Monday, January 2, 2012

A look back

My husband and I have a New Years Eve tradition where we go to our favorite restaurant, sit at the bar, and while eating delicious tapas and drinking sangria, share our hopes and dreams for the upcoming year as well as reflect back on the one we are leaving behind.

The hubz and me at our fave post-hike joint, Blue Mountain Brewery
 Rusty, a mountain biker, wants "to do something epic. This is the year to do something big and not be a chicken." I want to build on my 2011 ultra season, and the lessons learned off the trail as well. Last year at this time, I decided that my mantra for 2011 was, "Welcome change, seek out adventure, take a risk at failure." As the months went by, I found myself going back to that mantra many times---as a wife, mother, daughter, and sister, as a teacher and coach, and as a runner. There were many changes to adjust to: the death of my father, a new boss, work stressors, and the fact that my children were growing more independent and relying less on me. I sought out new adventures---the 111 mile journey through Shenandoah National Park and the Lynchburg Ultra Series were the big ones--and accepted that failure was an important part of growth and something not to fear.

At the risk of sounding like a total self-aggrandizing idiot, let's just say that 2011 was my best year as an ultrarunner, as far as race results go. Not bad for an old lady. I set three personal best (PR) times at three distances: the 50K, 50 mile, and 100K++. I was really stoked about doing this because I was coaching myself and weaving together everything I have learned in ten years of running ultras. This gives me a lot of confidence as I stare down my 2012 race and adventure plans.

OK, enough about me. Let's talk about...me. Here are a few lessons from 2011 that I want to carry into 2012's big challenges, and that might also prove helpful to others who are seeking their own new adventures:

1. Less mileage is More (at least for me). I am 49 years old and this year proved to me that I could run fast and go long with an average of 55-60 miles per week. Granted, I am working on ten years of an ultra base, but it is nice to know that I don't have to crank out huge miles to run faster.

2. Hill repeats are the bread and butter. I ran a lot of 1:00-4:00 hill repeats on a runnable slope at least once every two weeks. These workouts gave me a ton of confidence and strength without spending a lot of time in the weight room.

3. The weight room is my friend. That said, I did go to the weight room at least twice a week for about 25 minutes. There I did classic core  and balancing workouts with the Bosu ball, Swiss ball, kettlebells and planks. I know a lot of friends swear by Crossfit, Pilates, Yoga...but this works for me, and is all I really have time for.

4. Swimming and pool running keep me sane and healthy. I am not a running streaker, nor can I ever envision myself running more than 4 days in a row. I would get terribly bored and burnt out. To break things up, I spend my 25 minutes in the weight room, then I go to the pool (in the same building, very convenient), swim about 1,000 yards easy, then pool run with a flotation belt. I don't do this for long (about 15 minutes is all I can handle) but I can solve many of my problems of the day by running up and down the lap lanes in the pool. Plus, it's very relaxing and stretches out my hips.

5. I don't need a track to run faster. For years I have been doing speed work on the UVA track. This year the track has been closed for a multi-million dollar upgrade, so instead I relied on tempo runs on hilly gravel roads, fartleks such as 1:00 hard, 1:00 easy x 10, and the aforementioned hill repeats on trails and dirt roads.

6. Inov-8 shoes make me run faster. Call it a coincidence, but ever since I started running in my inov-8 Roclite 268s, my turnover has been quicker and I have been running faster times. I really think they help me run more efficiently with a mid-foot strike. Plus they are comfortable as heck.

7. Running with a group a friends also makes me faster---and it is way fun. In 2011 the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners (CATs) became an organized, inclusive group that trained together and supported one another at races by crewing and pacing. One of my key workouts for Hellgate was a "Skinny B" workout with the fastest guys in the club. We ran in the dark for 1.5 hours at my tempo pace on rooty, muddy trails and then did a bunch of tough 2:00 hill repeats. It kicked my butt but delivered two weeks later with a Hellgate PR. Thanks, boys.

CATs at Mountain Masochist 50
8. Rest and recovery are the most essential part of the training cycle. This is a really hard concept for many ultrarunners to accept, but it is so true. In 2011, I took at least one and sometimes two full days off per week---that means no running, hiking, swimming or lifting. Nada. As a result I was able to train harder on my hard days without feeling tired or dead (except at the end of the workout).

9. Less racing is more--for me. My 2011 racing season was split into two: a spring season with the three  LUS 50Ks, each a month apart; and a fall season starting with the SNP run over Labor Day (not a race, but a hugely beneficial training weekend), and including Mountain Masochist in November and Hellgate in December. I did not race from the end of April until the beginning of November, but instead rested a ton, ran for fun, trained with friends, and spent time with my family. Racing from November through March seems to suit me best, and will be my routine for the next few years.

10. Remember always: Being able to run is a privilege. This is the greatest lesson. Thank you, David Horton, for reminding us all at the start of the Grindstone 100 this year, and every time we see you ride your mountain bike. Thank you, my wonderful family, for accepting my passion and supporting it. Thank you, dear friends, for your companionship on the trail and roads. Thank you for reminding me to never take running for granted.

The epitome of privilege: on the WS100 course above Lake Tahoe with good friends, 2006
What does 2012 hold in store? Stay tuned.

Happy New Year!

8 comments:

Christian said...

Nice reflection Sophie. I fully agree with all points and especially: 1) I often wondered if higher intensity runs (more elevation or speed) but lower overall mileage works well. For me I think I found this as being true.
2) Yes oh yes! made a huge difference this year.
3) It's amazing how effective, little but regular strength/core workouts are.
7) I wouldn't run if I didn't have running friends :) Skinny B workouts were definitely a helpful training tool
8) I often feel bad if I skip a run, but found that I don't feel like it and still go out I doesn't make me feel better either. Although injuries suck, they force you to take a break which you probably should have done anyways but didn't admit it.

A truly successful running year for you Sophie, congrats to your PRs and perseverance.
Happy trails!

jenn said...

great re-cap of the year and post, sophie. Congrats on such a stellar year. You worked hard ( and smart) and it was reflective in your races. Thanks so much for all your help and I was so happy you allowed me to mirror you in so many races and training runs. If you only knew how much you helped me mature as an ultrarunner this year. It's a delicate balance for life, family, running/racing etc. and you're a great example to keep things in perspective and BE REAL. When I grow up, I want to be just like you:)

Phil Turk said...

You touch on so many good points. Very nicely stated and wise words for all ultra runners. Also, congratulations on a wonderful 2011 which is all the more remarkable given the unfortunate loss of your father. Really, Sophie ... way to go.

ultrastevep said...

What a great year you had, but not by coincidence. Your tips show you have learned the way.
Best of luck in 2012....Happy New Year!

Sophie Speidel said...

Aww shucks, friends! Such nice comments from people I admire and respect...thank you. #11 should have been: "surround yourself with positive people who know how to train smart and want to share their wisdom" That would be you!

xox

ultrarunnergirl said...

Loved your 2011 summation. I hope the 3 day AT in SNP run becomes an annual thing!

Congrats on yet another outstanding year!

Olga said...

Great times and lessons, indeed. Into 2012 now!

Rick Gray said...

What a great recap of a great year. As in life we begin to mature, it certainly sounds like you have matured in your ultra running. You have found what works for you and your family. I know that has been so rewarding. Each day is so very special and you are correct that we have to be careful about taking it for granted. Cheers to 2012 and to its challenges and rewards that it brings your way.