I don’t think I’d feel compelled to write an end-of-the-year post if it hadn’t been exactly one year since I woke up from knee surgery to have my doctor tell me he’d had to do a microfracture, that I’d be on crutches for 6 weeks, and may never run again. Luckily, I’ve been able to get back to running a bit, and though I’ve had some good workouts this last month (hung on the heels of my friends Tony and Bill for most of a long indoor track workout and ran 4 miles on the treadmill at close to 7 minute pace), 2013 was definitely a year of recovery and rehab. Though I’ve amped up my training at different times during the year (I went on my swimming kick for a while, then a biking kick), I’ve kind of been waiting for the year to end before I embarked on a serious training plan. Now I think I can start it, have a pretty good idea what it might look like, and have some goals in mind for 2014.
I’ll start with my main goal and work backwards from that. While I do want to try to break 5:00 for the mile again, that may be too ambitious for this year (I can’t even run 1 lap at that pace yet). Instead, I want to run a sub 18 minute 5K (that’s 5:46 pace and I think I can run at least ¾ of a mile at that pace). While this would have been an easily attainable goal a few years ago (not easy, mind you, I would have had to train and race hard to achieve it) taking into consideration my present condition and my restrictions going forward, it’s fairly ambitious. In fact, I haven’t run under 18 minutes for a 5K for a few years, though my running goals the past few years have been focused on the marathon and the workouts I did were generally longer and slower. Still, in the past, to get myself in this kind of shape, I would have planned to run about 50-60 miles per week (on average 2 fast days per week, one long run, and the rest easy to moderately paced runs) with a bit of cross-training thrown in for variety. With that running, and all the running I’ve done over the years, I would’ve gotten by mainly on running efficiency. The basic rule of training for anything is that the more you do something, the more efficient your body gets at doing that very thing, and even though I don’t have the speed I did when I was younger, I could have gotten myself in shape to maintain 5:46 pace for a bit over 3 miles.
But now, with my precarious left knee, I’ve got to go about it an altogether different way. Of course, if you know about running, you know my training plan has been backwards since I started running again in September. Ideally, a runner starts with easy runs, distance runs, builds strength, then increases the intensity of the workouts to get in race shape, the traditional training pyramid. But I started at the top–with strides, sprints, track workouts, and intervals. Only recently I’ve begun to feel halfway decent on my longer (4-5 mile runs). And the only thing that allowed this was struggling through some painful 4-5 mile runs. In sports, specificity is the key. You have to train the body to do what you want it to do, which of course makes this year a real challenge for me because I simply can’t run that much or that often.
So how will I do it? Get in good running shape without running? Well, of course the key workouts will still be the 2 fast running workouts each week—track workouts, hill repeats, tempo runs, and time trials. These have to be even better than they’ve been in the past. But if my knee hurts for a day or two afterwards, those may be the only runs I do. I really hope that when the weather improves I’ll be able to get out for one “easy” run per week—45 minutes or an hour along the lakefront or on the trail–these runs will build a little endurance, but the main goal will be to just enjoy the feeling of running–but I can only do this if my knee improves (of course, I realize another option is to skip the hard days altogether, forget about racing goals, and just run 2-3 times a week purely to “enjoy the feeling of running” but I’m not ready for this yet as I know the only way to run good races is to knock myself out with hard workouts and besides that at this point I get a lot more enjoyment out of that).
All right, so that gives me 2-3 runs per week, with mileage of 15-18 miles per week, which seems like hardly enough to get in shape because my running efficiency will simply not be what it used to be. To overcome that I’ve got to become better in other ways–by developing new strengths and fortifying existing weaknesses. The way to do this will be to intensify and be more consistent with all the cross training I’ve been doing this past year. My cross-training options are: biking, swimming, cross-county skiing/elliptical, and weight-training. I guess I can throw walking/hiking in there as well, though I typically get no elevated heart rate with that (though I did buy myself a 40 pound weighted vest I plan to wear—with that and my 5 pound ankle weights I should be able to tire myself out and isolate my running muscles to some extent). I don’t know exactly how my schedule will look, but I’m going play around with it as the new year starts. The simplest plan would be to do every type of workout twice a week—2 runs, 2 bikes, 2 swims, 2 ski workouts, 2 weight workouts. That’s 10 workouts and 8-10 hours a week, and I think that will do the job (for comparison’s sake, over the last 12 weeks I’ve averaged 9 workouts and 7 hours of training per week).
Of course, I’ll be adaptable and adjust here and there for weather and circumstances–if I run 3 times in a week, I’ll skip a ski workout; if my knee is bothering me, I’ll skip my run and do more biking. Though it’s been hard in winters past with ice and snow to maintain my training (that is, mileage) goals, this year I’ve got no excuses—I can work out (treadmill, weights, elliptical) at the Y or at school. I can get in the pool. I have access to an indoor track. I have a Nordiktrak and weight bench in my basement. I am going to buy cross country skis (today!). I’ve got a trainer for my bike. And I think if I maintain something close to this schedule, and if my running workouts continue to progress, and if I’m able to keep eating well (plant power!) to maintain a good racing weight, and if I stretch after (most) every workout, and if the running gods smile on me, I’ve got a good chance at breaking 18 minutes in 2014.
While I’m looking forward, I’ve got a few other (compatible) goals rolling around in my head. This year I’d also like to:
Do at least three triathlons—maybe even beat my best time for the Olympic distance tri (I won’t be able to run as fast as I did, but I should be able to swim and bike faster),
Bench press my body weight (maybe I will try to squat this too),
Break my old record of 75 pushups in a row,
Do 12 pull-ups,
Ride 100 miles (I’ll set a time goal for this when I get closer to it—maybe under 6 hours if I time-trial it (ride by myself) (faster if I’m in a group),
Do an open-water swim race (probably Big Shoulders in Chicago—the 2.5K option—with wetsuit).
Wow, looks like it’s going to be a good year. Here’s to 2014!