Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Weekend: recovery and training tips, maybe

"You are crazy!" that's what a cyclist said while passing me on the way up to Saratoga Gap on Highway 9. I don't think he was referring to the fact I was running on such a busy road because I believe the danger of car is so much greater to road bikes. These past days, there have been a few very high profile accidents reported again on Facebook, involving several champions in Europe especially, while they were training or cross-training. It is so terrible to see lives of such people enjoying the outdoors, taken away by cars or trucks. That makes me appreciate trail running even more.

So, what was I doing on this road this Saturday?! I was going to use my standard route up to Black Mountain but Agnès had reminded me to enjoy my run before I left the house and I decided to improvise this time, deciding where to go next at every turn. Instead of taking Montebello, I took left through the Stevens Creek Park, on Tony Look Trail. At the end of it, I went right on Stevens Creek Canyon Road, then veered left at the next intersection on the steep Redwood Gulch Road which connects to Highway 9. Although I was already 9 miles in my run, I got excited to play with the bikes and keep up the pace, hence the comment or compliment I received above, and a few others as we were passing each others.

Now that you know how I got on Highway 9, what was I doing pushing the pace just 7 days after Ohlone and 3 demanding ultra races in May. Well, I'm not sure, but that's my way to recover by keeping training for the next gig. Which happens to be a hilly and tough one in the Alps, early July. The day after Ohlone, last Monday, I was really sore but decided to go for a few miles along the Colorado River in Austin. While I felt terrible in the first 2 miles, running at 8:30 min/mile along with the casual joggers, the leg muscles soften eventually and I was able to finish the run closer to 7 min/mile. Too much work the other days and too short nights, so I had to taper by necessity and ran 9 miles on Friday after flying back home.

Memorial weekend used to be my biggest training weekend of the year, starting in 2007 when I was preparing very seriously for my first Western States and participated in the super engaging and exciting Western States Memorial Weekend Training Camp. 88 hilly miles on the Western States trail in 2017 became 126 hilly miles in the Bay Area in my own training camp in 2008 and 122 miles in 2009. But international travel, especially to the Middle East, prevented me to keep up with this training tradition.

Speaking of recovery and training: people ask sometimes what I've been doing to allow me to keep racing so hard all these years. I must say that, except from rarely slowing down, either to take care of a nagging injury or to take a 3-week break at the end of the year, my approach is to keep looking forward, toward the next objective. Sincerely, I couldn't be a coach because this is all based on guts, not even guts feelings, and I don't see how I could demand as much from someone else as the pressure I put on myself. Besides, with the stroke I had last year, I couldn't imagine a coach pushing me beyond the bar I already set for myself.

Yet, let me list a few principles, most of them so basic you'll find them in most articles on recovery or sustainable training.

1. Listen to your body. Just enough. Ah, yes, that principle number 1. Super important to listen to signals coming from your body, in particular the mechanical ones (joints, bones --yes, they do speak, or at least whisper!--, muscles). But, with the years, you'll learn how to distinguish the serious signals from the noise coming from soreness. At first, I would stop training every time I felt something unusual. But it is the main role of training to relearn the body how to go farther and faster so don't fall in the trap of the signals coming from the body trying to resist and fighting the change. In other words, listen to your body, but not too much.

2. Don't listen too much to the mind. I know, this looks like contradicting number 1 as, after all, the mind, or brain, is part of our body.

3. Get ample sleep. I don't think there is any debate about this one and, as much as I believe in it, I admit I'm not so good at it. Between my first job (which isn't running, mind you! ;-), the associated stress and pressure, the heavy travel, including long international flights in coach, I suck at getting all the sleep I would need to properly recover from so much racing and training. I used to function on 5-hour nights but admit that this is too short nowadays. I'm not a sleep specialist but I think I'm gifted with a sleep cycle of 45 minutes (+/- 1 minute, and I don't exaggerate), which means I'd get 8 cycles in 6 hours. Anyway, up to you to determine what your cycle is (i.e. take a nap without setting a clock and see how long you sleep), and how many cycles of good sleep you can fit in your nightly routine.

