Monday, February 20, 2012

Born to Run?

Yes, I think so. I'll spare you all the evolutionary and biological evidence but, yes, I do believe Homo sapiens is the best distance runner on the planet.


Born to Race?

Here I think the answer is: No.  Racing  is NOT part of our DNA.

(Racing on trails is a bit better, but even that isn't something we were doing a lot of in times long ago..)

Granted, some people can take more racing than others...I read blogs of people doing ultras and sub 3 hour marathons galore..and I've read other blogs of people that get stress fractures every time they try to do a marathon build-up. Age is a factor of course, but genetics is clearly a huge factor.

What do I mean by "Race" anyway? 

I don't mean strapping on a chip and bib. I don't mean trying to get a new PR.

The thing that we aren't meant to do too often is  peaked training for a specific race. This is what the professionals do all the time and this is not easy: you have to push the limits of what your body can do and it's quite likely you'll push too far from time to time and break something. 

In my (slight) experience, its very hard to know when to let up the gas in training. Plenty of times during my CIM buildup I thought I was right on the cusp of some injury, but I would go out anyway, do a good long warm up, and then surprise myself by having a great training session and recover fine and on schedule (barely ;).

It seems inevitable we will push too much once in a while... and then hope to recover and resume without messing up the schedule too much. Every time this happens you lose a smidgen of potential training benefit and are not as optimized for race day as you hoped, but every time you push through you get to a higher level of fitness.

So it's a push yourself and see how close you can get to the limit. Along the way you get serious about injury prevention and learn how to strengthen, stretch, fuel and treat your body to minimize the odds of downtime.

When you pull it off, it is sweet. There's a lot of time, effort, planning, reacting, thinking and luck, that goes into a peaked cycle and race day.

But, this kind of running is hard on your body..there is no doubt. There is only so much abuse the connective tissues of your body can take...and the amount of gains we get is absurdly small, really.

My sweet spot seems to be 4:10-4:15 marathons..I can run these with no speed-work and limited training time (averaging 25 miles per week).  I finish these races in good shape and ready to do some light tourism afterward. I ran a flat, purposely slow paced (for me) 4:45 trail marathon and went skiing the day after the day after (usually the most sore day!).

CIM, by contrast, was a big buildup, not perfect...there were some glitches, but I reached a level of fitness that was clearly (looking at the training data) above and beyond. Result: about 15 minutes faster than my sweet spot pace. This is only about about 6-7% faster. 

And, after CIM I was hurting. I had much worse post race soreness than any other marathon I've run. I'm sure that is not good for me.

Yes, I'm still going to "Race"

It's just too much fun to do once in a while..e.g. once a year or so. And I'll do it knowing that it might be a little bit bad for me goes beyond "good health". (Hey, climbing Mt Everest goes beyond good health and has major death risks besides!)

However, it really sucks being unable to run race you've signed up for and you looked forward to. 

Running marathons in the slightly slower "sweet spot" is incredibly fun and still challenging. Just because you aren't trained to the peak, you still have actually run 26.2 miles and you have to pick a smart pace on race day.

Most beginners at the marathon don't do any speed-work..the training plans opt there for beginners focus on getting you to the finish...which is tough enough. 

Shorter races

If you've been following my blog for a while you'll realized that my ramblings above apply mostly to that's mostly what I run. I have only run 3 half marathons and two 10ks and a few Bay to Breakers (12k) back when I started running. 

I guess what puts me off is that running peaked shorter races for me means doing some Very Fast training and I find that fast running is the thing that puts me most at risk of injury...marathon training beats you up too, but I seem to do better at the somewhat slower paces there and my body doesn't mind the longer distance as much.

Another factor for me is that training time during the week is available, but that weekends are often busy with other activities and so race days are not easy to come by...hence I lean toward fulls.

What do you think?

How many total races do you do in a year? Do you peak for races multiple times per year? Which races do you enjoy the most?


  1. I don't think I was born to race. Born to run - indeed. I have much better luck when I just run.

  2. Okay Paul if you ever complain about a race I am going to really give it to you. And I didn't complain much! Did you notice all those greats? I have to say my non race run this morning was fantastic!
    I do a lot of races a year but rather casually with more serious training for two. I love half marathons and 10 milers. I love to race although I don't always love it in the moment it is happening.

    1. Hi ajh,

      I'm just yankin' yer chain ;)

      Glad you had a great race and good time on the beach(es).

