April 21, 2014

Past as Prologue

When running, I typically think about running. Not the act I am specifically indulging in at that moment, always. Not form neurosis, or even basic systems checks. Usually, it's past races and future races. Why certain things went well, and other things didn't.

Today, while jogging around, I thought back to my first half marathon, a trail race in March 2011. I ran it in 1:39 off of less than 20 miles a week. Probably less than the 13 mile race distance, most weeks. Hadn't, with one very painful one hour exception, run for more than 30 minutes consecutively, at any point (and that was the previous fall). I was still mostly weights focused at the time - or transitioning my interests, at least. So, I primarily did interval work, as that struck me as less catabolic. (Whether I was right in thinking this is a very long thing indeed, and anyway, I'm not even remotely sure.)  My old favorite was one minute all out, one minute total rest (as in standing still) for an hour. It was a good "workout", in the general sense, but surely not specific to a half marathon. (Pretty damn hard though. I also tried thirty seconds "on", thirty seconds "off" for an hour, but couldn't do it.)

Worth noting, I was trashed at the end of this race.

A few weeks later, however, I ran the Lawrence Half in 1:32. Felt trashed again. Limped the last couple of miles, actually. Still, not a shitty time, considering my complete lack of aerobic conditioning and slow twitch fiber development. (Yes, I know that's a loaded statement. And yes, I know that it's very possible to do "aerobic" interval work. But I didn't. And anyway, that's somewhat beside the point.)

Anyway, we're a few years away from that, and quite a few miles. Since then, my training has flipped to an almost complete jogfest - Thursday group runs aside. My ability to run for a long distance has increased considerably, as has my ability to recover from these efforts. However, I do think it's fair to say that I'm not a lot "faster".

I ran that same trail half this year in 1:32, and haven't run a road half since. (I should get around to that.) Still, let's hypothesize, based on that trail race, that I'd run 7 minutes faster (yeah, I know the percentages don't even out). That would be a 1:25. (I've self timed a run on a still marked half marathon course in 1:24 and change, but that's impossible to claim as a legit PR. But by writing it, I guess I kind of am. So, delete it? If you're reading this, obviously I didn't.)

These are not incredibly large improvements, considering the massive increase in mileage. This is not to say that I haven't improved at all, or in other ways. I can run faster at every distance, and I can complete distances that, even those three years ago, would have seemed fanciful. That was my primary goal, and it was achieved. No regrets.

But let's go back to those 2011 half marathons for a moment. Considering my total lack of volume, I think those were pretty good times. Viewed as a person who just read Steve Magness' The Science of Running again (and is too damn neurotic anyway), this might suggest a natural predominance of slow twitch fibers. The heavy weight lifting and fast running I did at the time provided the stimuli needed to prop up my feeble fast twitch development. Knowing my athletic history - I was very fucking slow at everything, and bad at every "explosive" sport - this makes some measure of sense. When I switched to my all jogging, all day method of training, those fibers went to sleep, any my already not terrible slow twitch fibers enjoyed all the attention.

Put another way, I gravitated towards the training that was easier for me (and thus far more enjoyable). My natural strength got stronger, my natural weakness got weaker.

Magness (And many other coaches, but he wins due to recency bias. "Hadd training", of internet fame, covers this really well also.) specifically notes this danger. Naturally "slow twitch" types should, of course, race longer distances. But they should never get too far away from "pure speed" (hill sprints, 50-100 meter repeats, and heavy weight lifting), and they probably ought to incorporate conventional repeat sessions as well. They need volume, of course, but not exclusively. For the marathon specifically, their long runs shouldn't just be jogs.

There is something intuitive here. You should work on what you're bad at, or you'll stay bad at it. Maybe even get worse.

Magness - he's very Canova in this, and admits as much - also emphasizes the importance of race pace work for everyone, at all distances. Nine minute miles aren't specific to much, other than ultras. I got a lot better at those, predictably, but only smaller gains were made at the marathon and below. This too is intuitive. You have to practice a thing - race pace, in this instance - in order to become proficient at it.

All of that said, on some level, the mechanism doesn't matter much. Could be that Magness is wrong. (Smart guy, and I doubt it. But still.) Could be that I'm completely misreading the book, and/or my own past results. Could be I'm just grasping at straws. Doesn't much change plans going forward.

Quality counts, and training fast sometimes helps you race faster. Why, while interesting, is somewhat peripheral.

We'll see what happens. I've talked about committing to quality - to training, rather than hobbyjogging - before, but it's never stuck. Simply, I like running slow. The bitch of it though, is that I hate racing slow. So the motivation is there now, to an extent it wasn't previously. Still, no bold promises. I write a lot, obviously; but even given that, I'd like to avoid being the guy that talks better training than he does.

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