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Nik & I ran a 5K road race the other day, kind of a last-minute thing — the Downtown Jingle 5K in Providence.  In the weeks leading up to it I kept forgetting what day of the weekend it was supposed to be.  Saturday, Sunday, whatever. I knew it was going to be at 11 a.m., that much I remembered, because lately I can only keep track of things in terms of a 24-hour period. It’s at 11? Fine. I’ll have time to get up & eat breakfast & help get the baby ready before we have to scram.

The biggest change in me since the 4 Feet Running days — more than the weight loss, more than the muscle gain, more than the complete switch of fitness preferences away from running & toward lifting — is how much less I’m bothered by dumb shit. I care a lot less now.

In the 4 Feet Running era, I used to lose even the small amount of fitness required to run a dinky 5K if I didn’t run all the time, and even then I never broke past the upper 30s, ranging from a 12:30 pace or slower to a 10:15ish pace at my (relatively) fastest. A couple of weeks off running — say like right now when it’s brass-monkey cold outside, & the last thing I want to do is go outside & breathe heavily & sweat like a jackass — would send me back to Square One. This time, I did not train or prepare for this race in any way besides my usual weekly regimen: CrossFit twice a week & powerlifting twice or three times a week in the garage. The last time I ran any significant mileage was a random 3-miler in August because it was nice out. Before that, the previous time I ran was the 5K where I set my PR, in October 2012. That’s like two runs in a year. No mileage base whatsoever. I didn’t want to go, so I didn’t. In the old days, I never wanted to train either, but now I’m in the kind of shape where I can rely on my own general fitness to make a 5K work — before, I was just weak & lazy & setting myself up for failure.

In the morning I ate a load of bacon & 4 eggs & coffee. In the old days I had various eating superstitions, ate stomach-settling shit like toast or oatmeal & a banana.  Not anymore.  It’s fine.

In the years since I was a regular back-of-the-packer, I forgot how to dress for winter running.  I’d have a bunch of special running crap laid out, might even buy something especially for it.  This time, I picked stuff out of the drawer on the morning: I figured tights, shorts, a pair of gloves, T-shirt, long-sleeve top. Boom. Not a big deal. I’ve been cold before.

I have no idea how many miles are on my shoes right now.  Not the faintest fucking clue.  Probably more than 100.  Might be more than 200. It could be 300 or more — I seriously don’t fucking know.  I used to track that shit.  Now I don’t care. As long as they don’t hurt, I’m not bothered.

Before the race, I had to pee.  I used to wait in line for the last half-hour before a race.  I held it.  It’s called bladder control, motherfuckers.

Corral placement — that’s a whole science.  In an open corral like the one at this race, you scope out the potential slowpokes, the potential speed-demons, & that one 122-year-old lady who runs every race looking like a strip of turkey jerky wearing spandex, & you place yourself accordingly.  I started somewhere on the sidewalk & poured in when I got a chance.  Who cares. I picked my way through the crowd as needed.  Head down, focused on my breathing & my stride, & moved on.

I did not stop for water. It’s 3 miles. If I can’t run 3 miles without stopping for water by now, something’s wrong.

I sold my Garmin Forerunner 205 on eBay a few months ago.  I had no pockets, so I had no iPod either. No way to tell the time of day, no stopwatch, no GPS tracking, no pace tracking, & no music. Wasn’t too worried.

There were no clocks on the course. Even at the mile markers, I had no sense of how fast I was going, except for my own breathing. I wanted to run it at a pace that would be comfortable & easy — there’s probably no better way to do this than to get rid of all tempting technology & run what feels right. All I heard was my breathing & my feet & the jingling bells of other runners. It was nice.

On inclines, I went up at a moderate pace. When the road declined, I went down faster & recovered. When there were turns, I moved closer to the curve. I’d look ahead & see where the road went next, plan my path accordingly.  Used to be, I’d see the chute & slow down, thinking the race was essentially over — Nik would think I was mental. This time, when I hit the 3-mile mark, I started to sprint balls-out for the last tenth, passing people who were still shuffling along. Why? Nik’s right — it’s only just over there. This is supposed to be the part where you haul ass.

Long story short: without really trying or preparing or giving a shit or using satellites in goddam space to gauge my speed, I ran a 29:07, which is only 21 seconds slower than my 5K PR. It’s an easy 9:20ish pace, & I could’ve kept it up for many more miles without a problem.

I don’t know for sure how much I weigh1, but in general I’m about 15 pounds heavier than I was when I set my PR.2  I weigh more because I spent 2012 dieting down, & I spent 2013 putting muscle back on. It’s mainly not body fat, it’s muscle, but it’s still weight, which means I have to carry it.  So considering I’m carrying an extra 15 pounds, being 21 seconds off my best time isn’t too shabby at all.  If I’d tried to pass more people in the crowded start, or I’d shaved a mere 7 seconds off each mile, or pushed myself only a little harder, I could’ve PR’d.

