Thursday, November 15, 2012

Surprise PR

Some days, I'm not really sure what to think. One day, I was so stiff that I was barely able to walk after stepping off my mountain bike at the top of Black Mountain. And the next, I was sprinting down Wildcat Canyon effortlessly, like my feet had wings. One day I was half-convinced I might actually need to take a couple of weeks off, or else simply learn to enjoy myself inside my fitness hole. And the next, without setting out to do so, I carved four minutes off my best time on a routine but tough trail loop that I've run dozens of times in better shape.

The bike ride was Beat's idea. It was a beautiful, warm afternoon, there was a storm in the weekend's forecast, and he and Liehann decided to carve a few hours out of their work day to ride up Black Mountain. Recovery was slow after my hard effort at the Mount Tam 50K, and Beat was even more sore than I was. We were still walking like zombies when we geared up for the ride. The 2,700-foot climb was hard, harder than it should be, but worth it. The mountaintop was bathed in rich November light as wisps of clouds painted abstract patterns across the sky, and the distant Pacific Ocean reflected the deepest shade of gold underneath the late afternoon sun. We saw two coyotes lope across the hillside and descended in a refreshing blast of cool air. Some days, I think it doesn't really matter how fit I am, not really. As long as I am still healthy, I am free.

The next day's run was really a "clear my head" kind of pursuit. I've returned to my Alaska memoir writing project after shelving it for nearly a year, mostly because I'm a bit stuck on my "A" project. The main reason I shelved the Alaska memoir is because I lost faith that I could sell it. However, my recent small successes with my "Arctic Glass" blog compilation showed me that books don't have to be fantastically original and "epic" to sell. It's the modern age, eBooks are cheap, and good stories are good enough. I still want to do great things with the "A" project, which is why I've been so tight-lipped about it, but that can wait. So I've vowed to finish the memoir. But when I'm working on it, I find myself a little bit lost in the past. I wanted a good, short jaunt to bring my head back to reality.

My legs were less sore than I expected them to be as I started up the steep first climb on the PG&E Trail. I'd been plopped on the couch all day and didn't even realize that something, perhaps the bike ride or maybe the solid night of sleep, had flushed the lead out of my muscles. I kept a conservative pace down the Coyote Trail and up the first bit of the Wildcat Loop climb. It wasn't until mile three, about halfway through, that I looked and my watch and thought, "Huh, not too bad. If I pick up the pace I bet I can break an hour."

The next two miles melted away at 7:30 pace, loping across a carpet of dry leaves, legs free but lungs hot and head fuzzy. My vision started to wobble and I had a drunken sense of skewed depth perception. I always slowed enough to pass hikers and tight corners cleanly, wondering the whole time how fast runners possibly manage their speed steering. I wanted to keep a good pace on the final climb, but it's still a climb, and I fought that underwater feeling with loud gasps for air. Honestly, I turned off my iPod for a minute and the noises I was making embarrassed me, so I turned it back on.

During the final short descent my shoe came untied and I ignored it, not the smartest thing I've done. I ran full speed across the bridge and hit stop on my watch, 57:41. Sub hour! I was pleased. This is a tough loop. It's only a 10K (6.3 miles), but with 1,050 feet of climbing and all trail. It used to be my "recovery" loop and I would run it in 1:15, and lately have pushed that down to 1:05 or so, but 57 minutes is four minutes faster than my recorded PR (although I don't wear my watch all the time.) So then I wonder how fast I could run this loop if I "tried" on the climb. And then I wonder if maybe, just maybe, I'm not in such overtrained poor shape after all. Maybe being tired is this idea I put in my head because I assumed I should feel that way.

I don't know. I don't have any big events in the pipeline right now, so I feel secure in just going with the flow for a while. I did, however, apply for two 2013 races this week. I was accepted for the Homer Epic, a hundred-kilometer snow race to be held in old hometown next March, and which I hope to race on foot, fast and light. (Yes, I really did once live in Homer, Alaska.) The other race is the Hardrock 100. Yeah, yeah, I know. Luckily the odds aren't good that I'll get through the lottery for that one.

Still, I have a whole winter of relative freedom from training in front of me, and I plan to enjoy it by pushing my margins as much as I can. 


  1. You must be one of those people genetically lucky enough to do all this exercise and not get injured (Besides random crashes I mean). My knees and I envy you. Enjoy.

  2. Just found your blog. Absolutly love it! Motivates me out the door for my run and ride. Just bought Be Brave for the nook. Keep up the good work.

  3. Piling on a ton of slower-paced aerobic work can make you pretty fast. Great job on the PR.

  4. I still sometimes think about training with more speed. Mainly because I don't even know how to run fast. Even at seven-minute pace I feel very close to out of control; I doubt I'd be able to push it much faster in a 100-meter dash on flat pavement. Leg turnover, efficiency, finding some confidence on my feet, etc. ... but then I think "I'll probably just injure myself."

    Which Mary brings up as an interesting point. What about motion does tend to lead to injury? Is it volume, force, or repetition? Obviously it's usually a combination of all three, but I think repetitive motion is often overlooked by athletes. When I run on trails, I'm using all kinds of muscles in different ways, for short bursts of time. On the much rarer occasion that I run on the road, I develop all kinds of knots of quirks. That slow half marathon I ran a few weeks ago comes to mind. I've been dealing with a weird knot in my neck ever since. It could be pointed out that since I don't train on the road, I'm not conditioned for it. I don't know. I still think trail running is just so much healthier, except for the (frequent) occasions that I clumsily hit the deck. Which is another reason why I'm afraid of speed.

  5. I think figuring out our own fitness physiology is half the "fun".... and the challenge. It's certainly quite complex especially in ultas.

  6. A little bit of regular speed work goes a long way towards making your everyday pace feel so much easier (more efficient and stronger). You have a great base, a good time to consider it. It doesn't have to be gut wrenching, just a regular bout of getting the legs moving faster than normal. The best thing is you see results very quickly.


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