Now that I’m back in Ithaca, and done with the couple races that were planned for October, it’s back to base phase until Indoors. The last four weeks of training haven’t been consistent at all; a toe flexor strain and the Japan trip -- and illness -- set me back a decent amount, and I’ve been aching to get on with a solid uninterrupted training block. It feels like getting back to summer base training, which, in the NCAA system, is the only time you can really put down a block of training without worrying about racing getting in the way. I’ve been asking myself, however -- is that really a good thing?
I’ve heard some people say that the Summer is when you can really dream. With three months of base training, it feels like you have unlimited potential -- you just have to run enough miles. And all too often, I’ve seen people fall into that trap, train too much, and by the time October comes around, they’re totally fried.
I’m not knocking Summer (or base phase) training. I improved greatly over my senior year of college, thanks to an uninterrupted Summer full of seventy-mile weeks, but I think we’re often myopic about where our improvements come from. On top of that Summer, I had a very consistent Track season, and the last time I was hurt was all the way back in September the year before. The shape we find ourselves in is built on training from last month, last year, and all the years prior. So, while I could point to the Summer as the source of my fitness last Fall, what about the 7:58 I ran last Winter, seven weeks after recovering from pneumonia?
My coach John says that (and I’m paraphrasing) the best runners in the world are, at any given point in their training, just a few weeks from a really great performance. It just takes a few weeks of sharpening up. John thought I was in shape to run 7:54 at the end of Cross Country, so 7:58 wasn’t even the fastest I had ever been -- I was still building back to my previous level of fitness. So the source of that 7:58 was really the Cross Country season prior to the pneumonia. A few workouts at pace and I had sharpened up. The funny thing is, despite an abrupt start with the pneumonia lasting so long, I stayed healthy through Indoors. I kept my mileage low out of precaution, and didn’t work out too hard. It was the following two months that resulted in the injury that’s still bothering me today; I had no races for six weeks, and figured, now it was time to get on with a serious, uninterrupted training block. And I went too hard.
It’s just so easy to get carried away when you’re not racing. Though the conventional wisdom is that racing can be dangerous, I’ve found that racing usually holds you back in your training, and in a good way. You often want to take a low day before the race, and most races -- especially the shorter ones -- aren’t as taxing as really hard interval workouts.
The plan John and I have is to race a few times in January and February, and then get ready for the Summer racing season. He warned me, however, about racing too little -- and this is a guy who’s all about the long-term training plan, and has talked about how everything is just a build-up for 2020. Indeed, racing too little turns you into one of those people who never feels ready to race. And racing is what it’s all about, right?
I’ll be taking the next few months very carefully. I’ve learned from John that base-phase is not about becoming race-ready. It’s about getting ready to handle the work that gets you race ready. The whole reason why we run more mileage is so that we can handle more work. This is what people often miss during Summer training. Last Summer, I ran progression runs every week, and usually was averaging about 5:45/mile or slower. I did 8x1000m with a minute rest, the fastest rep being a shade over three minutes -- and I ended up averaging 2:58s for my 8k PR. The time to kill the training comes later, and I have to keep in mind that I’m not training right now just for the races this Winter -- I’m training for next year, and the year after that.