Sunday, October 18, 2015

Adaptation & Development

April 2002, Lynchburg College
I was racing in the mens 10,000m track race at Lynchburg college, wearing my Virginia Tech uniform, struggling to maintain a 5:30/mile pace.  My goal was to crack 35:00.  My friend, who I still train with occasionally, Brian Flynn, ran the 5,000m earlier and was cheering me on.  At mile 4 though, I unfortunately dropped out.  I was unable to maintain the pace, and there was nothing I could do about it.  I angrily went over to the fence, and stupidly kicked it.  Brian and I still joke about that.  I thought to myself, Am I a runner? I can't even finish this race!  I cannot break 35:00 for the 10K, why do I keep trying?  A few years later, I rolled through the 10K split in 34:20 during a hilly half marathon in Williamsburg, VA.  I went on to finish in 1:13:13, a personal best in only my second half marathon, at a 5:35 pace.  This was 2005. That same year, I also ran my debut marathon in 2:38:48, at the same time my 5K PR was a sub-par 16:17.

Present Day

By 2014-2015, after years of hard work, I've been able to get my body to race 5K in 14:49, 10K in 30:43, 10 miles in 50:56, and the 13.1 distance(my current best race) in 1:07:29-a 5:08 per mile.  I've even gotten my 1 mile time down to 4:21, certainly not my event.  Hard work pays off.  Plain and simple.  There is a correlation in my recovery improving and the amount of mileage I've been able to handle year to year. I used to be able to not run much more than 2,000-2,500 miles/year.  In the year 2014, I ran 4,200 miles.   And this year, I am on pace for 4,500-4,700 miles, an overall average of 90 miles/week.  So, whenever someone questions my mileage, I just smile back.  There is no doubt the higher mileage correlates with my times dropping faster and my strength improving.  I am a big believer in high mileage if your body can handle it.  And it is clear my body can.  So why haven't I been able to master racing the 26.2 distance?

Several days after my failed attempt at the Chicago Marathon last Sunday, I have had some time to analyze my struggle with the marathon but also my progression as a runner(as a whole, as explained above).  My experience with the race I believe has been more of an adaptation issue to race the distance at my capacity.  I think I almost had it this time around, because I felt closer than I ever have before to be able to race those final miles, but it just wasn't quite enough.  The adaptations are happening though, I feel them.  My body feels them.  5:30's do not really feel like hard running anymore.  They have become aerobic miles for me now.  I have been able to push the aerobic threshold higher, but at the same time, the adaptations haven't completely occurred yet.  What I need to continue doing is basically keep working at it, and not get too down when I cannot follow through completely in a race.  One of my friends, Dickson, mentioned to me I might be a bit more of like a Kenny Moore/Jeff Galloway/Charlie Spedding type of runner who benefits from doing over-distance training runs of 28-32 mile runs.  I feel like I am ready for that next time around.  This cycle I mastered being able to run 26 in training and that was part of my goal this season since last year I struggled with that.  A lot was accomplished during this cycle.

During dinner with my coach, we talked about the next steps.  "You still have another level to jump to."  he said.  I knew exactly what he meant.  He went on, "I haven't given you the whole thing yet, the training has another level.  Your body can take what few can."  What we talked about was increasing the amount of intensity(and therefore, volume) as well as the amount of overall volume(mileage) in general.  They go hand in hand.  We talked about the benefit of doing 28-32 mile runs in training, which we completely agree about doing.  This method of running longer than the race itself seems to have worked for me for other races too.  My best half marathons I have done brisk 20 milers in training-this is aerobic support.  It's all about the aerobic support.  This is what I studied when I coached myself, the methods of Brad Hudson's aerobic support training-I learned this and how to apply it to my own coaching.  It's what got me good.  The combination of Lydiard style and the knowledge of Hudson seems to becoming bread and butter for me.  I am a workhorse, and as I train and train, I eventually become bulletproof.  The marathon is a very hard event for me to master, but I think my body can figure it out, because I seem to respond to the training and it only makes sense that at some point I might be able to become bulletproof enough to run straight through the wall.  The real question is, when that happens, what is my potential?  I have yet to know this.  But first, for me, the challenge of the marathon for me is that it won't let me push through-yet-even though I want to.  Like Batman fighting tirelessly at Bane in Nolan's film, the marathon seems to always break me despite using all my strength.  But, there is a way.  I must become stronger than the distance itself.

To fully achieve potential, you have to push right up to your limits.  Right up to the edge.  You can't go past it though, because you'll step into the injury zone.  I have concluded that maybe somehow if I could have forced myself to finish that race Sunday, I am convinced I possibly would have injured something, very likely tearing a muscle since my legs were wrecked.  The reason I am so good at staying uninjured is because I learned how to avoid them, which I learned through A LOT of trial and error in college.  I had to learn when crossing that line was not a good idea.  On Sunday, the adaptations weren't there, and I knew it once my stride changed immediately and I was forced to stop.  While I push my body to the absolute limit, I also stay within those limits so it is not doing more harm than good.  Once the body is ready, we stay focused on the task at hand and push our limits.

After taking 3 days completely off this week, I felt "the itch" to run again and while my legs were a bit heavy, I felt good running easy on the trails of Cabin John for 51 minutes.  Then, at the end of the week, I headed out for a nice easy 10 miler on the gravel roads of Poolesville, MD.  It was one of those runs when your own thoughts came together.  I suddenly felt like I was on the right path....somehow, I knew, that things were headed in the right direction.  I thought about my racing schedule next year.  I sure am not doing Chicago again next year, that's for sure.  I thought about how much I love the Cherry Blossom race in DC, and got excited thinking about that next spring.  The DC races are awesome, I thought.  I always do well in the DC races.  I know the courses.  My pace quickened a bit.  Suddenly, I realized something.  Why do I keep flying out to Chicago each fall when the race is right here, right in my own backyard, waiting for me this whole time?  If the odds fell my way, this is a race I could possibly even win..  The Marine Corps Marathon.


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