Practice puts brains in your muscles
~ Sam Snead
Aside from the three ultras I did in May and June, I haven't run more than six miles at once (and usually, it's more like three) since the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. I wish I could say that this was due to taper or rest or whatever makes runners go through a mileage dip, but it was/is medical. Nothing serious... just endocrine related and, as it turns out, has to be managed a little more than I thought. Anyway, my system is starting to level out again and the energy is returning, which means at this point, any struggle I have in running is largely due to having fallen out of running shape. The first step is admitting it, right? Or accepting it? I'm not sure which word is used, but it has to be one of them, and I've chosen to do both and then to fix it. Immediately. And here's how....
So I have this training partner, and she is the most easy-going, totally flexible training partner on the planet (example of said easy-goingness and flexibility in the screen shot below), and we come up with some fairly random ideas to shake up a perfectly normal routine. Things like catching a bus to a town 30 miles away and running back, zig zagging a neighborhood to fit a 15 mile run into one square mile, or running the city with no plan or set mileage, only a debit card to stop for the occasional shot of espresso or bottle of water. Every once in a while, though, we try something out that proves itself useful. Not just useful, really... effective. One such brainchild was heart-rate training.
In the spring of 2014, I approached Wendy (oh yeah... my training partner's name is Wendy) with the heart-rate training plan, a concept I'd read about a few years ago in Rich Roll's book Finding Ultra. To really, really simplify it, you train in a frustratingly low heart rate zone that increases your aerobic capacity and teaches your body to utilize your body fat for its primary source of fuel, rather than relying on so many simple sugars. It's called the Maffetone Method. Truthfully, I just wanted an excuse to run slower because I felt so shitty all the time (again, the endocrine thing, but I didn't know it yet). Anyway, she was all for it because, well, that's how she is. So we did it, and it was fantastic. This type of running was so hard to get the hang of it at first, but once we did, it was very enlightening. We learned more than we ever expected about our bodies and how they react to various stressors in running, as well as teaching our bodies to run very long distances on little fuel and still feel good the next day. The heart rate training lasted for the length of marathon training at which point we resumed our regular running, which just kept getting stronger and stronger. Until it didn't.
Fast forward a year or so later to yesterday when we met for a swim and had a little gnash about having lost so much running fitness in the past two months after backing down (me because of the health stuff and her trying to heal a nagging plantar issue). So I suggested we try another heart rate run with a full lap around the lake (if, on the off chance someone is reading this and said someone is out of town, "the lake" refers to Lake Hefner). In true Wendy fashion, she was all for it.
Wow, did I forget how hard it is! I think we ended up only running about 6.5 miles of the 10 mile run and walking the rest in - not because of fatigue, but because it got to a point where I couldn't keep my heart rate below the specified 142. I really wanted to just run to the finish anyway, but a) that defeats the purpose, and 2) there's no way in hell I could listen to my Garmin scream at me for being out of zone for another 3.5 miles. All this to say, I'm pretty dang proud of making a plan and sticking with it. It was a practice both in mind and muscle, and so, the progress continues.