Journey to 100 started on December 8, 2015 with the first podcast episode. My primary focus was running The Bear 100 mile endurance race on September 23-24, 2016. The Bear is a point-to-point race that begins in Logan, Utah and ends at Bear Lake in Fish Haven, Idaho.
My coach for this journey is John Fitzgerald from Carmichael Training Systems. Throughout the year I was fairly consistent with my training. I had a few minor challenges with illness, a calf injury prior to a 50k training race in March at Antelope Island and other small niggles. One of those small niggles had been with me since early 2015. It felt like hard pressure under the ball of my second toe on my right foot (second metatarsal phalangeal joint). It would come and go but be present more often than not. Prior to beginning my endurance hiking of the Colorado Trail in July, I received a set of two cortisone injections into the joint, which completely took care of all discomfort. But, by late August, the discomfort started to return. In early September, while on a run, it gave way. The feeling was like landing on the tip of a knife.
After a couple of visits to the podiatrist, including one cortisone injection that lost effect quickly, we decided that the 2016 Bear was not going to be my first 100-mile race. By 'we', I mean my podiatrist, wife, John, and me. The injury was diagnosed as a partial tear or strain of the plantar plate, a thick and specialized ligament at that joint. The risk of making the injury substantially worse was too high, and the cost of doing so would be a much longer recover. In fact, the podiatrist said that some people don't fully recover. My best chance at a 100% recovery would be to get off of it immediately.
Now, I'm biking, swimming, and weight training. I'm looking forward, not backward. As much as I have investigated upcoming 100-mile races, I have also been working hard to focus on recovery. I won't commit to the next 100-mile race until I am able to run with a right foot that feels as good as my left foot, if possible. That may be difficult given that some of the races that interest me have sign-up beginning fairly soon. I don't want to miss out because I waited too long. Hopefully, recovery won't take more than 4-8 weeks. I'm a solid two weeks into true recovery mode. It's feeling better, I think. I haven't tested my foot and don't plan to test it until four weeks.
So, I've been looking back at my preparation for The Bear since Journey to 100 began. Because all of my training has been uploaded and tracked in Training Peaks, it is easy to create summary charts. My weekly duration, distance, and elevation gains looked like this:
While you can zoom in to better read the axes' labels, it's not the absolute values that interest me most. Rather, I'm interested in the relative trends. As you can see, my weekly duration rose and fell but stayed relatively steady over the first ~75% of the journey. Only in the final 25% did my weekly duration increase dramatically. Total distance per week did not change much outside of the ebbs and flows (i.e., it did not increase as I got closer to my goal race). Although I was out for longer runs in the last 25% of my training, I was running slower, which resulted in similar weekly mileage. Elevation gain, increased progressively, with a steeper rise over the final 30-50% of my training. The few weeks you see near the end with low (or zero) elevation gain is misleading because these were weeks when I did not use my watch to track (e.g., backpacking) and only entered mileage, but not elevation gain, manually. There was still a lot of elevation gain on those weeks.
To start my next training season, once my foot is recovered, I plan to explore these graphs more. With John, I'd like to generate hypothetical 'best case' graphs to better understand the idea of the intended progression.
Training Peaks provides a few metrics. Rather than create my own interpretation of the definitions of those metrics, here is the video and explanation from their web site:
"Training Stress Score
It all starts with your Training Stress Score (TSS). Every workout you do is assigned a training stress score based on duration and how intense the workout was relative to your threshold. Here we see a red dot representing each day’s workouts for an entire season. The red dots at the bottom of the screen indicates that there was no workout that day.
Fatigue (Acute Training Load, or ATL)
By taking an exponentially weighted average of that stress from the past 7 days we are able to calculate your Fatigue, or an estimate of your fatigue accounting for the workouts you have done in the past two weeks. Here you can see on days with a workout with a high training stress score the Fatigue climbs sharply in response. You do a hard workout today and you will feel it in the coming days.
Fitness (Chronic Training Load, or CTL)
We also use each day’s TSS to calculate Fitness. Fitness is an exponentially weighted average of the last 42 days of training and reflects the training you have done over the last 3 months. However, the workouts you did 15 days ago will impact your fitness more than the workouts you did 6 weeks ago. You may notice that as Fitness goes up so does Fatigue, only at a greater rate. The PMC helps to tell a story, consistent training is marked by a steady rise in Fatigue and Fitness where as a sharp drop might indicate time off due to sickness or injury.
Form (Training Stress Balance, or TSB)
Finally, by subtracting yesterday’s Fitness from yesterday's Fatigue we come up with the yellow line, or the Form. Just because you are fit does not mean that you are ready to race at your best. A negative Form would indicate that you are carrying a lot of fatigue and are not on form. However, by tapering you can shed fatigue at a greater rate than you lose fitness and come into form on the day that matters most… race day! In short, Fitness minus Fatigue equals Form.
There is no single Form that works for every athlete, but as a general rule of thumb you would want to be slightly negative up to positive 25. If your Form becomes too high it may indicate that you tapered too much and have lost fitness.
Looking at Form can also give you clues into how much stress you can handle before getting sick or injured. Going forward you would know to take some recovery days prior to reaching that negative a number."
My chart, from December 8, 2015 through September 8, 2016 is:
It appears to me that my Fitness was highest around mid-April. Toward the end of April I had my highest level of Fitness concomitant with a high Form and relatively low Fatigue. Was I at my fittest then? As I headed into the planned taper period for The Bear, my Fitness was as low as when I started in December 2015. However, this may be misleading because it includes patches of backpacking, where I spent 12-15 hours per day on my feet with substantial elevation gain (thousands of feet per day). So, while not running, I surely had substantial stress for improved fitness that isn't reflected in this graph. Moreover, Training Peaks advises that the Training Stress Score might be more accurate for trail running if based on heart rate data rather than pace due to the many factors that increase stress on trails for a similar pace on the roads, such as small elevation changes not registered by GPS and technical terrain. I used a heart rate monitor early in training but stopped around March, if I recall correctly.
I stopped using my heart rate monitor because I was developing a rash or dermatitis from the strap. I plan on changing my approach to my next training period by either wearing the heart rate monitor strap and trying to figure out why it was giving me problems - maybe cleaning it better between runs would help - or getting a new watch that monitors heart rate at the wrist. My wife has one of these newer watches and it seems to work pretty well most of the time.
I'm also looking into the relatively new power meters, but I'm a fan of keeping my running as simple as possible. I much prefer to leave electronics out of my training; there's something that feels more connected and more natural about avoiding electronics. However, as a data-driven scientist, I am similarly drawn to information that can help me to optimize my training. I'm still working on the balance that feels best for me. Given my understanding that the jury is still out on whether power meters are working well, with sufficient accuracy and reliability, for trail running, I'll probably stick to adding back the heart rate monitor and that's it.
In my journey to The Bear, I ran (roughly) the equivalent of going from Florida to Washington state, over 500 hours, and nearly 500,000 feet of elevation gain. That's a lot of investment to bail on a race. But, all of that training will be equally important for my next races and the lead up to whichever 100 miler I choose next.