Monday, February 18, 2013

Smileage Addiction

Being a relatively injury resistant runner, (always knock on wood when you say something like that) I've had the ability to run "pretty high volume" (mileage per week) throughout my career.  Injury  proneness places a definite upper bound on volume depending on the person, but there's a gray area just underneath where an athlete is made or betrayed.  By themselves.

For me, volume has always been somewhat of a question mark - I'm still experimenting with how much feels best.  And when you try to isolate variables for results that take seasons and years to produce, the process is not simple.

Sometimes you just gotta do less, Pepiopi.
One problem with running high volume is that it can be addicting.  Finishing a 100+ smile week makes you feel badass when you write those three digits in your running log.  But when it comes time to reduce volume during race season, the heavy volume mindset can be difficult to get out of. There's a temptation to lose confidence in training while lowering mileage.  When you rely on confirmation of your fitness through training benchmarks like weekly mileage, the lengths of your long run, and paces you are able to sustain on hard runs, finding it in other ways can be difficult.

It was during my senior year at Princeton (2011 - 2012) that I really started taking advantage of my potential by being smarter with smileage.  During the summer prior to cross country, I trained hard at altitude in Park City, Utah, running hundred mile weeks beginning in late July.  During the season I ran three awful races, barely breaking 26:00 for 8k in each and finishing far back in the field.  I didn't change anything, believing that a breakthrough was around the corner.  It wasn't.  In late October, when we found that I was anemic, I finally gave my body a chance.  I took a few days off, began taking iron, and decided my mileage would not exceed 80 mpw for the rest of the season.

This is Smileage.
Some combination of the iron, the smileage, and most importantly the refreshed mindset I had after learning there was a reason for my struggles jump started my running.  Just three weeks after slugging through a 25:53 for 8k at the Princeton Invite, I ran a personal best 14:13 5000 in an intersquad time trial on the track, closing in 4:20 over the final mile.  Two weeks later, I won the IC4A meet at Van Cortlandt in the Bronx.   Although my health during the season forced me to watch from the sidelines in Terre Haute at nationals later that weekend, I was riding a huge wave of confidence and momentum into the new year.

I had a lot of fun during the next track season.  Non stop personal bests, tapping into speed in the 1500, breaking school and Ivy records, winning two Penn Relays wheels, qualifying for outdoor nationals and nearly the Olympic trials all indicated that I had figured something out.  The increased amount of iron in my diet probably played a substantial role, but being more savvy with when to train hard and when to recover is what I think really caused the breakthrough.

Nigel knows about volume
When it comes time, I let myself just run, doing what feels natural.  Lifting the burden of having to maintain a certain amount of smiles every day is enormously relieving.  I put the displaced effort into workouts and races, using distance runs for recovery more than for aerobic benefit, their purpose in the base phase.  I forget about mileage goals - the miles runs themselves and just add up appropriately.  I do everything with the singular goal of feeling good.

I think some people forget that the point of competitive running is racing.  They focus so intently on training that they eventually prefer it to competition, in the worst cases developing a fear of racing because they feel more in control while training.  The worst thing to do after a poor race performance is go home and amp up the volume or intensity in an attempt to 'get better'.  The instinct should be the opposite.  Amongst athletes who naturally harbor extremely hard work ethics and competitive tendencies, freshness is totally underrated.  Smile : )

The term "smileage" copyright Tommy D., 2009

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