Finding Fitness

AJWs TaproomFor me, one of the great joys of ultrarunning is the daily grind. While it can, at times, be mind numbing, there is something so simple and elegant about getting out day after day, week after week, in the quest to become more fit and focused. As someone who has, for the most part, followed a similar training cycle year in and year out there is a certain rhythm to this quest that is at once limiting and liberating.

Since my focus over the past decade or so has been a major 100-mile race at the end of June, the Western States 100, the cyclical rhythm of the year follows the seasons. I typically begin my focused training on the winter solstice with the goal of arriving at peak form by the summer solstice. I like the six-month bracketing and the day-to-day grind that goes along with it. And, for me, I love it when fitness finds me.

Certainly, much of a successful training cycle must be proactive. A blend of strength and speed work, endurance and stamina training, mental preparation, and, of course, the long, base-building miles. A well-planned program as well as a series of intermediate goals is essential to success. That, and simple dogged determination. Being proactive in my training allows me to stay on top of my needs, gauge my training level, and control the variables in my running and life.

However, every so often, particularly as I feel myself evolving into a more fit state, I invariably become reactive in my approach. In these rare moments, as my drive to become better, stronger and faster becomes more acute, fitness sometimes finds me. It is a phenomenon I never fully expect, but when it comes I am filled with euphoria and hope. And, it happened to for the first time in a while last week!

I gave myself a full week to recover from the Ray Miller 50 which I ran on February 2. While I felt rested a few days after the event I also knew that I had put out a pretty intense early-season effort and was conscious of a depleted energy level and need for more sleep. Then, as if on cue, exactly two weeks after the race, I awoke early on a Saturday morning without the aid of an alarm. The day was sunny and crisp and while I had no plan for the day I thought it would be fun to head up to the Appalachian Trail to run the 20-miler from Afton to Humpback Rocks and back which is a spring standard around here. I had run the route a half a dozen times or so over the past few months, but had not been there since early January. I was curious to see how things had evolved. And that was when fitness found me.

From the moment I stepped onto the trail I felt good. My breathing was smooth, my footfalls felt light, and the hills didn’t seem steep. As I hit some of the landmarks for which I had splits I went from one minute to five minutes to 10 minutes faster than I had run before. It was as if I was a totally different runner than I was in January. And, come to think of it, I was a different runner!

Building my base through the day-to-day grind of training, spiking my efforts with a few races and hard training runs, paying careful attention to recovery and diet had cleared the way for fitness to find me and, in the process, allowed me to take a step forward that I did not entirely expect and yet felt surprisingly familiar. It was another reminder for me that we are renewed and restored every day on the run. We know what we need and we think we know who we are, but surprises await around every bend in the trail. When they arrive, it behooves us to embrace and revel in them. I hope to have another one of these “steps” at the Lake Sonoma 50 in April. Until then…

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week is Hyve Honey Ale from Uinta Brewing in Salt Lake City, UT. While Utah is not exactly known for their quality beers, this sweet little seasonal is a crisp brew that reminded me, when I had one the other day, that spring is right around the corner.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  •  When has your fitness snuck up on you after a long bout of training or a race?

There are 3 comments

  1. Tony

    I echo AJW's thoughts about the joys of running being in the daily grind. I find that it is hard to be responsive and in the moment in the other areas of my life without my daily outlet of running or biking. I recently blogged about the joys of a life in motion, and I also echo the joy of finding fitness during efforts on the trail. I recently did a twelve miler at a pace that I had previously done an eight mile tempo run. Sometimes the hardest part about finding fitness is remembering that you cannot continue to push the limit on each run out the door. The day after my 12 miler at 7:30/mi, I ran 7 miles at 9:30/mi. Rest is just as important in training as the work is… which AJW touched on in his post. Great reading! Thanks for the post.

  2. Charlie M.

    In all of life, being surprised is joy. From Christmas morning as a kid, to finishing your first marathon when you didn't know if you could, to your first "second sunrise" in a 100 miler when the rise of the sun renews your energy when you didn't think anything could. The moments when you live "within" awareness rather than "with" awareness, the times when something unexpected finds you–whether fitness, or a good bottle of wine, or the love of your life, or kids of you own upon whom you can bestow "Christmas" surprise moments throughout their young life. Hate to say it, because I'm not an overtly religious man, but running fitness "finding you" has to be due to something beyond the horizon….

    1. Charlie M.

      By the way, that is not to say you haven't earned it through hard work. But the inspiration is the tricky part…where does that come from? Of course the more hard work you put in, the more you become inspired. Hmmmm, a partnership of sorts…

  3. Jim Skaggs

    I always enjoy your articles, including the beer reviews. While I don't get much of a chance to sample some of the beers of the week, there actually is a pretty good brewery here in Utah that started up just a few years ago. You need to try some of Epic Brewery's offerings. I really like their 825 State Stout. Much better than anything I've had from Uinta. Keep up the great articles.


  4. ms

    AJW … I've always wondered how hard you "race" these warm-up races for your goal race which I assume is WS at the moment … do you run them around 80%? or at the same pace as you anticipate running the 100 miler in (8.5hrs for 50 = 17 hours for 100 as your goal)? Or since WS is still so far out (4 months) do you actually race them at near 100%? If so when would you back off on the 100% effort to ensure you are recovered for your goal race (i.e. 45 days prior) yet trying to reap the most reward from a training run like a 50 miler for a 100. I realize everyone is different as are training strategies but your insight would be interesting …… thanks

    1. AJW

      Ms, thanks for asking. A few years ago I would race in the early season at 100% effort and only back off race pace 50 days before WS. Now, being older, I only "race" once a year. The other events are all training runs which I run at my WS goal pace. I find that doing this helps me recover more quickly between events, allows me to practice race day nutrition strategies in a race environment, and gives me confidence going into WS. You also might wonder how I determine my 100 mile race pace by running a 50? Mainly I do that through rigorous heart rate training. This allows me to find my cruising comfort zone. Then, it becomes simply a matter of staying in that zone for 17 hours one day a year. I know, easier said than done but I hope it works again this year. In short, look for me to finish about 2 hours behind the winner at Sonoma and 2 hours behind the winner at WS. That, to me, would be a successful outcome. AJW

Post Your Thoughts