Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Monday, November 26, 2012

Finding Purpose

2011 was great. 2012 was not. Concussion. Broken toe. Messed up ankle. Weight gain. ...there hasn't been a whole lot of running going on. I've been running for 2 weeks now after a break of 2 months while my ankle got better. It's still not great but I can run. I've had two weeks of about 25 miles each. The ankle won't be a limiting factor. Being out of shape will limit my speed quite a bit and will limit my volume for a bit, but can't limit the frequency of my running.

I've had a lot of time to think. Of course a lot of the time, I've felt like I was never going to get back to running or at least not near the level I was at last year. But I'm not going down that road. I've thought about the things I love about running & what it means. Can I run 17:52 for 5K or 3:08 for marathon like I did last year? Can I win a 50K like I did last year? No. Not now. Does that matter? Yeah, kinda. But what's more important- running 17:52 or the enjoyment of running and seeing beautiful things in nature?

I do need something to work towards. I can't just get out there and run everyday with no goal. I can't. I sat down this weekend and figured out a few race options for the next 4 months... still thinking, but I have a few options. Pretty sure these plans will include more trail races than road races.

Being forced to take time off because of injury always makes you appreciate running more- at least it does for me.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Great 2 Weeks of Training. Terrible 5K. OK.

I have been overdoing it a little bit, but feel good. Good, but tired. Ran hard 14 days in a row. Tomorrow, I will rest. 7 tough mountain runs, 8x800, hill repeats... and yesterday, I ran 14 miles just about as hard as I could. Not that anyone was racing, but I ran faster than anyone on the team for those 14 miles. Incidentally, preseason rankings have our boys #2 in the state regardless of classification.

Running 14 miles all out is always a good idea the day before a 5K, right? :) Well, truth is I decided to run the 5K just a couple of days before, I didn't care about it & the hard 14 miler is way more important to me than a 5K. 

In August of last year, I ran 17:52 on a flat course in the only 5K I'd run in years. I'm not in the shape I was then, but was shooting for under 19:00 at the Blue 5K which started at Panthers Stadium in conjunction with Fan Fest. I really had no clue what to expect. Woke up and could barely move. Legs felt like they were going to explode. Went anyway. Sore warming up. Someone I knew said "Course is tough. Easy first mile & then hard 2nd mile." First mile started with decent hill but then went downhill to the mile marker. 6:05. OK. The turned & went uphill. Went up the infamous Morehead Hill that I ran up several times 25-30 years ago in the Charlotte Observer 10K, which was a big deal then. Grete Waitz & other big names ran it & the Marathon. Anyhow, my biggest weakness now is hills. Camp pointed that out. This course was full of them and I was tired. Finish time of 20:20. Ouch. A little embarrassing but I know I can run a lot faster if I planned better. Guess I'll have to seek out a flat 5K somewhere & take an easy day before it to prove it. 

It's OK. Got a nice Panthers shirt out of it. The improvement in training exponentially outweighs the slow 5K time. Not really a disappointment.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Knocking the Rust Off. Getting Back.

It's been almost 9 months since I've posted anything. There are a few reasons for that, but I'd like to think I'm back...

One of the reasons I haven't posted is that someone who had a lot of influence on my life told me I was too hardcore & a bad role model kids I coach... that by example, I show them you need to take risks, push yourself too hard, and do things people just aren't supposed to do. "Everyone else is happy running a 5K but you have to run 100 miles." I was told I shouldn't run hard with the team but should be more like Coach K or the XC coach who sits on the golf cart and instructs but doesn't run himself. I couldn't disagree more. Often, kids have told me they respect the fact I'm out there running hard with them, not giving them something I'm not willing to do myself. Frankly, sitting on the golf cart wouldn't be fun for me at all and I don't know that I'd continue to coach. They told me I shouldn't write in my blog or post about running on Facebook because it's too extreme & negative. It's true, running hours & hours at a time rarely happens without some problems but I can't remember a single long run I've regretted and most, I see as enriching my life, often in profound ways. Anyway, that person no longer has influence on my life and I didn't think I was doing damage to kids in the first place. By all means, they should learn from my mistakes. I've told plenty of people they're not ready for a marathon or over & that they use my own setbacks as examples of what not to do.

Things kept getting better & better for me running-wise in 2011. PRs in everything from 5K to 100 miles. I ran with a huge level of confidence, which was something new for me. When I stepped onto a starting line, it wasn't a question of if I was going to run a PR, but by how much. I got more & more competitive with myself. I kind of hit a low in December.

