I'm continually amazed by the lessons I'm learning on how to be a successful endurance athlete versus a successful football player. In football it doesn't matter if your arm is falling off while you can only see out of one eye with a leprechaun hacking away at your achelies with a hatchet, each play demands everything you have. In endurance sports quite the opposite is true. At times when the walls are closing in, when my heart rate is elevating into zones it shouldn't reach and my blood sugar is dropping faster than a penny falling from the Empire State Building, the best thing to do is throttle back to rebound. In years one and two during my evolution as a triathlete I didn't fully appreciate that lesson, Coach Egg used to tell me, you don't have to go 100% on every run and you shouldn't constantly be running in zone 5; my response, F*ck the heart rate monitor I'm just going to run by feel. The ignorance of a meat head is pure bliss. Much like a two year old learns not to touch a hot stove by getting burnt, I didn't learn to throttle back until I blew up in race after race. This past weekend I turned another corner in my growth and maturity as an endurance athlete during a hard run out in Portland.
On the West Coast Coach Orton had me doing a mixture of endurance, strength and speed workouts. Without access to my bike he wanted to challenge my legs in every possible way, Wednesday was a nice easy one hour run to keep my legs fresh after a long travel day and Thursday was a killer swim pyramid; the real fun started on Friday. Friday Coach had me doing hill repeats, my sister lives pretty close to the Willamete River out in the PDX suburbs so the hills headed down to the river are freaking steep. My garmin has the elevation grade recorded between 10% and 20%, to me the thing pretty much looked vertical. I was scheduled to do 8 one minute repeats with a 2 minute rest interval. The data for this run is really neat, I remained consistent throughout with my heart rate cresting at 168 on each interval. My speed gets slightly faster on each of the intervals, except for the 7th where I blew up just a little bit, but my 8th interval was the fastest of them all showing that I "trained not strained," as Eric is fond of saying. The run killed my legs which made Saturday's workout that much more challenging.
On Saturday I was scheduled to do an hour and ½ run with 45 minutes in zone 3 and 20 minutes in zone 4a. For those of you not familiar with HR zones, zone 3 is the zone you would use for a longer race where you are pushing yourself but can maintain that heart rate for an extended period of time. Zone 4a is the effort you would exert for a real hard run, 70 to 80% of max effort. The key is that the higher the heart rate zone you are in the faster the lactic acid in your muscles will build because the higher the hr zone the more anaerobic the workout. What makes a run that has a prolonged effort in zone 3 followed by a moderate length effort in zone 4 is that you are forced to use a combination of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers and the long effort in zone 3 has taken a lot of the juice away from your legs; add to that the amount of muscle fatigue from the hill workout and you're in for a challenging day.
For the first 2 miles of the run I felt pretty strong, I tried to stay as on top of my nutrition at my sister's house as possible and was gliding along at an 8:50 to 9:05 pace as I warmed up. The route I chose was way hillier than I thought it would be, but in 65 degree weather I wasn't too upset about that. Everything was great until the 20 minute mark, I tested my blood sugar and was surprised to see 133, much lower than it should have been at that point in the run, my vision was becoming blurry, my legs were shaky and I felt like someone was holding me back with a weight sled or something. I opted to take in a ton of water from my hydration pack, took in a gel and pounded a fuel belt bottle. I collected my thoughts for a minute or two and began to trot off at a slow 10 to 13 minute pace. My time split for mile 2 to 3 dropped to 13 and ½ minutes and my split for mile 3 to 4 was 9 minutes and 45 seconds – real slow times for a zone 3 run. I however didn't let myself become frustrated, the 20 minute recovery I did had my legs come back under me, my head clear up and overall I just felt much better. For the next 2 miles I upped my pace to 8:45 (what I'm normally at for zone 3) and felt confident headed into my 20 minute zone 4 interval.
At the one hour mark I turned on the jets and let my legs loose for the zone 4 interval. Miles 7, 8 and 9 rolled off effortlessly as I maintained a sub 8 pace and absolutely crushed the 20 minute interval. Had I tried to force through the bonk that occurred at the 20 minute mark I never would have been able to recover to complete my zone 4 effort. In the past I would have been worried at my overall pace having slowed to a 10 mile pace over a 2 mile stretch; that mindset leads to a slower split as 10 minutes quickly turns into 12 which has a way of turning into 15 (or walking). Slowing my pace let my body recovery, let the nutrition I needed enter my blood stream and let my muscles get to the point of being able to complete the run like they should. Looking at my final times with a warm up and cool down I ran at a 9:06 pace and covered 9.5 miles in an hour and 25 minutes – right where I want to be for a training run like this. For the miles that counted (5 through 9) I ran an 8:50, 8:16, 7:38, 7:51, 8:13 pace respectively; times that would put me right inline for a sub 1:50 half marathon at my next race. Slow down to speed up, I'm not sure I ever would have believed I would write those words on my blog!