Obligatory “year in review” blog post

Doing a “look back on 2009″ post seems to be all the rage among running bloggers this month. Although I normally purse my lips in disapproval at such conformity, I’ll jump on the bandwagon.

Now is as good a time as any to reflect upon the past year, which from a marathon racing perspective was a disaster for me. But it was not a disaster in all areas. For one, I ran some stellar races (and workouts) at various points in the winter and spring. I almost ran a stellar 5 mile race in the fall (only to DNF at 3.7 miles with a raging hamstring). And I learned a lot, oh, yes. I learned a lot — about training in general and about myself as a unique physiological running specimen.

Here’s what I learned this year:

  • High mileage results in huge gains for me, but only up to a certain point. If I run high mileage for too long, I will eventually break down in the form of either overtraining or injury.
  • If I have injured myself, I often have a short window of faux-recovery during which I can nevertheless run a spectactular race or speed session (and fool myself into thinking I’m not really injured). But if I continue to run hard after that I will get reinjured.
  • A hot, hilly long run or race will fuck me up for weeks, if not months.
  • Doing a very long and very hilly run at the end of one or two high mileage weeks is dangerous. Depending on how long I’ve been doing high mileage, chances are good that doing one of these will push me over the edge into injury, although it can take anywhere from 7-10 days to develop. Training in Central Park is an especially hazardous prospect in these cases.
  • Extreme changes in weekly mileage are a bad idea. Going from 50 to 95 (even if I’ve recently run 95 without issue) is a great big embossed and monogrammed invitation for Injury to attend my next workout, and perhaps even bring a guest.
  • If I’m feeling very worn down and don’t want to run, I need to take the day off. A few missed runs won’t destroy a season. But too many runs that I shouldn’t have done will.

Bonus realization:

  • My right gracilis muscle does not like running in weather below 20F. My left one, however, is completely okay with this.

The above lessons are hard won. But I won’t soon forget them.

As for what happened in Sacramento two weeks ago, here’s my theory: I suspect that I was undertrained for the marathon specifically. When you look back at my training in the fall, it was constantly being interrupted by one thing or another. First it was a two+ week trip to South Africa, which involved days of travel, a large time zone change, eating and drinking a lot of stuff that isn’t on the menu for marathoners in training, and big time stress in the form of all of the above along with the added treat of being a victim of major property crime. Not to mention some terrible workouts due to poor conditions (brutal heat among them).

Then I came home and had a few good weeks only to experience the first of two serious injuries: hamstring pull followed by inflamed tendon. I didn’t give myself time to heal properly from the first, piling on 95 miles after a 52 mile injured week, and the second injury came in to take its place. All told, injuries screwed up my training for close to a month total. So out of a 13 week schedule (3 of which were taper weeks), at least 6 were heavily compromised. For you mathletes, that’s a screwup factor of 60%.

I toed the line in Folsom thinking that there was a good possibility that I might have to settle for a 3:20 or even a 3:25. I might have been able to make that time somewhere else, but not on that course on that day. The downhills chewed up my quads a la Steamtown and the headwinds were just, wow.

This was all on top of whatever was wrong with me in the spring, which for the sake of simplicity let’s say was overtraining. After an amazingly good buildup from the fall into April, I crashed in May. I was a wreck in June and July, then ran in a holding pattern in August and commenced training in September, as described above.

So that was 2009. Good riddance.

2010 will bring some changes. More on that soon.

9 Responses

  1. At least you have a good idea of what you need to change to get better and prevent injury!! Good luck with the new year!!

  2. “and perhaps even bring a guest.” Too funny. Good to see your breakdown and your thoughts on what went wrong at CIM. Looking forward to reading your 2010 changes – hurry and post them, I wanna see, I wanna see! :-)

  3. That looks pretty good. I am puzzled about one thing, though. I’ve never run in Central Park, but surely it has downhills at least as steep as CIM? Perhaps it was quantity rather than quality of hills that wore out your quads.

    You ran some great short races this year, and I’m sure you’ll run even better ones in 2010. Perhaps even slay the marathon dragon too!

    • Hi Jim — Manhattan’s got steep ones at the north end of the park, but they are relatively short. The rest is mostly rolling. I don’t think there’s a flat spot in the park, except maybe for one 200m bit along Museum Mile on the east side.

      I’ve raced two halfs and two fulls in Central Park without the quad killer issue. I suspect it’s the extended, gradual downhills that have beaten me up on other courses. I shudder to think what a race like St. George or Tucson would do to me.

      How are you doing post-race?

      • I was more beat up after that one than ever before, including the same course last year. Wasn’t going to let the stupid wind rob me of a PR, so I dug pretty deep. Did nothing for three days, then 5 creaky recovery miles, took another day off, then started ramping up. I’m just about recovered now, but a 10K on Sunday may disabuse me of that notion. :)

      • Although I’m sorry for your suffering, this makes me feel better. I’m glad it wasn’t just me. My thighs were more screwed up than after Steamtown and I spent five days napping or just sitting (or both).

        Don’t rush in too quickly. :)

  4. Excellent review from the other, i.e., high-mileage, side. I look forward to the changes for 2010 post.

  5. It sounds like you learned a lot this year. I’m sure 2010 will be better with the new knowledge that you’re bringing into it.

  6. So…. if the hills are a killer for you, either in long/hard runs or races, why not do more in training?

    Do hill sprints a la Brad Hudson (which are supposed to also be good for injury prevention in general), and find a weekly or biweekly nasty hill course to run.

    Here’s mine (I love it, but I’ve trained myself to love hills since high school, so… I’m weird that way):

    http://www.mapmyrun.com/run/united-states/nm/albuquerque/389125330697232432

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