I ran Kiawah Marathon in early December & threw up a couple of times. Any calories I took in, I lost. I was doing OK through the half, but could feel sub-3:00 slipping away. By the last couple of miles, I was wobbly & not doing well at all. I finished, immediately collapsed & somehow ended up in the medical tent. I really don't remember it. After a couple of IV bags, I was OK. Instead of using that as a warning, I was mad at my body for failing me. I pushed even harder in training and went through a 2 week period where everyday seemed harder than the next. Everyday was the hardest workout I've ever done. 10x800 in under 2:40, 3x2 miles in 12:30, 3x5K under 19:00- more, more, more. My health was not good. I'll spare the details. I was working hard toward Frosty 50K & having run 3:54 for 50K in November, was looking for under 3:50 and to place fairly high. Around December 20, I told someone "One of 3 things will happen with this race- 1) I'll come in top 3 and absolutely crush it; 2) I'll have to drop out; 3) I'll be in the hospital before it starts. The person gave me good advice and told me to take it one race at a time. "You have a race in 3 weeks. Be as healthy as you can and train as smart as you can in that time. Then move on to the next. You of all people know you have to recover." I did. I do.

So, I cut back a little & felt good going into Frosty 50K, though felt a lot of pressure. On the way up to Winston-Salem, I threw up on the side of the highway. I assumed it was nerves or something. I went out with the leaders and felt fine, but just a few miles into it, my stomach started feeling bad again. Threw up a few more times. With no calories & fluids in me, my legs started cramping up badly. The last 6 miles were pathetic. I'd run 2 minutes at a decent pace & then BAM!, legs would seize up again. The last mile was the worst. I was forced to stop in my tracks every 30 seconds or so and for as long as 2 minutes. My 3:45 dream race ended up being 4:24 or something. I would've be ecstatic about that time a year earlier, but it felt like a miserable failure even if I knew it was something out of my control. AS IT TURNED OUT, it had nothing to do with running. I came home & threw up all night & was hospitalized with a bad stomach virus. 4:24 with a stomach virus & the worst leg cramps I can imagine seems alright now, but I was still upset about it. Felt like that was going to be the beginning of the end. And it was.

I didn't run for a week, recovering from the virus. I had been back for about 2 weeks when I got hit in the face with a volleyball. I knew I had a concussion because I had a 5 day headache. That was the only symptom I had, so I thought I was OK. Went out & ran a tempo run and passed out afterwards. After that, for 6 weeks, I couldn't think, couldn't run, couldn't do much of anything. Still came to school, but was really out of it.

When I finally came back from that, bronchitis. Not a good Spring! In the process of taking all of that time off, I gained about 25 pounds after losing 50 in 2011. Ugh. Summer in Charlotte is always a bad time for me. I sweat a ton & last year had a lot of dehydration issues. I was smart enough to limit myself this summer as I still wasn't in good shape and didn't want to have more problems develop. I did some long runs in the mountains & at night & I've gotten by. I'm just significantly slower.

This past week, however, things seemed to finally click!!! We had running camp at Appalachian State University. Camp there is very unstructured & teams do what they want with the runs. I took that opportunity to take 30 kids to places I absolutely love- Moses Cone, Tanawha Trail, Boone Fork Trail, Linville Gorge (gravel road, not the trails). At the start of the week, I realized how utterly slow I was up hills, but still had it on the flats & downhills. Part of that must be gravity. As the week went on, I got stronger & felt better.

By Saturday, I had driven the bus back to drop the kids off and driven back to run the XTERRA Beech Mountain 15K. This was my first race since early January! I had been feeling like a total lump and a disgrace to my TrySports team & Brooks sponsor. More than anything, I needed something to get back into things. Tired of saying, "Ah, I'm in terrible shape. I'm really slow now." Needed something to get me out the door and back into racing, which would, in turn get me motivated to run faster. It worked.

Even after running up mountains all week at camp, I felt OK going into the race, but was incredibly nervous. I picked this race as a first race back because it was an odd distance on difficult terrain. That way I couldn't worry about my time (1:36 for 9.3 miles. Ha! I'm telling you it was hard. I think I could run just under an hour on flat road right now, but...) I didn't have many goals in mind, but wanted to: 1) Place top third, 2) Not let anybody pass me in the last 10K, 3) Finish feeling good, 4) Be careful & don't fall & get hurt even if it means being too cautious, 5) Have fun. Accomplished all of those goals. The first mile was straight up. I ran it in 12 minutes! Whew! No one passed me after the first mile & I picked up 11 spots. After the first mile, the course was hilly, rooty & muddy. I lost my shoe in the mud at one point. A mile from the finish, you went back up to the highest point on the course (over 5,000') and finished on a steep downhill. I flew that last mile. OK, well, going up, I was going pretty slow, but given the fact that I was literally running up a ski slope & caught several people, I felt like I was moving. I smiled a lot, talked to some people and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Results still aren't out but I'm guessing I was about 30th out of about 130.

Woke up a little sore Sunday, but decided to do another run at Moses Cone on my way home. Smiled a lot there too & felt really strong. Today, ran hills at practice- my traditional first official day of practice run. Tells me a lot about the team. Told me a lot about myself today as I didn't struggle at all. Felt very fresh. If you've read this far you might be saying, "Didn't this guy just tell us it was dumb to go hard everyday & his body broke down on him last winter because of it?" Well, yeah, but there's a difference in feeling strong running harder courses & pushing yourself to the limit everyday. In the race & in today's hills, I definitely ran within my limits & I am fully aware of those limitations at the present.

I still need to figure out what races I'm doing in the next 6 months, but I'm excited about the road/trail ahead!