Saturday, 18 September 2010

Learning to DNF - Redwood 50k v2

I think the smartest running decision I've made was to DNF Rocky Raccoon this February. I can now appreciate that much more now I really see what it feels like to be overtrained.

I thought I'd give the Redwood 50k a go this weekend even though I know I should be resting. Even though resting should only include very easy jogs every few days, I somehow thought a 50k on medium trails would be possible if I just took it easy. Maybe I'd even win since it's not generally a competitive race so nine minute miling generally is enough.

Since I've always been able to run a lot of races without too many negative effects, I thought the same would apply after my first 100 miler, but I should have allowed a bit more time to recover after Western States. I only had one weekend off before racing again, which was basically stupid. Even when I aim to run a race easily, I often push a bit too hard and that was the case then. I ran a half at full effort when feeling sore, then a 50-miler the next weekend at a reasonable effort, followed by all out at the San Francisco marathon (tired again) and then the next weekend was the Skyline 50k, which I ended up running hard towards the end when feeling tired again.

The Lore of Running by Tim Noakes  has been very useful in understanding the physiology behind running and overtraining in particular. To most people, what I just tried to do was obviously too much, but I've got away with a lot so was willing to try it. I'll be more conservative in future, but only slightly. One thing which I've always gone by is I race according to how I feel and I've managed to avoid overtraining that way, but only just. A 100-miler needs a little more respect than a weekend off racing and I'll bear that in mind next time. Although, in fairness, I only ran the half because I felt ok to run, even though I shouldn't have raced it for the unnecessary win.

Anyway, I decided to drop after the 20k loop of the 50k today to allow for the recovery I obviously need. I ran the same course in May the day after a harder 50k and the week after the Miwok 100k yet it felt easy then. Today I went at the same speed (slow) but it felt noticeably harder. And that was after easy running for the two weeks since the Santa Rosa marathon (which also has a slight effect on my tiredness still).

Overall it's difficult to work out exactly what screwed me up, but the cumulative effect of so many hard efforts covers it overall. So after three miles today I just decided to jog, cruise in and call it a day at 12 miles instead of 31. I won;t run again until the Lake Tahoe triple on Friday and will see how I feel there since I really don't want to give up on that, since it's so fun. Mind you, I was really enjoying jogging through the fog and rain at Redwood Park today. I also really wanted to keep going since it's such a pretty course, but I had to drop to make sure I'd start fixing my heart and legs.

So now I know that five more days off running won't heal me, according to Noakes. Six weeks is required or more. So maybe I'll have to drop next weekend again, but I really hope not. I have to go for the really important races (the North Face 50 mile final in December then the Phoenix marathon in January) in a few months and if that means not running for six weeks then I'll do that, but someone may need to use a strait jacket to help me restrain myself.


  1. Hi Ian, sorry to hear that you feel you've hit the overtraining syndrome. I've been following your blog since March when I was supposed to run the Glasgow - Ed double and the Paris Eco Trail. I dropped the double due to other commitments, but did the Eco trail. I've been reading the Noakes book as well, and after my effort over the summer on a couple of 100kms (inc the CCC), a few ultras of 60km+ and a few marathons, the overtraining has crossed my mind as well. I know I'm saying things you know already, but backing off for a few weeks, or taking a break maybe the best way to prolong your target of running for the next 60 years! What about some easy cross training to mix it up? Part of me has used your running as an excuse for adding in races as often as training runs, but I hope that its some consolation that your experiences are helpful, as its making me think twice about my schedule over the next few months too.

    Keep motivated and good luck, Richard

  2. It's a tough one, Richard because I've entered lots of fun events already and don't want them to go to waste. Hence why I showed up for the 50k this weekend and why I'll try Tahoe too. I'm hoping I wasn't too far down the path of overtraining and that a few more days off will make a difference.

    But the most important thing is not to judge whether what you're doing is too much by what's on paper (our bodies can do a ridiculous amount), but by how we feel.

  3. I agree completely with your last statement, but for (us) runners its very difficult to know whats normal fatigue and whats overtraining. Definitely don't stop the running and races, but only put 100% into your 'A' races (NF Championship and Phoenix) (hard but probably for the best). I'm not at your level of running (yet??), but understand what your motivation is. Use the remaining races as the long training runs, as I think you initially set out to do. If I understand Noakes, the only way to get fitter and faster just now is to take it more easy.

    I'm very jealous with the range of races you have available in CA within driving distance (and the weather!). Keep running (just a little slower for a couple of months!). I find your blog good reading! Richard