4. Drink a lot. When I ran my first ultras, I was obsessed by a story I had heard of a runner who passed away during his sleep, because of kidney failure after a 100-mile. And it made a lot of sense to believe in the benefit of fluids draining your whole body and organs. Nowadays, however, after running 355 ultras (including 144 ultra races), I pay more attention on nailing down my hydration and electrolyte balance during the races itself so I don't have to fix things later. (And, mind you, that include checking on the color of your pee, as well as your post-race weight.) Still, always a sane habit to drink a lot during the day, especially after long runs.

5. Eat well. That one is a tough one as I have limited dietary expertise and rely on Agnès who is my guru in this area. Besides, traveling right after races doesn't help to be picky. But I know enough that recharging on proteins is paramount, and fat as well especially for me who uses Vespa and depend less on carb during races.

6. Enjoy the accomplishment, but quickly set your sight on the next goal. Because I've always had a busy racing schedule through our Quicksilver team involvement in the year round ultra Grand Prix, this has been a no brainer for me with more than 12 ultras a year. While we joke about people finishing an ultra in pain and saying 'never again' to only sign up for the next one on the next day, I'm surprised that many don't have any precise goal for months. Not having such a goal makes training consistency much harder. And, unlike Trumps thinks, if you don't use and work on your fitness, you lose it!

7. Leverage natural supplements. This sport is so demanding on our body, it's hard to keep all the variables or components in check and balanced and I found reassuring, if not critical, to rely on natural supplements in case, rather than wait too long to discover any deficiency or unbalance. I'm not a specialist in this field either but I feel it's probably better to ingest too many vitamins, the body must be able to fix what it needs. Speaking of vitamins, I can't take as much sun on my skin than Western States 100 pioneer Gordy Ainsleigh can, but I believe in the benefits he claims of running outdoor to get your quota of vitamin D. I do take supplements for vitamin C, Calcium, Magnesium and also glucosamine for the joints (as far as I know, the medical doctors aren't convinced about the real benefits on the joints, but they believe it can't hurt either). Taking Vespa (which I buy from Zombie Runners) also helps my recovery by avoiding bonking and keeping my nutrition in check during races.
Still on the nutrition topic, I also use GU Energy's Recovery Drink Mix (disclaimer: I also receive a discount from them through their Pro Customer program), after big races and long runs (here the chocolate flavor mixed with water, milk, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate topping, yummy!).

8. Rotate shoes. That's a super critical element to me for proper recovery and sustainable training and running; and I'm not talking rotating across 3 pairs of the same model, but at least 3 different models. Each model has different traits and, switching from a type of shoe to another throughout the week will decrease the pressure of high mileage on the feet, legs and joints. Right now, I rotate across 7 different pairs of Brooks shoes (disclaimer: that's my sponsor!): new Caldera, 2 pairs of Launch, 1 Pure Connect, 1 Pure Flow and 1 Green Silence (new pair of an old/discontinued model), plus Racer ST for road racing.

9. Vary terrain, intensity and routes. This tip isn't just for recovery, but for keeping injuries at bay and remaining motivated over many months and years. And it's such an important topic, it could or should be split into individual considerations. Switch from even road surface to ease on the ankles to trails to ease on the joints, switch between intense track workouts to tempo or relaxed runs, rotate between your standard route and new neighborhoods or switching direction.

Finally, I could add a '10. Don't overtrain!' but that's too serious of a topic to be mentioned lightly, or at least without much definitive insights to offer. So, short of experience in this area after 18 years (phew!), and practical tips, I'll abstain but you can Google the terms and see how serious of a condition this is for some elites in particular. For me, I set the bar at an average of 100 km per week and even promised myself to lower the bar this year, yet I'm 490 km ahead of schedule after 5 months (123 km/week), but I'll take a few weeks off before the big races in the Alps to taper.

