Alan Couzens wrote a blog last week where he included this quote and it spoke to me...
Hatching chicks is a part of the chicken journey I have not (yet) attempted, but I've read some about it on the Backyard Chickens web pages. Apparently it's really important to let those chicks hatch on their own without any outside assistance, even if it appears that they are struggling and taking forever and might not make it on their own. Apparently, if/when an impatient chicken owner tries to help that chick hatch out of his/her shell, the chick often ends up in more trouble and often doesn't make it out alive. You just can't rush the process.
Anyway, that analogy reminds me of how I've been approaching my run training. I got myself into a bit of trouble in recent months by consistently pushing too much too hard when it came to running. For a while my HR monitor wasn't working, so I did all my easy runs by feel (I wasn't breathing that hard so that was easy, right?) ... then on my hard runs I prefer to focus on pace or effort so I (usually) consciously choose to not use HR during those sessions... Then even when I finally got my HR monitor back up and functioning, I don't know, I think I just figured I was 'past' that stage in my development b/c OMG I've been training for like 20 years now you guys surely my aerobic fitness would have to be really good, no?!? And coach was on the same page there so I think neither of us really worried about that much at all. Run training seemed to be going well and my daily runs were getting faster and while I noted often that I was suffering more, I kind of took that as a good sign b/c (duh!) learning to tolerate suffering is like the key to success in triathlon! I will admit that the thought crossed my mind that I felt like I was working really hard really often on that run, but I thought maybe that's just what it takes to really develop my run into what I want it to be?
So then I got to run a half marathon, and I was sort of excited b/c I thought maybe I was actually going to run a good half marathon... But I didn't run a good half marathon. Instead, I blew to shreds. Damn.
So that was disappointing for sure and when I have a performance like that it really makes me go back and question what the heck happened... Where was the limiter? For me that day 100% it was my breathing... Breathing was way too labored starting around mile 5 and once I lost that I couldn't bring it back without slowing WAY down. My gut told me that my aerobic efficiency was something I should probably take a look at- I know what it feels like to have super aerobic efficiency and to be ticking along like a machine- working hard but in control- that feels awesome and I love that. But I did not have that with running. I raced again the following weekend (sprint tri) and noted that my run was limited by my panting breathing- I was at my top end limit but I was not going very fast. I knew I needed to go back and fix this the patient way... from the bottom up.
In good news, coach was open to also listening to my gut, and we decided that a 5 mile MAF test was in order. That would tell us what was up. So I did one of those and, um, I don't even know where to start with that?! I expected to see my pace fall off a bit at the same HR but it fell off like 2'/mile over the course of 5 miles and I was in shock. Like, what?! That's like off-the-couch level fitness and it was shocking to me. How that could possibly have happened I have no idea, but the fact that we had that concrete evidence of what was happening with my HR was the key to understanding how we needed to move forward. (See? Bad race results can be beneficial if they prompt you to look into why it went bad!)
Anyway, I got my HR monitor back out and am on a mission to fix this aerobic efficiency thing... I ran 45 miles this past week, all HR 140-150 (diligently!!), and watched my fitness rebound. I actually quite love that process and since I had a lot of time to think while I was out jogging almost every day, I got to wondering why it was that I seem to have a bigger issue with aerobic efficiency than many other athletes I know? I never really figured this one out? My guess is that it's genetic b/c I coach athletes who do a lot less aerobic volume than I do and their heart rates remain in control. I see a lot of files from a lot of athletes and some seem to have a really hard time keeping their HR under control (I fall into this category) while others struggle and have to work quite hard to get their HR up into the right zones. I think those in the latter group can do more hard/fast running and adapt to it just fine, but those of us in the first group need to focus more on aerobic running and that's where we get the most benefit. And when those of us in the first group do a higher % of our run training in the 'hard' category, we have a harder time going back and keeping heart rate under control. Anyway, the learning in the past month or so has been really good and just confirms to me what I thought I knew all along- I am a volume athlete... I respond well both physically and mentally/emotionally to high volume lower intensity work. Some higher intensity work can be good for me but too much of it buries me. These are good lessons!
If you're in the same category as me and feel you are limited more often by your breathing vs your legs, I think the key is actually running by heart rate- not by feel or by pace. Early on in the week I had to run very very slow and stupidly easy to keep HR in the 140's. Today, if I ran that same pace or effort, my HR would have been in the 130's which is too low for me. My goal is NOT to run slow- it's to run easy. And those two are only the same thing if you're missing aerobic fitness and efficiency. Today I was running and was actually able to push a bit b/c my HR was still pretty low and wow that felt GREAT.
I'll try to keep you updated on how this process continues to progress!