      Let me know how the swim coaching goes..

  3. I think, at least for many, that races make us push past our comfort zones and see how much grit we have. I raced the mile in high school and in college and think because of that the racing is sort of ingrained in me. But as I grown older, racing the mile just plain and simply hurts :) and I can't race as much as I used to. I do think that races are an excellent way to incorporate some speed work, and they help push you a bit more than if you would do the work on your when I'm trying to prep for a certain race in say the fall, then I like to incorporate some shorter races in the spring and summer to get my body primed for race day. Nothing like some speed work to get the body fat moving in the right direction! :)

    1. Indeed.yes..sometimes I think that most of what makes a new PR is the ability to deal with the diffuse, aerobic pain and push anyway 8)

      Racing a mile scares me..not the pain of the race..but the payment afterward 8/

      A good point to use races as speedwork....I really need to do better at researching small races in driving range!

  4. I tend to agree with your premise, we aren't meant for peak training as that training is harder on our bady than the race itself.

    But it is what I do, and that's when I get injured (I doubt I've ever got injured during a race)

    Nice observations.

  5. I race, but I don't train for speed, just endurance. I don't run the races to win, or to PR, but just to have fun and finish (and get a cool shirt). I do a lot of shorter races, my favorites are 10K's and 10 milers, but I am currently training for a half marathon. I get injured easily so I can't have mega weeks of running. I'd rather run less and more slowly than not be able to run at all.

    1. Hi Linda,

      Thank you for stopping by my blog!

      I subscribed to your blog and enjoyed it a lot...then you went into surgery and you disappeared. Luckily, one of your friends let us know you survived your surgery ok in your comments section and I assume you'd be back blogging soon.

      But you didn't come back.. The months went by and I was left to conclude that something bad happened to you. This was not a happy thought...eventually, and painfully, I unsubscribed to your blog. In a small way, I mourned you and wondered what happened.

      Suddenly, you are back! I'm so happy that you are ok! But I'm still a bit shell-shocked at your long absence and sudden return and a little mad at you for not letting us know.

      Anyway, just explaining why I didn't participate in your recipe exchange....I was stunned and I guess wondering why you didn't drop a line to let us all know you were really ok.

      Anyway, sorry I'm being so sensitive, It's just the way I am.


    2. Oh my gosh, Paul, I am so sorry. I guess I never realized that people actually cared about what I wrote or who I am, since this is all so "not real". But I guess it is real in some ways. You are right, I should have posted that I survived my surgery and that I was fine and was going to take some time off from blogging, but I just kind of abandoned the blog, didn't I? You are not being sensitive, I was being insensitive. Wow, people really care? I'm going to have to process that.

      Again, I am really sorry, and I'm glad to be back, and I hope you don't stay mad for long. And in the future I'll never forget that people who don't even know me care about me.

  6. Ah, you are probably right. But some humans might be more designed to race than others- like you point out.

    I was just reading in Noakes' book about Grete Waitz and her thoughts were that professional or not, no one should try to train for and race more than 2 marathons a year. And she thought she was better off with only one- but might be able to do three. She trained a LOT more fast paced running than what most coaches would recommend though.

    I stepped out and tried peaked training for the 5k-15k this last summer. I was VERY pleased with the results. Speed work for those distances has to be taken on incrementally though- like just strides at first. I still have a goal I have not met for the 10k...and would love to drop my 5k time (only having done 2 of those in 3 years). So after Eugene, I plan to take on shorter distance training. More speed, probably a bout 80% current volume for a peak.

    Thanks for your comment on my blog. Hope you get that foot better ASAP!

  7. Great post!

    I love the pics in this post, the 2nd one is from the Stevens Creek Trailblazer 10K, I think we ran in the same race in 2009 and didn't even know it! I have the same pic on my blog header now, haha

    I agree with you that having a full training program and peaking at the right time is hard. The only marathon that I've done I felt like I peaked 2 weeks early, I had an amazing 12 mile run that I wish could have been the actual marathon race. I still had a good marathon though for my goals.

    When I was healthy (2010 and prior), I seemed to average about 5-6 races a year. Generally I would only do a training program for a half marathon or marathon, so I would just enter the other races and do as best as I could whatever shape I was in.

    1. Yup you nailed it..that's from the trailblazer (free photos!)

      I have yet to run that race again..last year I caught a cold 10 days before...argh.


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