Monday, August 15, 2016

Post-ultra recovery: resting or... pushing?

After running ultras for 10 years and having logged 42,000 miles since I moved to the US, I wish I had the assurance of elite runner and coach David Roche to tell you, and assure myself, that I knew what I was doing with my training. Well, as much as I have respect for the youngsters shaking the ultra establishment, if there was any, I think it's fair to say that the saying "ultra is a big experiment" still applies. After all, we still see shooting stars, over performing for a while but sometimes burning out after too much intensity in racing or training. Therefore I have to admit that I'm myself struggling on training strategies, especially taking into account the aging factor. Not only we are all experiments of one in general and, surely in my case, there aren't that many 50+ runners keeping improving their time and pushing the envelope as much as I do.

When I started running marathons, my sister and best medical doctor, Marie, gave my this wise advice: "no more than a marathon race a year!" At the intensity that the Kenyans or Ethiopians are competing, in the red zone, it makes sense that they put all their bets on one race. Fortunately, I don't have to run to make a living, pretty sure I couldn't handle that competitive pressure and stress. Although the corporate world has its own version of these... Nowadays, I typically run 32-37 ultra marathons a year, more than half as training runs!

Anyway, after racing Skyline 50K last Sunday, relatively hard, what did I do this week? If you recall, I had cramps for the last 11 miles and didn't do much stretching after the race, so I was quite sore when I woke up on Monday morning after a very short night (working and blogging late on Sunday evening and waking up for a 6 am conf call with the East Coast, just to find out it had been cancelled 15 minutes earlier, grrrr).

Monday. Following Dean Karnaze's tip of recovering by resuming training the very next day after an ultra, at least with an easy recovery run, I did put my Brooks shoes on. The calves were so painful, I almost turned back after a few hundreds yards, yet decided to keep going as I was still capable of running under 8 min/mile. While the pain remained the whole time, the muscles eventually loosened up enough to keep up the pace. I completed 2 of my neighborhood 5K loops (6.2 miles total) with splits of 7:46, 7:23, 7:16, 7:15, 7:11 and 6:59, all that without watching my GPS, just by the feel.

Tuesday. I was bummed that my calves were still so painful, 2 days after the race, but went for another run anyway, albeit starting at a moderate pace. 3 loops this time (15K), with another nice acceleration in my miles splits: 7:29, 7:14, 7:03, 7:03, 7:00, 6:50, 6:53, 6:41, 6:32, and 6:19 min/mile on the last 0.3 mile.

Wednesday. The pain and soreness were mostly gone, but I could still feel some fatigue, so I started slow again to warm up. 4 laps this time (20K) with miles ranging from 7:32 for the first one to 6:35 for the last one and an average of 6:58 min/mile.

Thursday. Couldn't run in the morning and was trapped with work until late in the evening so finally took a rest day. It didn't feel that good because it wasn't a rest by design, but it was a good/reasonable outcome.

Friday. Not much sleep during the week but at least I felt my legs were well rested from the day off. I wanted to run 5 loops this time but had just enough time for 4 fast loops between two conference calls. With that, I started faster, the first mile at 7:06 to warm-up then progressively gaining speed with the last mile at 6:20 and an average of 6:32 min/mile for 20K, leaving 3 minutes to catch my breath and sweep my sweat as it was 84F outside!

Saturday. Work got in the way again, not leaving enough time to go up Black Mountain so I ran along the rail tracks down to Winchester Boulevard, a 16.6-mile out-and-back, 2/3 of dirt trail for a change. I didn't have much expectation for killing it but I happened to run my third fastest time on this route at 7:04 min/mile average.

Sunday. Again, got caught between work and family obligations and ended up having only about 3 hours for my long run, not leaving enough room for a hilly ultra. Decided to maximize the distance by selecting a flat course and went on the Stevens Creek trail toward Shoreline and the Palo Alto Baylands. First mile in 7:13 but I quickly picked up the pace and got under 7 min/mile pace for the 4th mile. When I saw that I ran the first 9 miles in 1:02, I thought of going the marathon distance around 3:10. As I was running through Shoreline Park, I passed a fast runner who recognized me from the Trailblazer 10K race. I was on a 6:35-6:40 pace throughout the Park and pretty happy to be able to maintain that pace in that heat (84-86F), with some breeze helping getting through this exposed area in this early afternoon. On the way back, around mile 18, I started getting some doubts on my ability to maintain that pace and settled down imperceptibly to a 6:45-6:50 pace, managing to going through the wall without bunking. However, passing my a MacDonald's at mile 23, I have to admit that I stopped my watch a few minutes to get some iced water to cool my core down. I ended up running 27 miles in 3:04:25 and around 2:58 for the marathon mark (again, not counting 12 minutes of stops for main road/street crossings and the lengthy stop to get iced-water). With the heat, I was drenched from the sweat as soon as I stopped running and quite tired with this sustained effort. I drank about 30 oz of water upon getting home, and rushed to make a smoothie with some Go Recovery brew (mango), milk, orange juice, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream: yummy cocktail which quickly got me back to my feet!

With the 50K Trail Nationals in 2 weeks, I wish I was able to squeeze in some hill training this weekend. Maybe next weekend then if I'm not on a plane again (I was supposed to go to Saudi Arabia again, but it looks unlikely as of Sunday night), before tapering more the following week.

Well, as you see, between resting or resuming training right away, I've chosen the latter this time, even pushing more than I had anticipated or thought possible. And I'm still wondering if that was the best thing to do this week, training wise. An 84-flat-mile week at an average pace of just below 7 min/mile following a 50K race, here is another data point, a drop in the global experiment that ultra running is... Although we lack data and formal analytics overall, but Strava, RunKeeper, Garmin Connect and many other sites are silently amassing that wealth of data from those willing to share. To this point, although I'm still keeping my Microsoft Excel running log up to date manually, which is a good way to remain independent from changes happening to all these platforms and software tools, I finally took the Strava plunge at the beginning of 2015 so all the above data is available on line. Surely, it's also nice to get some cool predefined dashboards such as this one, showing that I also know to take some time off or taper around bigger/longer races.
I'm sure that this level of details and analysis look futile for some. I agree that it's not good to fall overboard in over (or ultra!) analysis, but I'm a believer in the adage "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it!" (Edwards Deming) or "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it!" (Peter Drucker). So, putting some introspection into your running is important from time to time. Or all the time as a matter of fact to listen to your body, and your mind. That's what a coach can help on I assume and, at least for the tracking, motivation and (over) analysis parts, I seem fined with self-coaching... ;-)

With these random thoughts about post-race recovery and training strategies, I'm looking forward to keeping experimenting as long as I can, and reading and learning from others as well. We are all in ultra running together, aren't we?! :-)

1 comment:

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