Yesterday we did a long run on the Fox River Trail from North Aurora up to Batavia and back. Sue had a scheduled 13.1 mile training run. The workout was prescribed by her coach in advance of the half marathon we’re doing in Madison, Wisconsin next week. It contained a series of 6 X 800 intervals along the way at her 5K pace.
That’s a smart workout because it calls on the body to run quicker than half-marathon pace and sets up the ability to run with some degree of fatigue, as it imitates the sensations of race pace on the Big Day.
And Sue nailed it. Her stride is changed from the strength and bounding and cadence drills she’s been doing. She runs with more purpose and confidence now.
I traipsed along beside her because I’m planning to run the HM next weekend as well. This is a stretch for me. All those years of hard miles have had their cost. At 8-10 miles I truly start to feel it in my bones. My calves also ache and the connective tissue in my left hip start to tighten up.
Weight for me
To counteract and negate these effects of long-term running and age, I do regular weight work and swimming. That helps, but there is still no denying the fact that I’ve got wear and tear on my body that runners who did not race from the age of 12 through the age of 30, with 100-mile weeks thrown in for good measure, do not have inside their bodies.
Some of the elite runners with whom I trained or raced or competed against are not running anymore. They’ve either found other activities such as cycling to fill their competitive urges or don’t do anything at all. I find myself somewhere between those extremes.
Desire to improve
Sue wanted to focus on running this fall because it has frustrated her that her run times have been slower than she’d like in the triathlons she’s done. This is a wise approach, yet also enervating. The workouts her coach is giving her have transformed her cadence, for one thing, but also given her a new vision of how to run. I’ve been doing many of her workouts with her as a training buddy because I really believe in the things her new coach has her working on. In fact, last spring when she first mentioned her interest in improving her running, I led her in a series of drills very similar to what her coach is recommending.
The effects of this training have been qualitative in nature. Sue’s running is more enjoyable and fulfilling as a result of the foundational strength and mechanics work she has been doing. She is no longer a slogger, and it shows. Her training approaches 30 miles per week and is mixed with swimming and weight work.
The Brick Factor
Beyond training for a half-marathon, it is also true that many triathletes have problems with things like the Brick phase of the run coming out of the bike. Sue and I have recently discussed the fact that doing hard interval training closely mimics the fatigue of the brick phase. Hard intervals imitate that sensation. When you know how to find your run cadence coming off the bike, the legs can call on that familiarity and muscle training and be able to get up to speed more quickly. So let’s be blunt: Just running slow bricks after riding the bike does not accomplish the same thing as a concerted interval training workout. You have to push your body into hard-edged fatigue to mimic the dynamics of brick running. Hard intervals do that.
She also ran right up a hill that has vexed her before. Hill running is part mechanics and part confidence. She has changed the structure of her stride when running uphill. That makes it more efficient if not any easier. The goal of running hills is to run them with speed but not be gassed when you reach the top. Many people have trouble with that counterintuitive set of objectives. But you can learn to run hills with efficiency when you carry your arms a little lower, drive with your forefoot on each stride and lean forward a bit depending on the severity of the hill.
Holding it together
I thought about all these things as we ran the first eight miles. Yet that creaky, angular fatigue that combines years of running with impending age does return despite all the weight work and swimming I’ve been doing.
So I pop a quick stretch of the hips into my run and catch back up. This is the price of having had so much fun running all these years. I recognize the last three miles of the upcoming half-marathon are going to require some active maintenance to finish well. I raced at 7:30 pace two weeks ago for a 10k and I’m going to run at 8:00 pace until the body says “Okay, that’s enough.” But honestly, I think it will go well with a little planning for the inevitable creakiness that will come along.
It’s a simple fact of life. Holding it together takes more work as you age. But it’s worth it.