I’ve always considered myself a fairly high mileage guy, at least for the size of the pond that I swim in. Here in Tallahassee, if you’re doing 50-60 miles a week you’re gonna be in the top few percent of the locals who lace ‘em up regularly. I ran my first marathon back in 1988 on 35 per week, and with the exception of injuries, my mileage has climbed steadily since then, leveling off in the 50 to 60 mile range the last few years. This changed abruptly on August 3rd of this year. You see, on that day, I walked out of my long-time employer’s office door for the last time. Suddenly, I had time on my hands (and feet!). And, being a distance runner and one who admittedly has developed an addiction to depletion, I decided that if I could do 50 – 60 miles each week while working 40 hours a week and traveling constantly, then I could certainly ramp that up with all my newfound leisure time.
On the “first day of the rest of my life,” i.e., August 4th, 2007, I ran 47 miles. That was sort of because I had to due to the fact that I was competing in an 8-hour run in Atlanta that day; the next week was a recovery week of sorts which resulted in only 51 miles, but I did sneak in 2+ hours on the bike and a couple of trips to the gym. After that I had only 2 days before Peg and I left for Scotland and Ireland for 20 days, which involved lots of hiking and pub crawling, and really wasn’t a time that I desired to do a lot of running. Upon getting back stateside though, I began to play around with my available hours, and things changed a bit. Weeks of 79, 71, 86, 63, and 70 followed before a week-long taper for the Fall 50-miler in Door County, WI. I was looking at this as sort of a goal race and felt the key to my success would be to arrive at the start line fairly rested. (It should be noted however, that for the first time in my life I ran the day before – something that may be quite routine for the rest of you, but a first for me after 85+ marathons and ultras. It should also be noted that this would not have happened but for the shame that I would have been forced to endure had I allowed my fellow travelers – the Yons and my dear wife Peg – to have headed out for their morning run that Friday without me!) I now find myself in mid-November, two days from running a 50K, and my log indicates that I’ve managed to cram 115 miles or so into the past 11 days.
This routine has included another element that heretofore had been quite radical to my way of thinking, namely speed work. The term does not exist in the ultrarunner’s vocabulary, or at least not in this ultrarunner’s vocabulary! Furthermore, my disdain for such activity is probably what led me to this long distance stuff back in the early 90s. The fact is, I had not been to the track (well, except for an 8-hour run, or the “Ten for Tim,” or as a spectator) in over 10 years. On top of that it had been forever since I had toed the starting line of a 5K. Nonetheless, I have been trying to integrate a weekly interval session into my life and have even run three 5Ks since August – all this from one who threatened for years to get a vanity plate that read: SAYNO25K. And you want to know the strangest part? I’m enjoying racing again, and testing myself on the track. Very strange.
What does all this mean? Absolutely nuthin’ in the overall scheme of things. I am having fun and I have managed to stay healthy for the most part. This behavior flies in the face of so-called conventional wisdom that encourages aging runners to rest more and focus on recovery. But – it has been said many times that we are each “an experiment of one.” Next week the wheels may come off and I may never run again, but right now, this feels good. After all – I’m a runner. This is what I do, even at age 58.
I’ve been thinking, though — there may be something else at work here. Is it really about the mileage? You see, going into the 50-miler in Wisconsin I was fully confident that I just might run faster than I had ever run in my life at that distance. I’ve run what has got to be one of the faster 50M courses around, namely the Tallahassee Ultradistance Classic – eight times and have generally finished it somewhere in between 7:35 and 8 hours. The Fall 50 in Door County, WI offered some rolling hills and a decent headwind, and would not have been the place that one would pick to perhaps run their PR 50. Yet, it happened, and it happened by over 20 minutes. More than the PR thing though is the fact that it wasn’t hard to run 50 miles. That had never happened before. There were none of the “bad patches” that one accepts as part of ultrarunning. Why was that? Well, for one thing, I did have a great running partner that day in David Yon. The man has a stopwatch in his head – no doubt from all that ridiculous track work – and he set a great pace. But also, did I not run hard enough? Did I run smarter, more within myself, or did I just have one of those days that you wish you could bottle and uncap every time on race day? Or, was I just lucky? Time will tell . . .
A friend hypothesized something else that may have been at work here. Work stress is funny stuff. Most of us say that we have it and we deal with it. It beats some people down more than others and truly, some have far more stress than others. You’ve all seen the surveys. Though my fellow workers often said that my profession as a tax enforcement officer contained a great deal of stress, I would have to say that I never felt that was so any more than what many other folks face day in and day out. Maybe I internalized it, buried it, or ran through it. Running sure helped, I know that. The question as to whether or not I had it or didn’t have it is now of no consequence, because I don’t have it any more. And that, my friend suggested, is why my running is going so well right now. I never considered what adverse effect a week of travel – something that was a routine part of my life – would have on what I did on Saturday morning. But did it?
I don’t know. I can’t help but believe that the extra mileage and the occasional fast running, at least at this point, has been a factor in my performance. But having what is in essence a new life away from the workplace hasn’t hurt any either.
Does mileage matter? Maybe.