Friday, March 6, 2009

Confused by a Slow Turned Fast Midweek Long Run

Like most runners, I am definitely a creature of habit. I like my workouts nicely planned, way far out in advance, with fixed distances and fixed paces so there is no confusion about what I’m doing for training each and everyday. I’m perfectly happy as long as I can follow this pre-planned training schedule all the way to the marathon However, when I am forced by circumstance to start shifting workouts and mixing and matching paces from one run to another, that’s when things break down and I start getting confused and a little anxious. And if the chaos lingers for long enough, I can become downright miserable even if everything appears to be going well on the surface.

Let’s take today’s run as an example.

The workout on the original schedule called for 12 recovery miles at an easy pace. Because I had a hard tempo workout 2 days ago and the 5K race this past weekend, my intention was to give my legs a break from the speed and just run some slow mileage in preparation for a longer 16 miler this weekend. In fact, by the time I got off work in the late afternoon, I was so exhausted from having had to deal with a family with 2 boys who had BMI of 68.9 and 70.2 (a record for me!) at the office that I wasn’t even feeling the 12. Still, I figured I could at a minimum do six easy in Central Park and maybe jump on the treadmill afterwards to finish off the distance.
Although the temperature had miraculously climbed into the low 40s today while I was at work, it was a bit windy by the time I got to the park. Dusk was beginning to settle onto the city as I started my journey southward from Engineer’s Gate. I was still feeling tired at the beginning of the run so I made sure I took my time moving down Cat Hill. I finished mile 1 which coincided with the 72nd street transverse at 7:05, which is exactly where I wanted to be since most of the first mile was downhill.
For the next several miles, as I looped around the bottom of the park and up and over the rolling hills of the west side, I didn’t pay attention to the Garmin but just told myself to run at an easy and comfortable pace. The wind died down some as I saw myriad of runners passing me by in shorts and a single long sleeve shirt. I looked somewhat out of place in my hat, heavy Nike runner’s jacket, gloves and long heavy tights. Okay, so I overdressed for the occasion just a little bit but still felt pretty comfortable moving at my own pace.
I reached the 4.5 mile mark at the top of Harlem Hill, and for some reason decided that 8 would be better than 6, so I made a left and headed onto Morningside Park. As I exited the park, I checked the Garmin again and was astonished that I averaged 7:01 pace for those hilly park miles.
After dodging some brief traffic, I found myself standing alone on the precipice of Morningside Park. The day had already begun given way to night as I began running again. I had to admit. I was a little scared to be running there alone in the receding light, but still found the tranquility somewhat invigorating. My pace had slow down a bit mostly because I was unfamiliar with the terrain and had to dodge some snow puddles. Pace for this section – 7:10.
It had gotten a little darker by the time I reached the northern edge of the park. I stopped, took a sip from my Gatorade bottle, but instead of running back from when I came, I again made a left in the direction of Riverside Park and the West Side Highway. Hmmm…Laminator, shouldn’t we be heading back now, it’s getting dark. We can knock out whatever’s left over at the Reservoir or at the gym. But despite my sheepish complaints, my legs were having none of it and were already carrying me up over the steep hilly streets and onto the edge of the Hudson. What could I do? I was forced to comply. And so I ran, first through the streets to the park then cautiously and slowly down the west side. Night had set up permanent residence in the city and aside from the cars whizzing along the highway and the occasional dog barking at a stranger nearby, it was quiet, almost eerily so.
I reached 96th Street in the middle of mile 8. My pace had recovered from a lackluster 7:17 in the previous mile to a 7:07 in this mile, and I was happy that I was almost 2/3 of the way to knocking out my 12. Ordinarily, at this juncture of the trip, I turn back east to finish up the remaining 4 miles in the familiarity of central park. But somewhere between being freaked out that I was running alone at night on the opposite side of the island with no ID and no phone and feeling vindicated that I was going to finish my 12 miles completely outdoors without the use of a treadmill, I must have had an absence seizure because my mind completely froze and I continued running down the west side past the park exit. In my freaky head, I was trapped by the thoughts of hmmm…I’m feeling good…so let’s do 16 instead of 12…isn’t that the scheduled long run for this week…oh, and I heard it might rain this weekend, better to get it over with now then wait…
Again, I felt powerless to protest. So I ran completely down the upper west side, down to 59th Street before making it all the way back to 96th Street to the park exit. The whole extra excursion added another 3.5 miles to the run. The pace was 7:02, 7:05, 7:21 for the respective miles so that by the time I landed back on the west side of Central Park, I was looking at 12.5 miles with an average of 7:10 min/mi pace.
You would think I’d be satisfied, having run an extra 4 miles longer than I origninally expected, to be running this strong pace for an impromptu long run. But then you’d be wrong. For some reason, when I saw 7:10, my mind went completely numb and my legs took control and ran hard the rest of the way as if they was on a mission. I blistered the 3.77 miles back over to Engineer’s Gate (yes, even through Cat Hill) at a 6:41 min/mi pace. I wasn’t looking at Garmin during this impromptu speed session so I had no idea what I was running until I arrived at the finish. I wanted to carry a marathon pace (6:52) for the final miles, but 6:41 sounds completely ridiculous to me. My finishing time for the short-6-turned-long-16.17 miler was 1:53:51. Average pace: 7:02.
Now as I’m sitting here, trying to come to grips with this weird midweek fast long run, I am not really sure how I should really categorize it in terms of distance or speed. For distance, sure the 16 miles fulfills me long run requirement for the week, but does that mean I should only do 12 this weekend. Or maybe an 18 miler would be more appropriate now to improve my long distance stamina. For speed, the dilemma is even trickier. Up to now, my long run pace has been in 7:15-7:20 range, or so I had thought. So 7:02 is really unfathomable to me as a long run pace. By comparison, my previous training PR for this distance (established a month prior to NYCM last year) was 7:13! Combined this with last week’s 20-miler, where the average pace of 7:12 blows the previous best of 7:21 out of the water, and I truly do not even know what my long run pace is or should be anymore. On the one hand, I’m ecstatic that I’m running so much stronger than I ever have before. On the other, I’m afraid that I’m running everything too fast, risking burnout, injury or just peaking too early before Boston.
Gosh, this is confusing. If only I could’ve just stuck to the plan and run an easy 12 at a slow recovery pace…


