Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Time over distance

I knew that last week was going to be impacted in terms of running time, but things on the personal side ended up even more hectic than expected between dealing with a bout of teen angst, feline dental surgery, and a 4am visit to the emergency room fitting in runs became both challenging and de-prioritized. I've heard that during a taper or at times of reduced mileage it is good to increase (or at least maintain) the level of intensity. I can't say that I did this as a matter of pre-cognated planning, but it did sort of work out that way.

The formula for pace in the title of this post normally implies that with limited time, the number of miles I will get in will drop proportionally given my normal 8-8:30 pace. I knew that I would not be getting a long run in since we would be driving down to San Luis Obispo to visit my wife's half-sister in college over the weekend. I was thinking that I could get 30 miles in, with 40 being a stretch if I could somehow eek in a 6th run somewhere. Monday evening I only had time for a bit over 5 miles, but my legs felt pretty "peppy". On shorter runs I will occasionally dip below 8 min/mi pace, on really good days I might even dip into the mid-7s. I only rarely go much lower than that unless I am doing dedicated speed work. I was mildly surprised to see that I was staying below 8s without much effort and pushed the last mile at a 7 minute pace to come out at a 7:37 average. Tuesday I did 8 miles at work and, again, my pace stayed below 8 minute miles the whole time. Wednesday I didn't have time for a run during the day, so I hit the treadmill at the gym which is always a good time to push the pace. I started at 8s and just kept working my way down each mile or so. The last mile of 6 was below 7 minutes with the final 1/2 pushing down to a 6 minute/mile pace. Thursday life intervened and no running was to be done. However, by Friday's planned 12-miler, I was looking at a log of more than 19 miles with an average pace just under 7:44 minutes/mile. This had never happened.

I probably should have just been happy with that. However, I was running a double out-and-back on the very flat Alameda Creek Trail and the wind was very much at my back during the first 3 mile leg. On the way back I realized how much, but I'd already fixed the whole sub-8 thing in my head and so I instinctively pushed it. Continuing mostly into the wind for the next 3 miles, I realized that running into a strong headwind can be a zero sum gain as increased effort results in less and less increased speed, but more and more energy output. I'd passed the point of diminishing returns, but really didn't recognize it until the trail turned out of the wind. For some reason, I wasn't able to really feel the effort I'd been putting out until I was no longer pushing directly against the wind. I could feel the muscles in my legs starting to tighten up as my came around the curve towards William Cann Park. A moment of sanity overtook me as I ran into the park to re-fill my bottle. I reminded myself that I was not in a race and that it really didn't do well to risk injury just to finish a training run in a certain time. I stopped my watch and forced myself to take a couple minutes to stretch and massage. I told myself that if I wanted to try and keep a certain pace that was fine, but pushing limits to hit an overall time goal should be reserved for race day and so I allowed myself this "cheat". My legs thanked me and felt much better keeping an easy, but relatively quick, cruising speed on the return trip with the wind back behind me. In the end I came out at an even 8:00 per mile (not counting the "stoppage time" at the park). My overall pace for the week was still below 8 with a 50K worth of distance covered. If I could cram that into a single run I would know what a near 4-hr 50K would feel like. Given that I did this over 4 days, such an attempt would actually feel like a total collapse on the course at the half-way point :-).

I managed to fit in one final run before the road trip on Saturday morning. Another flat trail run near the gym. It was windy, but not like the day before. This one I pushed hard from the get-go. I knew it would be my last run for the week and I wanted a strong finish for this string of sub-8s. It ended at just under 7.5 miles with a pace the same as my first run of the week. The final stats for the week came out to 38.5 miles with an average pace of 7:48 minutes/mile. It was kind of cool to do a "fast" pace week. However, all of that pushing on flat road and trail was as tough mentally as it was physically. I have to say that, overall, I enjoyed the experience of running less as I was always so focused on pace and time. Also, the lack of hills to break things up and the lack of real trail to provide that mental escape really left me wanting.

Yesterday, I had the day off for Columbus Day. With Dick Collins coming up I decided to get in one last hilly run and also to set a more appropriate pace standard for going into a 50-miler. I did a nice easy 9 miles up Mission Peak. Usually the words "nice and easy" don't go along with a run up Mission Peak. However, I was actually able to take it at what felt like an easy pace the whole time even while maintaining a running gait. There was no heavy breathing and was less than extraordinary given the hills and the warm weather. Running up the peak on a mid-week afternoon is a rare treat and after last week's focus on pace it was so very nice. I actually saw 4 other runners out there as I was coming down which is a pretty high number especially given how few people overall were out. As a final treat, I had a very rare and amazing wildlife encounter on the way down. Coming down the less traveled Peak Meadow Trail, I was suddenly confronted with a mother bobcat and two kittens. The kits immediately shot off into the brush below the trail, but mom stayed planted firmly to protect her young. I stopped too. She remained on the side of the trail between me and where the kittens had gone. She opened her mouth and made some noises, kind of a something between a hiss and a growl, but sounding like neither. I moved slowly along the far side of the trail talking calmly to try and assure her I wasn't interested in her babies. She watched me carefully the whole time without moving until I was well down the trail. She was absolutely amazing; beautiful, powerful and, yet, graceful. So many times, I am such an idiot for not carrying a camera during my runs, but this time takes the cake. However, the experience cannot be replaced and it is one great reminder of why I run trails.

The rest of this week will be maybe a couple light miles, some easy cross training with lots of self-therapy to make sure my PF is good to go for Saturday. Should be a great race with many familiar faces. See you there if you'll be there.

7 comments:

andyb said...

That must have been really cool to see the mother bobcat and kittens. I have seen a few bobcats on runs and hikes, but never kittens. It seems as though "wildlife moments" can really stand out on runs and add something special.

Good luck at DC!

Dave said...

A bobcat encounter? That would be a beautiful sight. However, I would probably crap my pants and then get eaten, because she would smell my fear...

Eudemus said...

Seeing those cat's was very very cool. The image still sticks in my mind. Andy, I really didn't get a very good look at the kittens as they ran off pretty quickly. They looked to be more than 1/2 the size of the mother so I think they may have been a little more than babies. Dave, I don't think there is any danger to being eaten by Bobcats as they aren't *that* big. However, the size of their paws did imply some rather large claws.

Addy said...

what what an amazing sight! That really is a great reason to be outdoors :)

See you this weekend!

matt said...

thanks for sharing your perspective on pushing the pace. i sometimes tend to push myself to a finish time in training and then feeling regret over pushing it for no apparent reason. what you said about stopping to stretch there clicked with me and i think i will try to start giving that a go next time.

have a great DC50, Steve!

Eudemus said...

Addy, yep, very cool. Maybe we'll have some good wildlife sightings at Firetrails. See you in the (early) morn.

Eudemus said...

Matt, yep, I know what you mean. I actually try to make it a habit to stop my watch in training runs unless I am trying to really see how long a route will take me. Mostly, I want to record my "moving pace" and the time on my feet. It also lets me remember to take breaks and enjoy the scenery without feeling like I am "loosing time".