I know a 5K is not supposed to be so tough it requires a lot of prep work. But in those old days I used to run all the bloody time several days a week as my main source of exercise & it still used to be tough, with even this easy comfortable pace well out of my reach.

Nik didn’t run for months before the 5K either. She finished in 25:21, an 8:09 pace. Just knocked one of those out because she could.

Also we had a great time, including my daughter & my mom.

My point is, I think if you get in generally strong shape first, and then do sports-specific training, I’m pretty positive it’s possible to do more with less.

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The half-marathon running plan without much running in it

This race kicked off training season for me. As I said before, I’m running a half-marathon in May. I don’t really enjoy running anymore — I’m only running this half because it beat me once. I can’t have that. I have to come back stronger to show it Who’s The Master. Having a 2:49 PR is something I need to fix, because I know I can do better.  After I complete this mission, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be finished with long-distance running for good. I’ll shift back to more lifting & heavier lifting, getting back to the all-important work of becoming a bigger, stronger, more badass human.

Maybe I’ll do a few 5Ks here & there because they’re easy, plus it’s a fun way to say hi to people I know who run. But no more halfs after this.

Unless I fuck this up.

I won’t fuck it up, though.

I kind of wish I could apply the same “don’t even bother” strategy I’ve used for 5Ks in a half-marathon. It’d be awesome if I didn’t  run a single mile from now until May, then showed up on the day & PR’d with as little effort as I ran that 5K above.  People stronger than I have done it. Realistically, I’m not capable of such a feat, so I’d be paying $45 to flame out & end up walking around Pawtucket Rhode Island for a few hours, which is something no one ever wants to do.

I’ll probably have to buy new shoes before then. Because I don’t know how many miles I have on mine. You know what? No. Fuck it. I don’t care. They’re probably fine. Who gives a shit.

I wrote myself a running plan that starts shortly after Christmas & takes me to the half in early May. First I have a few weeks scheduled where I test all my max lifts (more on this in an upcoming post soon). Testing makes me incredibly excited. Once I’ve got that checked off, I shift gradually toward running more. Here’s what a week looks like:

  • Monday: CrossFit, do whatever’s on the board
  • Tuesday: Lift in the garage, doing the 5/3/1 program. That’s a rotation of squats, deadlifts, presses, & benching, paying special attention to the squats to keep building strong legs. Maybe throw in power cleans as accessory work for explosive hip power. Probably ditch the bench pressing & do front squats instead, because bench pressing is for beach season.  After about a half-hour of lifting, do about a half-hour of speedwork. It cycles week to week through hill repeats, sprint repeats, & tempo runs. This is partly to build up speed, partly for conditioning, partly to burn body fat. The less I have to carry, the better.
  • Wednesday & Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: CrossFit, do whatever’s on the board
  • Saturday: Long run. It ramps up in mileage every week for 4 weeks, then drops down a bit to deload, then ramps up again. The longest long run is 12 miles. The last long run of each loading cycle includes speedwork, with one-quarter of the distance at race pace.
  • Sunday: Rest

This isn’t a whole lot of running. There’s more rest days than running days. At the most, it comes out to 14 miles a week, less than 50 miles a month. I think that’s plenty.

Why all the rest? Recovery is just as important as exercise.

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Rest & recovery

It’s a crucial part of the training plan.

Why all the CrossFit? Because I like it & it’s fantastic general conditioning.

Why all the lifting? Because:

  1. I like it better than running. I don’t want to give up lifting even for a week. Neener neener.
  2. Lifting will do more for my overall fitness than just running.
  3. Negative crap happens with extended bouts of long-distance running — increased cortisol production, decreased muscle mass, lower testosterone levels. Lifting & sprinting will help counteract that.
  4. Again, I don’t believe I need to run my ass off to perform decently well as long as I’m strong & generally fit. I just need to put myself through a regular long run to get my lungs & legs used to the endurance, & I’ll figure the rest out.

I think it should work OK. I don’t have a goal pace for the half. Anything faster than 2:49 will make me happy. I’m hoping for somewhere around a 2:00 to 2:15. I’d be more than happy with that. Not asking for the fucking moon here. I’m confident I can cross in that time. I’m more confident that I can at least follow this plan to the letter. I follow plans pretty well now. Even not following a plan was planned.

The plan’s not entirely set in stone. I can tweak it according to how I’m performing. I probably won’t have to, but I could. That said, if you write to me & say, “Wow, that sounds like a great training plan, but I think you should do [insert here something which is the total opposite],” I will come find you.

  1. I also stopped weighing myself regularly, because I don’t care very much anymore as long as I do all right in the gym.
  2. OK, just for the sake of argument I checked it — yes, I’m exactly 15 pounds heavier. I can tell these things.