The off season

It’s been a while since my last post.  I changed fitness priorities for the winter.  I’m trying once again to sort out my injury problems before the ultra training grind starts again.  So I de-prioritized running and started doing a pretty heavy strength routine along with regular flexibility work.  And honestly, this is the best my heels have felt in years.  They almost never hurt and I mostly just forget about them.  The exceptions to that mostly come after long snowboarding weekends and running after snowboarding.  But the difference from now to last year is dramatic.  I remember limping constantly in our January Jackson Hole trip last year.  Now, i mostly don’t notice anything.

So this is of course without doing much running.  I’m getting in 2-3 times per week typically, but nothing more than an hour or so of light running.  Nothing long, nothing fast.  And I’m not doing it often enough to really build my stamina.  For now I’m mostly just trying to maintain until strength season is over.  But the good news is that an hour of running doesn’t seem to bother my heels at all.  But it can be really hard because my legs are usually dead.

As for the strength, it’s going okay.  I’m approaching novice weight levels.  That doesn’t sound great, but considering I hadn’t lifted a barbell since high school before this, I think I’m starting to make some progress.  There was definitely some shakiness early on because a lot of stabilizing muscles were really weak.  But the point of the routine was all compound movements to get all of that stuff.  So after 4-6 weeks I started to feel stable.  Grain of salt here because I didn’t necessarily know where to start with some of the weights, but I think I’ve settled in to the right range on all of it now.  The numbers are November 29th, which was when I was cleared to lift again after my Melanoma surgery to now:

Bench Press: 135 => 175
Military Press: 80 => 110
Barbell Row:  135 => 185
Deadlift: 185 => 275
Squat: 135 => 185

The numbers aren’t 1 rep maxes.  It’s my low rep weight to prioritize pure strength.  The initial idea behind the workout was 5 sets of 5 reps.  Day 1 is Squat, Bench, Row.  Day 2 is Squat, Military, 1 set of Deadlifts.  Switch workouts every other day.  So I’ve been lifting Monday, Wednesday, Friday and trying to run Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday if not snowboarding.  One of the first changes I made was changing Day 2 to be a full 5 sets of Deadlifts, Military, then some other muscle group that I didn’t feel like I was getting – like calves.  I just didn’t want to do squats every workout and I felt like I needed the back and posterior chain strength from the deadlifts for my heel injuries.

I seemed to regress on bench press after being sick and going to Park City for a week over New Years.  But every other lift continued to get stronger.  So I changed things again.  Now, instead of doing 5×5 reps of everything at high weight I do 4×5 at high weight, then 1×10 or so at 65% of normal and then 1x whatever I can handle at 50% of normal.  The idea is to keep the heavy strength portion of the workout but add full muscle depletion at the end with lower weight.  It definitely helped me push through my bench press plateau and it’s absolutely killed my legs.  I’m curious to see how it all goes after I take 4 days off for a ski trip this weekend and can fully recover.

I’ve also been doing a bunch of lower body stretching in between sets while I lift.  I figure I need to rest anyway so might as well put that time to use.  So between the strength and the flexibility everything is feeling better.  I have another 3-4 weeks of this before I take a week off in Thailand and then start working on running again.

As to nutrition, I started with the bodybuilder mindset that I needed to eat extra to maximize muscle development.  But I abandoned that after New Year’s and I’m now trying to walk the mythical line of losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time.  I’m sure I’m missing out on some potential muscle mass this way, but I’d rather not have to drop a bunch of extra fat when I’m done.  It seems to be mostly working but some days I’m just completely exhausted.  This week especially has been hard.  I did a double of day 1 lifting and running Monday, day 2 lifting Tuesday, running today, and day 1 lifting again tomorrow.  I figure I can go a little harder than normal since I’m taking 4 days off after that.

So yeah, it’s all going well right now.  I’m curious to see how things hold up once I start building running volume again.  It’s bound to be a little tough, but I can’t wait to see what it feels like to not be running on legs that I killed in the gym the day before every time.

