Garmins are good as a frame of reference, but they are not exact. For longer races, especially races downtown (near tall buildings), I turn off the auto-lap on my Garmin and manually lap myself when I pass the mile markers on the course. That way I know my ACTUAL pace and not the slightly-off pace Garmin thinks I'm doing, which is wonky because the signal between my Garmin and the satellite is bouncing off tall buildings (or it gets totally off when we go through tunnels, like under McCormick Place or under the tunnel on Columbus right after the start of most downtown races).

    Also, I use the heart rate strap with my Garmin pretty religiously. I try to ignore my pace as much as possible and just run by heart rate. It forces me to keep my easy runs easy, push myself as hard as I should for harder runs and races, and I automatically adjust for the heat.

  7. AWESOME post, britt. one reason i was one of the last people alive to buy a garmin was because i kno myself, and i kno how sometimes too many stats/numbers leads down a not so awesome road. :P i caved and have one now, but like u've so eloquently wrote, it's just a tool and not something to let control ur running. way to come back girl..and this first PR is just a glimmer of all the awesomeness yet in store. :)

  8. I have run two races without my garmin and both of them were PRs at the time. I think you have a huge point about how we pay too much attention to what the garmin is saying vs what our bodies are saying.

    I try to run in all conditions all year so that I am not thrown by less than ideal racing conditions. I really do hate running in really windy conditions though.

  9. I love this britt!! So much for me to reflect on here!!! I am trying to step back too. My mileage is still under 20 miles a week even after 5-6 wks back. I am running my easy and recovery days much slower on purpose too bc I honestly think it will help me on the long run!!! Thanks for all this. You are doing great!

  10. Way to go, Britt...I too often get hung up on what the Garmin says, or what my training plan lays out for me...but we have to remember LIFE, and things that are more important. We run because we love it...hands down.