John Muir Trail

John Muir Trail

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Proof is in the Pudding

Let's talk about data, fitness, and being an myself.

Last Year

To begin, however, let's rewind to last April.  I teed myself up to run the 'Falcon Punch 50k' fatass run with my local run crew, FRXC.  It had snowed a foot the night before, and we set out plowing our way through the run.  31 miles, 6500 ft., and 10.5 hours later I stumbled into the parking lot where we had started with the 5 other survivors of the run.  I was wrecked, and I knew I was in trouble.

My race schedule for the year was made up of the Never Summer 100k, and the Bear 100 mile runs in July and September, respectively.  I had been slowly ramping up miles from the beginning of the year, but I wasn't recovering well, and I was struggling to get in the miles that I wanted.  At this point, it was probably 20% recovery, and 80% me being an asshole and not getting it done.

As the snow melted and I began increasing mileage more, this shifted to about 80% recovery and 20% me not getting it done.  I had left myself with a training deficit and I wasn't able to simply step back into the training, neither quality nor mileage, that I had done previously.  I adjusted mileage and quality and desperately tried to solve the recovery problem.  Something was off here too, but I didn't end up figuring out my recovery strategy in my new higher elevation home until about a month out from Never Summer.  Too late for consistency, but enough to get some confidence boosting keystone workouts in...not that they had much base to anchor, but they helped.

What happens next doesn't require being described in any more detail than:

Never Summer 100k: 119/226 (53%)
Bear 100: 142/304 (47%)

Pretty much exactly mid-pack.

To see why these stats may make me grumpy about my year, have a look at my previous 2 years of results:
2016 AC100: 15/130 (12%)
2016 Zion 100: 21/137 (16%)
2015 Wasatch Front 100: 22/203 (11%)

The Data

In 2017, my buddy Billy Goat started the year feeling out of shape and overweight (for an ultramarathon runner) after a lackluster off-season, so he decided to run 10 miles per day for the first 10 days of the year to jump start his year.  In 2018, he invited his friends to join him.  After a lackluster 2017, I needed a jump start too, so I hopped in to join the fun.

During my time spent grinding out some cold, Denver miles on the streets (when I wasn't on the trails!), I had some time to theorize about my past year, how I got to where I am now, and where I wanted to go with my 2018 racing.  Lots of those 'Year in Sport' Strava posts had been popping up with folks showcasing their 2017 accomplishments, and they got me thinking about the role that hours and miles play in race performance, and if there may be some obvious signs from my past year of training that things weren't going to go well for me in 2017.

Luckily for me, I've been diligently logging my training in Strava, heart rate included, for 6 years now, and unsurprisingly, the data is telling.

Taking some inspiration from the Year in Sport posts that I saw on social media, I started by taking a look at data from my calendar years of running over the last 4 years (the years that I have run 100 milers).

Running data from each of the the last 4 calendar years, manually extracted from my Strava training log.
Yeah, OK, no surprises here.  I ran the least amount of miles and had the worst results...but I had a sneaking suspicion that my problem was even worse than it looks.  This data was taken from approximately each calendar year (the training weeks, which I used to calculate the mileage, broke across the new year sometimes, but I'm within about 20 miles of the actual total each year), but the races were in August and September of each year...what about what happens in the Fall and early Winter after the races but before the new year starts? I had a feeling that this would affect how the year of training went.

To have a look at this, I calculated the miles and vert run from 1 month after each hundo, to the week before the next hundo.  This data was more telling, but since each race happened at a different time in August and September, I cut the total time analyzed down to the shortest time between hundreds, minus 4 weeks for recovery, which ended up being the 44 weeks between Wasatch Front 100 (mid September) and AC100 (early August).

Running data from the 44 weeks leading up to a hundred miler for the last 4 years.
Now THAT data is telling.  Fully 32% less miles in this 'training year' than in the training year leading up to AC, and 45% less than the training year leading up to Wasatch Front.

My friend Cat talked about it recently in a blog post that gave the world a view into the mechanics behind her killer victory at the Western States 100 this year, and you've probably heard it 1,000,000 times: Consistency is key.  Log the miles. Put in the work.

If her victory and literally every other piece of reputable training advice out there wasn't enough, here's my contribution to the pile, straight from my personal experience and logged miles. The proof is in the pudding.

After looking at the numbers, I remembered that Strava actually has some cool visualization tools that show a very similar trend: the Fitness and Freshness plot.  Have a look at mine since January 2011:

I'll walk you through it.  December 2011 I start training for my first marathon (LA Marathon 2012).  Train for some road marathons but then really kick it up a notch for the North Face Endurance Challenge Championship 50-miler in December of 2013. Then comes a slew of training for the Backbone ultra, Kodiak 100, Sean O'Brien 100k, Wasatch Front 100, Zion 100, AC 100, to name a few of the races I've run in there.  And then HOOOOOOOOOLLLYYYYYYY SHIT.  I got a new job, moved to Denver, got dumped and had a pretty terrible last 3 months of 2016: a whopping 14 miles/week average.  Look no further than Strava's approximation of my fitness level from October to December 2016 to visualize what it looks like to start fucking up your entire year of running in 3 months.  It's a bit hard to see, but to add insult to injury, I actually averaged just under 20 miles/week for the first 3 months of 2017 as well.  This was much in part to the conscious decision to downhill ski a lot on weekends, but either way: this set me up for the aforementioned disaster of a Falcon Punch in April 2017 and the rest of my car wreck of a 2017.

This Year

So as I ground out the miles for the first 10 days of 2018, having some good days and bad days, I had some time to think.  What's this year going to be like? Looking at the Strava fitness chart, I'm in significantly better standing than I was at this time last year.  I don't have a giant hole to dig myself out of to reach an acceptable fitness level.  I've figured out my nutrition and hydration needs to power my training and recovery in my new home city.  I've figured out a balance with work, running, and the rest of life.

I haven't written a training plan, or committed to any amount of miles to cover between now and whenever I race next...I haven't even signed up for a race.  But with a bit of data on my side, and some newfound perspective on how my training (or lack thereof) can affect my racing long distances in the mountains, I'm optimistic that I can put together a productive year of running, racing, and life.