Short update

I’ve been delaying this for a while.  But figured I’d get it out there.  Since my last update I was diagnosed with melanoma.  Luckily, it was caught very early and removed without complication or more invasive surgery.  No lasting issues aside from a higher risk of getting it again.  So folks, go to the dermatologist and get your skin checked yearly.  If I’d been lazy about that, it could have been much worse.

As for training, I’m focusing om a strength routine called the Stronglifts 5×5.  It’s uncomplicated enough that I think I can stick to it for 2 or 3 months.  the goal right now is to focus on strength and flexibility to hopefully be injury free for running season.  We’ll see how that goes.  

Colossal Vail 50

Little bit of a late summary because I got distracted (more on that later).  All in all, I’m disappointed.  I maybe shouldn’t be, but that’s what happens when you’re overly goal-based in something like ultra running.  It’s a recipe for misery to set any sort of time goals going into a course you’ve never run – I realize that.  But if I didn’t aim high, I wouldn’t have anything to keep me from slow-walking during the tough times.  Every ultra runner needs that extra motivation to push through the inevitable lows.  Some just have it internally.  Some have the competition factor.  I have arbitrary times.  Stupid, I know.  But pushing for that arbitrary sub-29:00 helped me find a way to jog after 35 miles of death-marching Leadville.

Anyway, long story short, I caught a chest cold a week before the race.  I started taking zinc lozenges and stopped exercising completely.  I felt pretty awful Tuesday through Thursday, but seemed to bottom out Wednesday and start getting better.  I actually felt pretty good Saturday morning.  But I knew about a mile into the race that my legs just didn’t have anything in them.  In training I felt pretty good about getting to mile 20-25 before feeling any meaningful fatigue.  I maybe made it to mile 5 in the race.

I can’t help being sick, but I could have trained better.  Somehow I got the impression that the course was easy.  Not a lot of climbing.  And I somehow conflated this race withe Javelina.  I guess I figured they were both in Arizona.  But the southern Arizona trails are no joke.  It was pretty damned rocky most of the time.  So there I am, having not run a trail since Leadville and wearing my road shoes.  It is what it is.  Injuries prevented me from doing much trail work this year.  So I did what I could.

The heat also beat me up a little.  It was in the 80′s, probably 10 degrees warmer than average.  And it was breezy.  So sweat evaporated instantly.  I didn’t feel terrible, but I was definitely dehydrated.  My stomach wasn’t super off, but I still struggled to eat enough.  All the usual warm weather ultra troubles.  I thought I had the heat dialed in, but I guess not.  My biggest mistake here was not having a way of keeping my drop bag gatorade cold.  I lived on gu, cheetoes, and gatorade in the 90 degree heat of Javelina last year.  But i just couldn’t force myself to drink warm gatorade and drank maybe ¼ of what I had available.

Lots of excuses.  Some valid, some bad planning.  The end result was a 10:39.  Good for 14th out of 54 starters.  So not terrible.  I hit my intermediate goals of a sub-5:00 marathon and a sub-6:00 50k.  And I didn’t have any completely awful miles.  But I really thought this was a real opportunity to go sub-10:00 on a legit 50 (I’ve done it on a flat course in South Carolina).  Maybe next year.

So with that, the season is over.  My heels held up pretty well, so I’m making progress on my injuries.  No real setbacks in that regard.  I think I’m going to spend 2-3 months doing a strength training program to see if that helps me stave off injuries in 2020.  I’ll do some running, probably speed work.  But the main goal until February will probably be raw, full body strength and flexibility.  Unless I win the lottery and get into Western States…

So, the race went well

I finished #13 overall (of 745) at the Temecula Half Marathon last weekend.  It’s the first time I’ve raced a half marathon in almost 6 years.  I guess my fastest days aren’t necessarily behind me.  I cut 2:48 off my PR and finished just slightly over 1:30, with 1:30 being my near-impossible stretch goal going into it.

Here’s the comparison of my previous PR to last weekend’s race.  I blew the doors off despite a more difficult course.

