October 21, 2011

Recover from a marathon ... with a 50-miler

So how do you recover from running two marathons, both as fast as you can, in two weeks?

Photo by Michiko Splinter
I've had 12 days of active recovery since then; each day has included two walks. With our big bouncy dog and babysitting my sister's perky 13-year-old Jack Russell, it isn't hard to find company.

The first day after the second marathon, Victoria, I was sore but not anywhere near as sore as I've been in the past; I could still walk down a set of stairs in a normal, albeit stiff, fashion. But that soreness and most of the stiffness went away quickly, and was almost gone the next day.

There was tiredness, still today but especially last week. It was a new fatigue I hadn't felt before; a subtle but unmistakeable underlying sense of exhaustion, both physical and mental.

It wasn't overwhelming and it didn't feel bad but I made sure to give in to my body's needs, and spent most evenings on the couch, reading (last week finishing Helen Epstein's Where She Came From: A Daughter's Search for Her Mother's History and then starting in Chad Harbach's tome, The Art of Fielding). I went to bed early and have had little trouble sleeping.

Your body truly changes over years of running including in the way it can cope with training, racing and recovery. In preparation for the two marathons I just did, I ran more than I ever have, with an average of about 100km per week.

Boosting the volume hasn't been a decision I've taken lightly, nor did I just open a book, Advanced Marathoning, and picked one of the training programs. As I keep repeating in my posts, perhaps ad nauseam but time and again I see people expect too much too soon in their running, you need patience and consistency, especially in preparing for marathons.

Consistency is only possible if you avoid injury. The best way to avoid injury is to slowly (over years) build up your body's ability to run, and to train. The guidance I received from Australia's Pat Carroll from 2005 until 2010 was based on those principles, a conservative approach to volume. Pat's resume includes a 2:09:39 win at the 1995 Beppu Marathon and a 61:11 half PB, set in 1994.

Because of that, I am now able to boost the volume. My body has responded well. Importantly, I enjoy the training routine I've slowly been developing since April 2010 when I decided it was time for a change; but it's only because of those five years with Pat Carroll's guidance (and prior to that the guidance of triathlon coach, and age group legend, John Hill) that I am now able to handle a higher volume and to recognize that this is what is working for me today.  

I know it is working for me because of this year's results (3 marathons in 3:06, 3:07 and 3:09, fast enough to earn Top female Master in both the BMO Vancouver Marathon and the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, and the overall women's win in the boutique Bellingham Bay Marathon).

I am not surprised that I've been tired in the past 12 days; if anything, I am surprised that my level of energy is as good as it is and that my body feels as good as it does. And, most importantly, I cannot wait to get stuck into my preparations for the 2012 Vancouver Marathon.

That is also exactly the reason I've been concerned that doing the Whistler 50 Ultra on November 5 might not be such a great idea. I am a cautious runner in that I love being one too much to jeopardize my ability to train. Pat Carroll's conservative approach has proven its value and I am still reaping the rewards.

This Whistler 50 has been on my radar ever since I did its predecessor, the Haney to Harrison 100km, for the first time a year ago, and even more so when details of the new 50-mile course were announced early this year:

"The course is largely on the Valley Trail system. Approximately 13km of each loop is on paved trail, and the remaining 7km are on wide, hard packed, gravel trails... mildly undulating, with the difference between the lowest and highest points approximately 220 feet (i.e. no major climbs or descents)."

I am not worried about being able to finish the distance; I know I can. I'm concerned about the impact of racing a 50-miler within six months of three marathons. My training for the 2012 Vancouver Marathon starts at the end of December.

Since I very much enjoyed the schedule I followed from Advanced Marathoning, I am planning to follow another, this one boosting the weekly volume as high as 137km per week. My main goal as a runner is still to improve my 3:06:06 marathon time.

This past week I've had more energy, both mentally and physically. I haven't run yet, but I am thinking of going for a light jog this weekend. I am keen to run the ultra.

A friend from Australia, Dessie, is making the trek to this part of the world for the Whistler 50. A superb athlete who has been running marathons for more than three decades and is one of the most passionate runners Tim and I know, this will be his first race beyond the 42.195km. He is very excited and so are we.

And in another recent development, Triathlete Tim has decided it is time to expand his Ironman (9) and marathon (10) experience. (Tim also ran the Victoria Marathon. While lacking energy on race day, he still managed a 3:16, his third-fastest.) Tim and I have shared the startline in five Ironmans and six marathons, and many, many other races, but an ultra would be a first.

There are another two weeks until the Whistler 50 and we could think a little longer. When I shared my concern (and Tim's) about doing a 50-miler a month after the Victoria marathon with a highly experienced ultrarunner this week, he said:

"There are 27 days (4 weeks) between the two events. Running a marathon will have a definite training effect which will be optimal a month later, so you and / or Tim could well find the timing to be right for a good performance at Whistler. Of course, the 50 miler will be run at a much less intense pace."

So, it's time to decide, and it's time to enter. Both Tim and I are putting our money down and will join Dessie on the Whistler 50 Ultra startline on November 5.

(I will do so with one change from my usual mindset; I will allow myself to drop out if my body tells me it's not up to a 50-miler. A DNF of any race would be my first and, as you can imagine, I wouldn't take such a decision lightly.)

If you're keen to run the Whistler 50 Ultra & Relay, register here.
They'd love more volunteers, too. If interested, please email W50Ultra (AT) BCAthletics (DOT) org

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