A recap of the Big Sur half marathon will be along in a minute, but first I wanted to log some thoughts about the running I did in the preceding couple weeks, which had some real ups and downs.
First, the downs. Two weeks ago I had just a totally miserable long run. It was 12 miles, but I hated it from about the second mile onward, and when I very slightly rolled my ankle early in mile 7, I just quit, and walked the remaining 6. I’m still not really sure what went wrong–I had hydrated pretty well the day before and hadn’t been overtraining. There are two factors I can point to: one is that my motivation was low; I hadn’t made a clear plan for the run, and didn’t feel eager about it at all when I got up. I think this must be what ultra-ers think of as “junk” mileage. I felt like I had to get a long run in, but wasn’t purposeful about what it should be or how I was going to pace it out. The other was that it was pretty warm out–about mid-70s, with bright sun. I know I always struggle in the heat/sun, but I haven’t gotten anywhere toward how to make it better, other than going for my run extra early on hot days. A conversation I had with Jen recently about the relative importance of hydration vs cooling seemed really appropriate–she had been reading about some elite runner (name? no idea) who had concluded that it was far more important to keep cool during a run than to force hydration, and just drink when you’re thirsty. This really resonated–on a cool day I can easily run 13.1 without getting thirsty or suffering any kind of dehydration symptoms, but when I’m too hot I’m miserable. So I’m taking this as a lesson to look into ways to keep cool. Has anybody tried products like the Cool Point handheld? At $20 it seems like something worth trying.
Now, the good:
I had some excellent treadmill tempo training runs in the last couple weeks. One hour run where I went 7.73 miles (7:45 pace–I started at 8:06, and held steady at 7:47-7:41 from mile 0.5 to 6.5, then 7:24-6:58 for the last 1.23), and one 4 miler at 29:30 (7:22 pace), which is my fastest 4 miles ever. While I was treadmilling, I did a little practice counting out my running cadence. Many cross country and track experts seem to advocate training to 180 steps per minute, based on Jack Daniels’ studies of elite runners in the 80s (specifically the 1984 Olympics). So I checked myself out. At a 7:47 pace, I counted my steps for 4 minutes and found I was taking an average of 175 steps per minute. At a 7:24 pace I was taking exactly 180. So….? On the one hand, if 180 steps per minute represents some biomechanical optimum (like the equivalent of a matching the right gait for a particular speed for horses), then I guess I’m glad to find I seem to do this naturally. Maybe it represents less injury risk or something. On the other hand, it means I can’t really work at taking more steps per minute as a way to get faster, and I also seem to scale my stride length with pace more than my number of steps (that is, to go faster, I take bigger steps, rather than more of them. Which is intuitive, because otherwise those elite runners would never be able to go at 3-4 minute/mile pace while taking the same number of steps as I do going half that fast). One less variable to mess with, I guess.
Finally, I had a really good long run last weekend. 13.1 miles, 1:49:20. Pretty much a race-pace half marathon. It was cool, slightly breezy, and I’d just been training at a faster pace for that treadmill workout. I also ate a GU 10 minutes before I started, which correlated with more energy than I’m used to feeling late in a long run. So I brought those same tactics to Big Sur, which I’ll post about shortly (spoiler: a good race, but not a PR).