Monday, November 10, 2014

The Value of Rest and Feel

After a generous amount of good running from December 2013 to August 2014, the body finally demanded a long, hard rest.

The thought of how badly I needed a rest really hit home when I was listening to Nick Nudell (head race medic) at the AC race briefing describe the effect of running on kidneys. He explained that we were guaranteed to have some amount of blood in our urine after jarring our kidneys for 50+ miles of mountainous trails. My mind quickly wandered to all those miles I'd done in just the last few months; the strongest thought was the feeling of going out for a 25 mile run on a Sunday night to notch another 100 mile week. I can feel the distinct ache of every step contrasted with the intense relief of finishing at the car. The craving for the bucket seat of my car like was as strong as an exhausted swimmer reaching for the wall.

On several occasions, I had run in Santa Monica Mountains one morning, and again in the Sierra Nevada's 10-24 hours later. The traveling, work, and non-stop running eventually wore out my body and my will to wake up and seek out my flow. Having spent the last 3 months running little to no miles, I really have started to get why things didn't go as well at Western States and Angeles Crest.

Spent, 2014 AC100 Finish, Photo by Alli Castillo Potrekus

I believe it was some time in the middle of May when I hit a tipping point in training: I was drawn more to the post race hotel room, than the race itself. This was a big problem because I had two very easy step back weeks, and I felt guilty about them. So, illogically (but logically at the time) I ran 120 miles for my peak week, and then another 100 mile week. It was like I was a home owner upside down on a mortgage, but too far into the investment to throw it away. It's something that dominated my mind and sent me into the a very critical view of ultrarunning for months.

To be perfectly honest, there were a good 40 miles at Western States and Angeles Crest that I hated running. I was thinking like those people that spend so much time on couches, that they start to look like couches. Those people that ridicule runners for ruining their knees, wrecking their bodies, and accusing the sport of being some barbaric war of attrition for idiots. I would be lying if I wasn't dreaming of hanging up my shoes for good at the bottom of Volcano Canyon and Winter Creek.

Rob Krar, Leadville, Photo from Denver Post

Rob Krar taking three hundred mile wins this summer is a powerful contrast. He was confident and in control of his training, and when he had to summon great efforts on Cal Street, Sugar Loaf, and Steamboat at 3am, he had the energy and strength to do so decidedly. It wasn't like he got lucky or winged anything, he did his homework working on his weaknesses, doing his equalizers, running hard workouts, resting when he needed it, and hammering it home when the moment of truth came.

Running by feel is something that is a bit of an overused and under appreciated term among top runners. Feel means something when you've been to your limits and injured yourself. The little physical and mental hints come across loud and clear like a traffic signal. If you've experienced all the bad moments and realize that they don't always have to be backed up by technical numbers like HR and training mileage (mine were both low in May), then you're experienced enough and talented enough to run by feel.

It's a beautiful thing to be able to breathe and hear your soul speak to your mind, but it's not something a coach can get many runners to do. I think this is the reason over training is so strongly discouraged by coaches that don't want to burn out athletes: there's not always a good way to pick up on the warning signs under the layers of runner insecurities (which are some of the thickest insecurities known to mankind). When a runner writes "Easy run" in their log after a run at 6:50 pace, they're throwing insecurities up to explain that they're capable of going faster, but they're not, and it was "easy" even though their real easy pace is 9+ min/mi. So, one can understand how a coach can get frustrated with athletes that want to always project an ease of everything they do in training, and potentially ignore obvious warning signs. Over training might as well be the devil, and something to constantly scorn upon.

That said, I'm glad all this happened this year, and I got more in touch with my body. It took a few months to get back to it, but this Sunday as I climbed to the top of the Acorn trail in a mediocre 49 minutes from town, I felt really good and happy to be gasping for breath. The joy of getting a rush from hammering a climb was so invigorating that I'm going to go do it again tomorrow. And so, with that.. I'm back in training for 2015 because the stoke to get out and fly over the dirt feels 100 times better than the thought of a lazy day on a couch.

Enjoy this Vacationer Mix, it's a good one for workouts: