Thursday, March 1, 2012

Back on Track

I've been staring at my monthly mileage graph on Dailymile, again.  I don't know if anybody else does this, but I find it mesmerizing.  Regardless of the numbers, it has a shape that looks like a struggle.  Some hills with huge cliffs.  Everyone's mileage graph tells a unique story—I figured I would start things off by sharing mine.

Skipping February for a moment, the 100 miles of March marks the start of sticking with the program.  I had been working with a coach for about five months, and she had been hammering it in my head from the start, but this is the point where I actually start to consistently run.  I'm not perfect, but by June it clicks, and now I start to feel guilty when I miss a run—like I'm letting myself down, or cheating myself of mileage.  My fastest run happens when I'm out of town, at sea level, early in June.  

My overall goal up to this point has been adding mileage, and going as far as I can—I wasn't concerned with speed.  But at the start of July, since I was maintaining a consistent running schedule, I was bumped up to a 6 day a week schedule, with Mondays off.  My coach gave me the choice of working on speed or trail running.  I chose speed because I don't own a car, and getting to most trails requires one.

I didn't think speed training would show a pay off for awhile, but I was wrong.  The most apt phrase to describe what I felt was I was firing on all cylinders.  My mileage went up, my pace got faster.  I felt stronger.  My physical appearance changed yet again during my running career.  I figured it is a combination of going long and short, slow and fast, that I'm getting more efficient at running.  I'm finding the sweet-spot in the form.

My short-term goal over the summer was my first half marathon at the start of October.  I started tapering in September, just after running the most miles in a week (43 miles), and my longest run to date (16.97 miles).  I was getting excited about the race, and was feeling strong.  But I made a huge mistake and failed to pickup the racing packet in time, so I missed the race.   There wasn't another half marathon, close by, for another month and I was put into a taper hold.  So, in October I was in a funk.  I learned how emotionally involved I get with a race, and not having the release of a race hit me hard.  I lost some enthusiasm for a short period.

However, October ended with a surprising 5k for me.  I'm glad I decided to work on speed—not so much for the PR, but just to know that I'm really making progress.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm spinning my wheels, but I get gentle reminders like these that I'm doing the right thing.  When I finally did run my first half marathon, I was proud that I could stick with the race plan, and stayed progressively paced through out the race.  

Rounding out the year, I was recovering strong, but ended up getting sick.  I completely went off running, in hopes of recovering quicker, and came back a little fast.  My immune system didn't have enough time to recover, and I got hit with a second bug.  Again, completely off of running.  When I started recovery in January I realized how much conditioning I lost.  The lesson I learned is that even while I'm sick (however, not running a fever) I should do some short runs for maintenance.
February is not my favorite time of year for running.  Winter is still going strong in Colorado, but this year I only missed one running day during the month.  I was still slowed up by the weather, but it became less of an excuse.  I spent some time today comparing February of last year to this year, and it shows a stark contrast in my training—I've come a long way.  Last year, I was running 5 days a week, sometimes, and I was pushing my runs back by a day or two.  My mileage was inconsistent from week to week.  This year, the runs are roughly the same from week to week, and I'm hitting all of my targets.  I feel like I'm back on track, and I'll be hitting September like numbers real soon.

It's amazing to see how much difference a year makes, even as tumultuous as this one.  Looking at the last three months of the graph, I'm starting a pretty good mileage slope for 2012—I'm just curious as to what it's going to look like.