Running and living said...

First off, congrats on getting stronger and faster.
I have the same problem, in that lately I have been running my long runs way faster than goal pace. In fact, my last 20 miler was at marathon pace. I did not plan this, it just happen. Now I am confused - should I pick up the pace during the next 6 weeks? Am I risking injury by doing that? What is my marathon pace? Any feeback would be appreciated! Ana-Maria

Sun Runner said...

I think it's the weather.

I went out for a 8-mile run the other day. It wasn't supposed to be anything out of the ordinary, just my middle-of-the-week middle-distance run.

It was pushing 40 degrees that afternoon, which is a huge and welcome change here in Michigan.

Imagine my surprise when I ended up doing the 8 miles in 1:05, an average pace of 8:10, which for me is quite fast, including a 7:42 last mile. 7:42! For me, that's blazing. And throughout the whole thing I felt just fantastic. I didn't try to run like that; it just happened. My body decided that's what it wanted to do and I went along for the ride. I had been frustrated of late with IT band syndrome so being to run at all was great, never mind at a pace that is much faster than I usually run.

I'm trying to BQ at my next marathon (Cleveland) and I finally feel as if I'm back on track for that goal.

I, too, have an almost obsessive devotion to my training schedule, but sometimes, the legs have their reasons which reason knows nothing of.

Irish Cream said...

WOW. That is a fast 16-miles! I have a feeling the same thing is happening to me with my long runs--my last two long runs have been WAY faster than I had intended. It is utterly confusing . . . I'm sure even more so for you, considering you are quickly approaching Boston (yay!).

I would say you should probably gauge how your body responds to this long run over the next week or so. If you have any drawn out negative effects (fatigue, excess soreness, etc.), it might be best to ease up a little bit . . . but if your body seems to recover okay, I think you should go with it (but obviously still remain on the look-out for any signs of burn-out).

The Happy Runner said...

See what a little 5k race can do to you? Ha!

It sounds like you are just really getting stronger and faster. Can't wait to see how you are going to do in Boston. Awesome, I'm sure!

X-Country2 said...

Must be rough being so good. :o)

I agree that it's the weather. I find myself going further and faster just to soak in the spring warmth.

Jamie said...

Great job on such an impromptu run! And for getting stronger, fitter, and faster! It is definitely the weather :) And I think you should do the 12 this weekend. It's supposed to rain anyways :)

Michelle said...

All I can say is i want to be out there!!

Happily running my 9.45's or 10 min miles!!! HAPPILY!!!

The frustration is quickly setting in.

BUT, dude you are blistering and hardcore!!! You know your body!! Do the right thing before Boston!!!

Can't wait for that for you!!!

sRod said...

Excuse me? A BMI of 70??? That is insane. That is like three times mine. Those boys need help.

Also, I wish I had your problems with too much speed and distance. Sigh. I'm going to go recover some more from my run yesterday.

Meg said...

Wow, those poor boys you treated, that is so sad.
What a great unplanned pace/distance! Boston is going to be great for you!!

Run For Life said...

I had to re-read those BMI's to make sure I saw the numbers correctly and my eyes weren't tricking me, I cannot imagine how they feel.

That run sounds like it was great! I sometimes wonder about the pacing and if I need to overall speed up or if it'll get me in trouble so I'm no use there. It does sound like you're getting faster though!

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