Monday, December 17, 2012

Question: Have you become a better runner?

I should probably explain the title of this post a little. I was running with a friend of mine the other day and he asked me two questions. The first one was, "how long have you been running on a serious level?" The answer to that is simple, it's been about 2 years and a couple of months since I really got serious about running again. The second question was, "ok, in that time, have you become a better runner?" In my haste to answer that question I blurted out something about not having gotten substantially faster in the past two years, but I have improved my stamina/endurance, yadda, yadda, yadda. The question stuck in mind though and I've been giving it more thought over the past few days and I think I have a slightly more nuanced answer.

With regard to the actual speed of my running - my answer is complicated by my expectations. Simply put, I would love to be running faster than I am right now. I think all runners want that, but I feel like my progress with regard to speed has been particularly slow. My first 5K after my return to running was in May of 2011 and I ran a 21:27. My latest 5K this past October was a PR at 19:06. So I've shaved about :46 per mile off my 5K time in 2+ years...I'm happy with that, but all things considered, I think I still have a lot more room to improve on that. As a side note, I know that I've spent much of the last year training for a marathon and that I haven't done much speed-work at all, much less running towards 5K goals. I think that if I really focused on improving my 5K times, I could make some pretty solid gains pretty quickly.

Without a doubt, this is the area in which I have improved my running the most. A couple of years ago, I thought running a marathon was a super-human feat. I would always say, "I have no interest in running a marathon." Then I ran my first half-marathon earlier this year and thought to myself, "hmm, maybe I should just try it? Maybe?" So I signed up for the Chicago Marathon, trained all summer for it and completed my first marathon in October. Now I want to run another one. Funny how that happens. Anyway, I went from running 20-30 miles/week before marathon training, to regularly completing 40-50+ mile weeks throughout the summer. In terms of things that I'm proud of in my life, completing the Chicago Marathon is up there near the top. A year ago, the longest single run I had ever done in my lifetime was 9 miles. Crazy.

Running Knowledge:
With anything, the more time you put into it, the more you learn about the nitty gritty details. Through books, blogs and talking to other runners, I've learned a TON about running over the past 2 1/2 years. I've read books by Jack Daniels, Danny Dreyer, the Hanson brothers, Lewis Maharam, Ryan Hall and others and spend hours talking about running with other runners. This has increased my awareness of the details of the sport itself. I've learned a lot about things like the importance of hydration, the physiological benefits of long-slow distance running, VO2Max, running form, cadence, injury prevention, footwear and on and on and on. I can't say I've been able to put everything I've learned into practice, but a lot of it I have and it has helped me.

I tend to be more on the pessimistic side of things. I have made a lot of improvements in my running since the Fall of 2010. I need to make some new goals for myself and start working towards those goals. When I'm running at my best, I'm following a plan and making every run count towards something.

Rough Draft Goals (for 2013 and 2014):
- Run another half-marathon in the Spring 2013 (~1:30:00)
- Spend some concentrated effort training for shorter races like 5Ks and 10Ks.
- Run a 5K with an average pace of 5:59 or lower
- Run another marathon sometime in the next 2 years

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Winter Blues

*Sigh.* I suppose it's finally here. Winter. When I was a kid I used to love the winter. I loved snow, I loved the excitement of that occasional day when school would be cancelled and we could play for hours in the snow building igloos, forts, I hate winter. Since I've gotten back into running I've really come to loathe winter - all the extra clothes you have to wear to go running, being forced onto a treadmill when the sidewalks are impassable, having super dry skin all the time because of multiple showers every day. Winter sucks.

Anyway - this post isn't to bitch about the weather. There's nothing I can do about the cold days/nights and the inevitable snow we'll get here in Chicago...eventually (hasn't snowed here yet). No, this post is about something else entirely - but it's related to winter. I think I have the 'winter blues' when it comes to running. My last race was Thanksgiving Day and for the foreseeable future, I have no races to look forward to. I had a great 2012 running season. Two half-marathons, a couple of 5Ks, my first 8K and the crowning achievement of my first marathon. The only problem is this: for almost the entirety of this year, I've had something to focus on - whether it was a half-marathon or marathon or some other race, there was constantly that thing coming up that served for motivation. Now it's not there, and I'm seriously struggling to get excited about working out.

I know what I need to do - I need to make a plan. Find some race in the Spring to start training for. I know this, but I lack even the motivation to put together a plan. I feel worn-out. I've contemplated taking a break from running for a couple of weeks just to recharge the batteries, but then I think about all the progress I made this year and what I stand to lose if I just stop running. I know it doesn't disappear instantly, but it's a mental thing. I just can't seem to bring myself to stop running completely. I have been scaling back the running over the past month and focusing more on weights but even my weight days are a chore now.

Maybe others of you out there have had this problem: when I have a plan, I stick to it religiously. When I don't have a plan, everything becomes hard. By 'hard' I mean, I push hard. Too hard. All the time. All my runs become steady-state or clock runs. My weights are hard. I know this about myself and yet I seem not to be able to hold back. If I sound like I'm bragging I'm not - in fact, I dislike this about myself. As disciplined as I can be with a plan, I'm equally undisciplined without one. This is yet another reason to find a race, make a plan, and start training smartly.

I still haven't decided what to do. Might take some time off AND find a race, make a plan, etc. I gotta change something though because the ways things are going now isn't likely to lead anywhere good. The main reason for this post was just to write it out. I feel better.