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Self reflection at the end of the training block

It’s always a good idea when you finish something to go back over it and see what you can learn from it. While this is true for most things, it’s definitely the case with endurance training. For those of us with clearly defined seasons, the end of the season is a natural time to do this. For the rest of us who have a tendency to train for an “A” race, a few days to a week after the race is a great time to do it. Either way, you want to know ahead of time that you’re going to do it so you can let it stew for a bit before you put pencil to paper. And it also helps you objectively look at it if you aren’t in the post-race afterglow (or down in the dumps if it was a bad day). Now that I’ve had a week or so to stew after Chile Pepper and finishing up a fairly protracted training block, it’s the perfect time to look back at the past few months worth of training.

The track at LA Tech, where the Wednesday morning speed sessions go down.

I was actually kind of surprised when I realized that we’d been doing the Wednesday morning speed sessions for 6 months now. And while the workouts weren’t always 100% geared towards the fast fall 5k, the almost all were trying to work the central nervous system. Almost all of the work was at repeat pace, with some interval work thrown in there. Unfortunately, most of the workouts had not enough rest for real repeat work, or too much rest for interval work. In retrospect, I probably could have gotten more out of those workouts by cutting back on the rest a tad on the interval days so the heart rate wasn’t dropping so much. The reason for this is that the intervals were pretty short in terms of duration, so I probably wasn’t spending enough time over the course of the workout above that VO2-max threshold. Conversely, I could have gone harder for shorter durations (or with longer rests) on the workouts so that I could actually move at my top end speed and really stress the central nervous system. The reason we were taking too much rest for the VO2-max work was that it was summer in Louisiana, and even at 5 in the morning it can still be really hot and sticky. We erred on the side of caution and took too much rest so that no one would run into heat distress issues. Once you were too hot, you were done. You simply couldn’t get your core temperature back down due to the humidity. With that in mind, we probably would have been better off going faster, for shorter durations, with more recovery. This would have allowed us to get more out of the workout by really stressing the biomechanical/anaerobic end of things, while minimizing the risk of overheating.

One thing the summer speed sessions did have going for them was progression. We started off going pretty fast in May (albeit for short distances and without enough recovery), and then we gradually increased the distance, duration, and number of reps within each workout. Unfortunately, I think we didn’t take enough down weeks. As a group, we didn’t have many injuries, but we do have some little niggles cropping up now that we’ve been going for about 6 months. I think it would probably be less of an issue if we had worked in a lower intensity/volume week every third or fourth week, especially with some of the guys in the group being new to the sport or just working their way back in after a long hiatus. We haven’t really had anything major crop up, but there have been a couple little niggles that are preventable if you structure your training correctly.

The last bit of the Wednesday morning speed sessions that should probably be addressed (and is true for anyone doing a decent amount of speed work or running on a track), is proper warm up and cool downs paired with clockwise running. Because we’re normally chomping at the bit to get going on the workout so we can get home and help get kids ready for school, we have a tendency to short the warm up and cool down a bit. We’d probably be better off with a longer warm up and less “work” as we’d get more out of the work we got done. The other thing that we should probably change up a bit in the future is running the opposite direction on the track. We put in enough total laps with high force outputs that those left hand turns start adding up to an unbalanced load on the ankles, knees, and hips. I honestly think this is the root cause of the injury that I managed to suffer, even if it wasn’t the immediate trigger (which I still haven’t figured out).

I think I did a pretty good job with the mileage progression this summer. I would have liked for the weekly average to be a little higher going into the cooler months, but quite frankly, I was getting pretty fried in the heat and humidity this summer. I could have done the miles, but I’m not sure how much I would have gotten out of them. Earlier in the summer, I was traveling a decent amount, and that always throws a wrench in the works when it comes to getting the total volume in. Once I got to the tail end of July (when I went to New England and the Carolina mountains for a week) I was able to keep the hours spent training at a fairly consistent level.

