Monday, May 5, 2008

The Lessons of Burning Out

So running has been a feisty friend this past month. It all started with the Napa Marathon in March. I ran it the fastest I had ever done by far, and in so doing pushed my legs to the limits. And I felt it. Sore for days, and in fact I didn't really run for a while after that. Even so, I still managed 50 or so miles that month in training miles, or around 77 miles including the marathon.

The touchy part came in April when I went to run the Headlands Marathon. Didn't feel comfortable at all. I obviously hadn't ran as many miles and so was not near in as good a shape, although I ran enough to keep my legs feeling alright. But my frame of mind was what wasn't there. I felt burned out, and I didn't really care how fast I ran it. I ended up running it with a 12:20 pace, which is slow compared to the other marathons I've ran. Granted, it was in the hills, but I still couldn't get into it.

Then there was the training leading into the Ruth Anderson 50k on 4/19. My training before that was almost zero, with the longest run between the Headlands Marathon on 4/5 being 1 four mile run at a slow pace, and a few 1 mile warm ups before weight lifting. So it surprised me to find that I was holding up well for the 50k and ran a great pace until the wind sapped my energy and slowed me down. Nonetheless, I ran it at an 11:10 pace, so I was very happy.

5 days after that on 4/24 I forced myself to run, and so I set out to run 6 miles in order to get ready for the Quicksilver 50m. I stopped at 3 miles. Granted, my splits were 8:30, 8:04 and 7:56, which looks good on paper, but my morale was low. I still felt burned out. And this training day only confirmed that I wasn't feeling the running as much.

So, stubborn as I am, I went out on 4/26 and ran some hills. Again, I was going to run a loop course in the hills twice and net me 8 miles with about 800 ft elevation gain. Not bad, but I only ended up doing one loop. This time I was walking on some of the downhills and was running sections a lot slower than I had ever ran those sections before. I couldn't figure it out. Why was I not feeling it anymore? Had I burnt myself out by running too much all at once?

The next day I tried it again and did some more road running, trying for 6 miles again, and quit at 3 miles, running 8:27, 8:08: and 8:07. Again, looks good on paper, but it didn't feel right.

So I rested for a few days and decided to try the 6 miles again on 4/30. This time, however, I was going to run a much slower pace and just make sure and get the whole distance in. Miraculously, I felt great. The 6 soon turned into 7, then 8, then 10, then, what the hell, lets make it 13 and do a half marathon. I couldn't believe how great everything felt. My splits were pretty good too.


At a glance you can see I kept a very consistent pace, even at the end when I forced myself to take walk breaks at mile 11-13 I still kept it up. Slowing my pace by 30 seconds was all it took to feel good about running again.

But the experiment, for that was what it turned into now, was not over yet. I needed to do the hill course I cut short last time and see how I do. So on 5/2 I did the two loop course, one clockwise and the other counterclockwise, and it felt great again.


The hills that felt tough, even the downhill portions, were now flying by without a hitch. Amazing. And finally the last was on 5/3, a nice and slow 4 miler: 9:04, 8:32, 9:12 and 8:01.

I think the huge lesson I learned was how a person becomes burned out and what to do when you feel this way. For me it was that I was running these big races (1 road marathon with huge PR, 1 trail marathon with 4,400 ft elevation gain, and 1 50k with huge winds, all within 1 1/2 months) and I was still trying to run right after them as though I hadn't ran them. I tried to run the same distances and the same speeds, and those just didn't feel right. And when you consistently don't feel right while running then that leads to you not wanting to run at all. This happened to me. It wasn't until I slowed the pace down about 30 seconds less than what I am used to running, at least before Napa, and all of a sudden I felt rejuvenated and back to normal. Granted, the speed issue will slowly return to its original, but I can't expect to have it back right away. This I have learned.

And this was another reason why I decided to attempt the 50miler this weekend. Because the joy of running returned, and it returned because I learned something new about my body and how it relates to running.

I can't wait to learn more.

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