2008: the year in rebuke

February 15, 2009

I want to write something about my recent training and goals for the spring and summer. But all of that makes sense only in light of what happened last year.

So, last year in a nutshell: I ran three major ultramarathons, two of which (Mad City 100K and World Cup 100K) went badly and one of which (White River 50) went well. I also did a bunch of shorter races, where my performances were generally hampered by my preparations for and recovery from the ultras. On the positive side, I improved my trail running technique and, I think, (re-)learned a few more things about myself and what I need to be happy.

What exactly did I learn? I’m glad you asked.

Lesson #1 was that I need more sleep. This one sort of snuck up on me over the course of the year, as Phil started going to bed later and also became more demanding and thus more stressful to take care of. I always used to stay up after Phil’s bedtime to work on the computer or watch a movie with Liz or whatever. But I’m a better person the next morning if I go to bed shortly after Phil does, even if it’s only 9 PM.

Lesson #2 was that I should think twice about flying to a race for which I feel inadequately prepared. The disappointment of the World Cup race, in particular, was magnified by the fact that the trip swallowed up a lot of money from sponsors (SRC and PNTF) as well as several vacation days. I’m not ashamed of the decision I made at the time, which was to try to put my training difficulties behind me, make the trip, and give it my best shot for the sake of Team USA. But I won’t necessarily make the same choice in the future.

Lesson #3 was that my training should be less “scientific” and more enjoyable. I’m a strong believer in the training principle of specificity (meaning that one’s training should specifically simulate the demands of the goal races), so I practice for 50-milers and 100Ks with 25- to 35-mile training runs at race pace over race-like terrain. The problem is that I’ve come to dread these runs. Even worse than the physical stress is the frequent psychological stress of discovering that my planned race pace feels unsustainable. I’ll continue to do race-pace workouts, but I’m going to experiment with different formats (e.g., doing only the second half of the run at race pace) that should offer more variety and less stress.

Lesson #4 was that short races can be a nice reprieve from many of the unpredictable aspects of ultramarathons. Too often these longer races resemble a sadistic game show where I’m doing well until I land on the “Leg cramps; walk to finish line” square. At a 5K, in contrast, I usually get the time I was expecting, more or less. There’s comfort in that, even if the time is not one I’m particularly proud of.


  1. Greg,What amount are you going to be shooting for this year? I've recently gotten myself in trouble by not sleeping enough, but need to get more sleep all the time.I like that you point out that you won't necessarily run races that you've signed up for or committed to. I think too many folks are unwilling to cut a race (and save the time and money) when they are not prepared. Don't they remember that discretion can be the better part of valor?

  2. Bryon: 8.5 hours of sleep a night is about what I need during periods of intense training.

  3. Hey Greg,As always, well thought out plans. I'm glad to see you're putting those lucid thoughts into your running. I completely agree with #1 and 3. Sleep is an underestimated tool and simple enjoyment of what you're doing leads to the best results. I know I have trouble when the runs begin to feel like necessary work.Good luck to you this year.Tim

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