Saturday, January 28, 2012

Take it Easy

Like many driven, type-A triathletes, I have no problem working hard and pushing myself in my training and racing. Where I do have a problem, and I'm sure I'm not alone, is going easy - long aerobic runs, recovery spins, those kinds of things.

This week I had an easy mixed-cadence kind of spin on the trainer on the schedule (instructions said all EASY aerobic...yes with the all-caps). At some point in my training past I decided there is a magic number below which my speed can never fall outside of warming up and cooling down. I can generally stay above this number at aerobic intensity, but for some reason, at one cadence I had the choice of keeping my heart rate lower, but falling below the magic number, or switching gears and staying above the magic number, but I'd be up out of the "easy" range. You know it -- I chose to stay above the magic speed number.

A conversation with coach resulted. He rightly warned that (and I'm paraphrasing) there is a danger of things converging in the middle. You give up the bottom end, you risk the top end. You need the easy to allow sufficient recovery for the hard efforts. THAT hit home and frankly, scared me.

Today I had a long aerobic run scheduled. My tendency is always to try to shoot for marathon pace and I started thinking about why? Why won't I back off and run aerobic, or run easy? The answer to this (and most things) is FEAR!
  • Fear that if I back off on any workout I'll get mentally soft and my ability to suffer will be diminished.
  • Fear that if I don't have lots of dress-rehearsals at marathon pace I won't have confidence that I'll have it on marathon day.
  • Fear that if I slow down I might prefer slow to fast.
Like most fears, these are pretty irrational and unfounded. In addition to the fear, I also had this idea that if I simply redefined what is "easy" in my mind, it would become so. Waving my magic wand...8:15 long run pace, you are....EASY!! poof! But the heart rate doesn't lie.

I asked my Roanoke Tri Club friends how they pace their aerobic long runs. Most said they do their long runs 30-45 seconds per mile slower than their predicted marathon pace (concurring with Coach). 

Ryan Hurley, a 3:05 marathoner headed to Boston, said:
    Think of it this way. Each training cycle your body only really has ONE good marathon in it. If you use that effort on a 20 mile training run you are taking it away from race day. I am as guilty as anyone else of running too hard to often, I use a mantra for this of 'don't go to the well.' That means, every racing cycle there is only so much racing that one can keep inside their storage 'well' and if we dip into that too often burnout is coming!
Ryan's explanation made sense. Coach had mentioned "the well" before too but I'd only thought of it in the context of racing. I sure don't want my training draining the well. So I was on board. Past history has my marathon pace at 8:20, I'd like to believe it can be 8:15 at Boston, so my goal pace for today's 16 miler was 8:45.

And how did I do? Not all that great, but it's a step in the right direction. OK, not really all that well at all considering it should not be that hard to slow down.  Only 3 of the 16 miles were at or slower than goal pace which WAS the goal (8:45, 8:51, 8:52). The rest were 8:34 - 8:44.

I had pace creep. I'd start each mile OK, get distracted, speed up, notice, and slow down. I caught myself doing a bit of rationalizing....this part is downhill, if I go slower my form will suffer, this IS easy, etc.

On the plus side, it was nice not to have to dig so deep. I could spend some time thinking about form, using my arms a little better, relaxing, and staying light and economical. And I could actually pay attention to my podcasts! It's progress and I'm motivated to do better next time.

Now let's see if I can let go of my "magic number" speed minimum on the bike trainer.

Has anyone else successfully kicked this problem? Any other advice?