I think it may have been a good use of time to maybe spend some more time on the bike or in the pool, getting in low/no-impact volume that would have still helped develop the aerobic engine without risking the overheating that seemed to be my limiting factor this summer. I was on track to be hovering at around 45-50 miles/week by this time if I hadn’t cut back in the last week or so in an effort to fix my calf. I probably should have spent that extra time on a bike or in the pool so I was still getting in the same amount of total volume.

Speaking of cross training, I think it’s probably a good idea for me to make it a priority. I had initially wanted to work it into the weekly plan at the start of the summer, but I have a feeling the traveling and NOT making it a priority allowed it to slip off the back burner again. Quite frankly, I’ve have enough minor setbacks in the last year or so that I should know better. The fundamental cause of the issues I’ve had is goofy biomechanics (which I’ve hopefully addressed with the introduction of the weekly speed sessions) and some muscle imbalances, coupled up with a lack of hunger to really improve.

I do need to start working the long run back up a bit. I was in the process of doing this until getting close to Chile Pepper, but at this point it’s been more than 6 months since I’ve run for more than 90 minutes without stopping. I’ve been keeping the long runs to between 75-90 minutes for most of the summer to minimize the risk of overheating and sunburn. That and I intentionally started the long run progression at about ground zero so that I could safely build it and not re-injure the right calf. The other part I was missing from long runs was harder efforts within them. Almost all of my long runs since Boston have been at an easy effort. This means I haven’t done a ton of work on my lactate threshold in about 6 months now and it’s starting to show.

Post Blue Man Run (June 2018). One of the last races where I was racing a 5k.

I think the lack of hunger really stands out to me. I do like running fast. I do want to run faster. But things other than my training plan have been a higher priority for me over the last 6 months or so. I think I do respond well to having a race on the schedule, as it gives training a sense of urgency. It also juices my competitive side a bit, which I think I might require in order to stay hungry for improvement. I’ve always trained (and improved) best when there was someone to chase. Not so far ahead that I couldn’t catch them, but far enough that I was by no means the top dog. That may have been a large part of the mental side of Chile Pepper, and why I did better at the Firecracker 5k in July. I need to be in races where I’m in contention, but where I’m going to have to work to stay there. The last time I raced a shorter (ie. 5k/10k) race was Autumn Breeze last October. Granted, I was doing marathon training all winter for Boston, and then recovering and building back up. But I just haven't been racing a ton. With adding the Couch-to-5k program to my work schedule, it makes it harder to actually justify going to races on Saturday mornings. I have a hard time letting myself get someone to cover the training session for me and taking the opportunity to race. I’m not sure if the solution is to get better with having someone cover for me, or to arrange my work week so that I’m not working on the weekend. I know. That sounds crazy, right?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the mentally toughest competitor. I was hoping that some of the regular speed work would help address that issue, but I don’t think we really did any “get tough” kind of workouts because it was simply too damn hot to be safe to do it this summer. Maybe we’ll work some into the mix now that it’s cooler. More frequent racing will probably help as well, allowing me to be in the right mental space to stress my ability to push when uncomfortable.

These are the take home points when I look back over the last few months:

  1. I need to increase my total training volume, mostly on the easier end of the spectrum so I’m not getting hurt.

  2. I need to work in cross training and resistance training on a regular basis.

  3. I need to dial in the speed sessions to actually get something out of them for how much I’m beating myself up.

  4. I need to bring the long runs back up to 90-120 minutes in duration, preferably with some threshold work or fast finishes added to them.

  5. I need to work on my mental toughness. Gut-busting interval sessions, longer threshold efforts, and races here we come.

  6. I need to race more frequently. The tricky part is figuring out how to do it…

So I obviously have some things to work on. I can start doing some of them now, and some will have to wait until the now injured left calf and foot are better. But having the overall priorities down on paper will help when I start sitting down to pencil in workouts for the coming months. I’m glad I tried some new things this summer and I did get something out of them. I am a lot quicker than I was 6 months ago. But I think some of those came at the cost of things that I know are important for me to be doing. The trick is finding out how to balance all the ingredients so that we develop at an optimal rate without getting hurt or cutting in too much to the home and work life. I’ll keep you posted as I figure it out.

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