Again, to me, this is very empirical and I can't imagine being pushed further by a coach. Can you imagine the moral responsibility if an athlete pushes so hard or far that he gets hurt, disable or dies...? Ok, maybe I'm taking it up a few notches further than most...

Anyway, back to my weekend, I was hoping to run 3 ultras in 3 days but it didn't quite turn that way.

On Saturday, after making it to Saratoga Gap on Skyline Boulevard, I continued on the Saratoga Gap Trail, this time racing a few fast mountain bikers, then down Table Mountain Trail with all its rocks, roots, switchbacks and poison oak obstacles. I started getting some diarrhea which worsen with the pounding. There isn't any restroom in that area and I was 15 miles in my run, I few stops in the bushes will have to do... Since I didn't plan my route that day, I was out of fluid when I reached the Stevens Creek and hesitated refilling from the flowing water but refrain from it, still fearing the giardiasis I contacted 9 years ago. It wasn't even hot in this late May, but it was refreshing to see so much water flowing from the creeks so late in the season.

Without anything to drink for a few miles, I crawled to the top of Black Mountain on the steep and exposed Indian Creek trail, trying to power walk as much as possible as a training for my next two races in the Alps this summer, only stopping to check on the tail end of this big snake, just in case it was a Rattlesnake impersonating a Gopher one!

I refilled my water and GU2O bottle at the Black Mountain campground. While the diarrhea wasn't hurting on the way up, it started back as soon as I passed the summit, with 11 downhill miles to go, ouch! Despite the loss of elevation, I couldn't get under 8 min/mile and had to make a 3rd stop in the bushes, at which point I called Agnès to the rescue. She picked me as I just passed the Pichetti Winery at the bottom of Montebello Road, with my Garmin showing 29.2 miles. So long for the 34-mile recovery ultra I was aiming for, yet, a good effort.

On Sunday, I went for a flat, albeit moderately faster, 50K training run, from Cupertino to the Palo Alto Baylands, and back.
You'll have to click on the image to see more details but I was fascinated to see so many park names across our nearby hills at this zoom level. So blessed to have this running paradise just a few blocks from home and our famous Silicon Valley!

On Monday, Memorial Day, I was hoping to get up early and go back up to Black Mountain for a 3rd ultra. But I had forgotten a milestone at work which kept me up until midnight and that took away most of my energy and motivation in the morning. I still managed to run 20 flat miles, rounding up the weekend to 80.0 miles, not too bad for 3 days worth of recovery and training runs.

Is this all crazy? I can certainly not tell this ultra recovery and training regimen will work for all indeed, but I do believe everyone can safely push the needle while applying the above tips which, again, are really basic stuff, nothing breakthrough. Because, after all, this is about retraining what our body used to know and was meant to be.

Play safe out there on the trails and Run Happy all!


Pierre Haren said...

Jean, reading your report is tiring. You are phenomenal, and few people understand that you also have a very demanding real job with IBM where you have quite an impact. It would be almost fun to alternate a blog on running and a blog on your actual job (without names or confidential information). I am sure everybody would be even more impressed, if this is possible. Stay safe my friend. Pierre.

Jay said...

Hey Jean,

First of all I want to thank you for providing all these fantastic tips of training and recovery. It greatly helped an amateur like me in pursuing a more successful running career. I also enjoyed reading all the race write-ups.

I was able to see you flashing through twice (one in Boston and one in Ohlone) but barely able to catch up for merely seconds. :) From your stories I believe with proper and consistent training, one can really improve for a long time.

Looking forward to seeing you next time on trails.

Jean Pommier said...

Thanks for the friendly note, Pierre. Some people hear me talk about running as being my second job, they must wonder what the first one is indeed... which I put many more hours into. Not sure I want to bother this readership with technical stuff though, and, granted, I don't publish as much about the work I do with/for our clients. Well, here is one about our BPM play on the cloud for those interested: Top 5 things you need to know about IBM BPM on Cloud. Fly safely out there, Pierre!

Jean Pommier said...

Jay, thanks for leaving a note, and referring your friends in Taiwan to this post. See you at Skyline 50K in a few weeks!