Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Innovation and Preliminary 2017 Thoughts

Here I am at the end of an exceptional three year stretch of running and racing and on the eve of my fortieth birthday. And I keep thinking about large topics like "do I want to continue to race?", "what are my goals?", "is training at this high of a level healthy?", "how much will age start to impact my performance?", etc... While I am certain that age is going to be a factor sooner or later, I certainly don't want to give into too easily either. I have always tried to approach this entire journey in running with a view on sustainability and total health.

With all that in mind, the one thing that definitely stands out is constantly finding the balance between rest/training, racing/fun, and running/life. And, perhaps more importantly, how do I continue to improve as I strive to achieve balance. I won't pretend to have answers for everyone. Each of us is at a different point in our journey. For me, a guy that has excelled the last three years and consistently done "more" each year to get there, I think I am reaching a breaking point. Ironically, I reached a similar breaking point after 2012 (my first 100 miler) when I realized that I couldn't continue down that path -- chasing miles, eating 10,000 calories of sugar to finish a race -- and decided to innovate in 2013. As luck would have it, I missed a huge chunk of that season to knee surgery. We loath downtime as runners, typically viewing the loss of training as unrecoverable and the end of the world. Ironically, I came back with a new diet and a new perspective in 2014 and haven't looked back. It is quite possible that break in 2013 was a stepping stone to my recent success thanks to the amount of rest I finally took after three years of growing volume and lagging recovery.

As I just mentioned, the major change I made in 2014 was to my diet. I believe quite strongly my diet has changed my training and my racing. My weight is stable. I recover better. I eat less crap (in general and on the run). I am physically leaner, healthier and overall happier.

So what's the next change? Runners tend to take a simple view on running: "if want to get better, then run more." But is this always the way? Other concepts runners over-simplify and throw at the issue are "periodization" and "workout confusion". All those things could be the answer, if there is a higher-level plan in place to objectively measure progress and account for individual factors. However, none of those takes into account the larger picture -- total health. My goal is to continue running for as long as I have the motivation, not to beat myself into a pulp to excel in races. More importantly, I have always viewed running as a conduit to total life health and, hopefully, life longevity. LCHF works for me because it improves my race results AND has made me healthier as a non-runner. Eat to run, not run to eat.

So the first thing that struck me is that I haven't taken enough recovery in 2014 - 2016. 2015 in particular I book-ended my year with races and hit PRs in almost every major volume category. With that in mind, I am going to try and limit my miles the remainder of 2016, hoping not to exceed 2500 for the year. That would be a 300+ mile step down from 2015. (I'd like to drop to 2400, but that seems like a really small number considering I am already over 2,000 for the year.) I don't have a race on the calendar for at least 6 months -- and that will be a "B race", so there is no need to pound unnecessary mileage. In fact, I am convinced I could be as good a runner next year as I am this year training only 2,000 miles.

The second thing I want to focus on strength, like serious Olympic movement barbell strength. I wouldn't necessarily say that improving my strength is going to improving my running, ultimately runners improve by running. But, I feel strongly that ignoring strength training into my 40s would be a huge mistake. When I get into the gym now it is quite embarrassing how little I can do on a good-form, deep squat. Again, focus on total health and sustainability. Strength training will provide a platform to continue training and keep my body strong and balanced. And, it will be a good distraction as I find something positive to focus my typical running energy toward. Plus, I enjoy it! The sad thing is that many runners view strength training as a risk for gaining unwanted muscle mass and weight. That's simply not true. Bodybuilders use a specific regimen of high repetition exercises and diet to achieve those results. Getting into the gym to improve your strength using low repetition, high weight movements is not a risk for significant weight gain. However, like running, the best results will be seen with consistency and time, likely 12+ weeks of focused work.

Since I the title of this post implies a promise of what is to come in 2017, I guess I should provide answers. The only thing I know for certain is the Boston Marathon in April. While I wasn't so certain a month ago, I am becoming quite confident I'll do a 100 miler again in 2017. I am almost certain to enter the Hardrock 100 lottery and growing less and less certain about continuing to chase Western States. However, I think my dream scenario would be to have a group of buddies all enter the Leadville 100. It would be a blast to hang out, celebrate, and support one another. And, it'd be great to have my family be a part of a 100 miler. My son is becoming a damn good runner and seems like he may want to pace me for 10 or so miles at night. How cool would that be?

For now, I'll hit the weights, run easy, and wait for the lotteries to unfold...


  1. Great post AJ, and even better sounding plan. I haven't seen the inside of a gym since moving to Parker a little over 3 years ago. That also happens to be about the same time I took running more seriously and started signing up for 100M ultras. During my Marine years back in the 90's and early 2000's I used to be in the gym a lot. While I wouldn't say I was strong back them, I'm certainly a lot weaker now. Very weak, unfortunately. I've been toying with the idea of getting back in the gym, but thought of how little I could lift has been a tough mental barrier to overcome. All the more reason I need to get back in there I guess.

  2. Great stuff here, AJ. Really hoping someone I know gets into Hardrock--would love to pace and crew it! I just started a 3,000 pushup challenge for October. Give it a shot! Still planning to do the half marathon next weekend and then after that will start lower body weight training. No idea what's on the docket next year.

  3. Hi, I found your blog searching for people who have run Leadville 100. I'm the host of the Mile after Mile podcast. Would you be interested in being a guest to talk about Leadville? Let me know at amysaysso at gmail dot com.