I probably screwed myself by going out too conservatively.  I didn’t know what the difference in altitude would do for me (4000 feet lower at the race than in Boulder).  So I went out at PR pace and just got faster from there.  The race went pretty much exactly as I’d envisioned it.  20 seconds faster on the flats than what I’m used to, survive the uphills however I can, and free mileage on the downhills.  I should have gone faster in the downhill miles 9 and 10, but I was still worried about burning up at that point so I didn’t want to redline with 3-4 miles left.  I went into mile 13 knowing I needed to finish the race in the 5:00′s to go under 1:30 but just didn’t have the raw speed to pull it off.  The fastest I ran in training was flat 6:00′s so I didn’t have a 5:50 when I needed it.  Oh well, maybe next time.

I have this little tidbit from strava to make me feel better:

So I guess technically I’m a 1:30 half marathoner now.

My legs are still a little beat from the race, but not much time to rest.  I’m going to try for 26.2 tomorrow as a final long run before the Colossal Vail 50 in two weeks.  I feel stronger and fitter than I did going into Javelina last year, and that race was pretty great for me.  I think it’s finally time for that elusive sub-10:00 (legit) 50 mile finish.

Race coming up this weekend

I guess it’s been more than a month since my last post.  The plan after coming back from Europe was to prioritize my injury recovery because my feet/heels felt awful.  That was mainly done through a lot of strength and flexibility work.  I spent 2-3 weeks doing strength first and running second.  I did a lot of squats, trying to strengthen all of my legs including my glutes.  I did a lot of plyometric workouts.  I ate well.  I stretched a lot.  I wore 5 different pairs of shoes with varying heel drops and cushioning.  And guess what?  It seems to be working.  My feet get stiff sometimes.  Especially when I’m wearing less cushioned, lower drop shoes.  But My heels are not a major problem at the moment.  No knee pain.  Very rare knee irritation.  Much more of a forefoot stride.  And this is with turning up the mileage the last couple of weeks.

My first good run was a week or so after getting back from Europe.  I did 12 miles at 7:43 pace, which is a run that I probably haven’t done in years.  So while it took me 5 weeks to bounce back from Leadville, that felt great.  And that gave me the confidence to start pushing my mileage and effort level back up in hopes of being ready for some races.  I was eyeing the Temecula half marathon (my wife is running it) and my stretch goal was the Colossal Vail 50 miler outside of Tucson if I could somehow get back in ultra shape.  So I pushed.  Every run was in the 7:00′s.  A tempo run and an interval run every week.  The next weekend I did 17 miles at a 7:58.  Then 3 days later, 20 miles at 8:15.  Last weekend I did 22 miles at 8:20.  The goal was to take it somewhat light since my half marathon is next weekend.  It felt so easy at 16 that I ran the last 10k in the mid 7:00′s.  Mile 22 scraped in at 6:59.  Nothing gives me more confidence as an endurance runner than 20 miles feeling easy.  

So yeah, I feel pretty good going into this half marathon.  This morning I did my traditional race-week Monday tempo run.  4.5 miles at a flat 7:00 on legs that were still a bit tired from Saturday.  7:00 is my target pace for the race.  I have no idea if I can do it.  I definitely wouldn’t be able to do it in Colorado.  But 4000 feet lower in elevation?  That’s like 15% more oxygen.  Maybe it’s doable.  I think that on a great day I could probably hit a 7:15-7:20 half marathon on a flat course in the Denver area.  I did 7 miles at that pace last week and wasn’t dying at the end.  Will that 15% more oxygen + taper + race food get me there?  Not sure.  There’s also some non-trivial uphill in this race that’s going to make it interesting.  The hope is that the downhills will be free mileage so I can redline the uphills if I have to.  We’ll see.  No matter what, I think I’m looking at a personal top 3 half marathon performance.  Not bad after not being able to walk without pain 5 weeks ago.  Time to rest up and get strong.

And yeah, I signed up for the 50 in Tucson, too.  

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