The short and sweet of it, cross-training. The short and sweet of that, shorter higher intensity workouts.
Anyone that's been paying attention to my training over the last few years has likely observed at some point that I'm usually a high mileage runner. June of 2013 is a prime example in which I ran almost 500 miles with over 100,000 feet of elevation, most of it on trails of course.
I also rarely cross-train with much more than a gym session here and there, and the last time I did any form of track work or structured speed work was while leading a run clinic a few years back. Even while leading that run group the track work was about them and I was leading a learn to run group. I've actually never in my life done any structured speed work. I have been to a track, I have run some intense sessions with a purpose, but I've never joined a club or fallen into a weekly speed session routine.
When I had my one and only coach back from 2004 - 2006 while residing in Whistler, a lady by the name of Val Burke who has since relocated to New Zealand and is currently working with some N.Z. Olympic athletes, she quickly observed;
"You get bored with structure and really need an adventure component to what you do don't you"
That observation right there sums up who I am, why I love trail running, and why I have so naturally gravitated toward high mileage training. I just love being outside, in the forest and on the mountains. As long as I don't get injured I find running for hours on end over singletrack terrain to be almost infinitely easier than going to a track and running in circles for thirty minutes. It's just the way I'm wired. I know the benefits of speed work and structured workouts, but I've found success and peace while spending large chunks of my time in the forest while focusing on muscular endurance and perfecting the ability to run downhill for huge chunks of time at a high pace without it taking as much of a toll on me as it does on many others. Those are my strengths.
My weakness is something I've known for many years now. This lack of high intensity specific training means I've got room to improve my lactic threshold. None of this should imply that I go out on my training runs and don't alter my pace accordingly and have higher intensity run sessions, but the lactic threshold specific sessions and focus has never really been there.
Enter the road bike. The great thing about this metatarsal foot injury, which to clarify one final time is the opposite foot to which I've twice broken, is that although it has kept me from running for the better part of the last month, it does not in the slightest affect me while on my bike.
I bought my road bike a decade ago, brand new and on sale for all of $1000 at Snow Covers in Whistler, which in case you were wondering means it was never a high end road bike. Ten years later and I consider her a clunker that keeps on ticking. There's a slight wobble in the rear wheel that cannot be fixed without a full new wheel set AND drive train. If you know bikes you know this means that the drive train and the chain have stretched out in unison over the years and as such I have myself a very reliable yet very low end ride. My bike was ridden all of one time in 2013, approximately twice in 2012, another half a dozen times in 2011 and was last utilized as a regular training companion back in 2010. I once had bike skills, am a competent mountain biker, and can "track stand" my road bike for minutes at a time, through the longest of traffic lights. It's actually been quite fun to get reacquainted with riding again.
The point of riding a road bike is to ride fast. Road bikes go fast so you want to make them go fast. Traffic lights suck, so you want to go fast to beat traffic lights. Other riders are slower than you, so you want to go fast to get in front of those other riders. Every 300 meters of pavement has a separate Stava King of the Mountain section on it, so you want to ride fast to get a decent ranking on Strava. Hills on road bikes are quite challenging, you can't simply walk it out or take it down a notch, so you want to ride fast to keep your cadence up and make it up the damn hill. Here is my typical day of riding my bike. In my own head;
"I'm not really feeling it today, I need to get out and do something though. I guess I'll just go for an easy ride to get the blood flowing."
"Huh, I don't feel nearly as sore or tired on the bike as I thought I would today."
"Huh, maybe I'll ride a bit harder, might as well get this loop done a few minutes quicker."
"Well that traffic light is about to turn amber, if I kick it up a notch I won't have to stop."
"I'm pretty sure there's a Strava section hiding in here somewhere and I don't want to embarrass myself"
"That person up ahead of me on that cruiser bike with their child in tow is totally competing against me right now"
"What's my heart rate at? Oh I can totally push harder than this"
"These cars are totally competing against me right now"
"I'm pretty sure I'm in personal best time range for this ride right now"
"Those birds are totally competing against me right now"
"I have a metallic taste in my mouth and the hair on the back of my neck is on end"
"That airplane is totally competing against me right now"
"There's DEFINITELY a Strava KOM section here, f#@king hammer already!"
"The sun is totally competing against me right now"
Linda to me, "How was your recovery ride sweetie?"
My lactic threshold is getting worked by the day and my foot has finally started cooperating again. We've determined that tight peronials, some scar tissue in the arch of my foot, and a slightly altered biomechanics due to these two things conspiring together was preventing my foot from rolling through properly. My foot was slapping down and my second and third metatarsals were taking the brunt of the impact. Since gaining these insights via the joint efforts of local all star practitioners Adam Janke and Jenn Turner I have gone about a daily release of my arch via super painful golf ball rolling, I have borrowed an at home ultrasound device that I use regularly, and I've started attacking my peronials with the ferocity of cornered squirrel with his nuts caught in a bear trap...go ahead, envision that...sorry I scared you like that, there is no cornered squirrel with his nuts caught in a bear trap, you may ask yourself though, which nuts was I really referring to there?
I have had about twelve full days of pain free walking mixed in with five relatively successful short runs. On one run in particular I was fired up over the fact that I was in fact running pain free and although I had put a distance cap of just seven miles on my run, I have also learned that running faster, which gets me up on my toes more, actually causes less stress to the recovering metatarsals, so off I went.
A tip from the pros, if you happen to be wearing a heart rate monitor on your run for the first time in half a decade, because you've been wearing one on the bike to confirm just how hard you've been working, don't confuse the "current heart rate" screen with the "average heart rate" screen, or you may run yourself to a near heart attack while your brain does back flips while attempting to figure out why your heart rate wont rise above 138, but this is not the point of my story.
Near the end of my run there is a section of climbing that's just over four minutes long, and I've used it as a test section for over a year now. I have the Strava KOM on here and always go for it when I find myself running that area, so there I was and off I went. Four minutes and ten seconds later and I had taken my best time down by five full seconds.
I've ridden close to 500km in the last three plus weeks and my main observation is this, bikes don't beat you up, they build you up. I'm fairly confident I've finally turned a corner with this foot injury, and I'm excited to start increasing my running mileage again, though while staying true to "old blue" my road bike and not losing site of just what's gotten me back to good in the first place. The short and sweet of it.