Running 2006-Present

 

Running in Excess

The Extraordinary Experiences of an Ordinary Runner

Part 3: 2006-Present

 by Tom Perry


Yet Another Comeback

Rochester, NY:  2006-2010

Looking over my training log data from 1974 through 2005, I found the last time I took off more than a week without running or cycling was two weeks in 1986.  Some years I trained hard and was a contender in the races I ran.  Other years I ran less, primarily for pleasure and stress relief.  Injuries and illnesses were no more than a minor blip in the data... a few days off now and then while the dominant pattern was to run through every injury or illness.  That all changed at the close of my 60th year.  Cancer surgery in January 2006 and a series of other medical problems in the last five years changed my running life to a series of successive comebacks from extended layoffs.  In this final chronological segment of my running autobiography, I will share the things I've learned about comebacks.

Highlights of Part 5 include:

•·         Coming back from cancer surgery to complete two ultras in 2006

•·         Finishing one ultra in 2007 before Morton's Neuroma forced a long layoff

•·         Sneaking in a spring ultra on minimal running mileage and completing two hundred-mile bike rides before having foot surgery in October 2008

•·         Coming back to my best fitness in five years, finishing two ultras and placing 6th in 60-64 age group in the 2009 RROY Series before being hobbled by knee injury

•·         Coming back from a two month layoff to run a Boston Qualifier at the Rochester Marathon and finish 4th in the 65-69 age group in the 2010 RROY Series

 

2006:  Coming Back from Cancer Surgery

In 30+ years of running I've had many personal bests and, especially as the normal effects of aging have caught up with me, I've seen more frequent personal worsts.  My performance at the 2006 BPAC Six Hour was a worst but, this time, I could not have been happier to be there and do as well as I did.

Background.  In November, routine blood work revealed that I had an elevated PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level.  A biopsy in December confirmed I had prostate cancer.  I had laparoscopic surgery at the end of January.  The surgeon found that the cancer was confined to the prostate and got it all.  I was up and shuffling around the ward only hours after the operation, but didn't begin building walking mileage until ten days later when the catheter was removed.  I was able to mix running with the walking five weeks after the surgery... doing the same sort of run/walk routine I previously did in long ultras.  As running gradually became easier, I reduced the amount of walking and increased the length of my longest run.  By mid-April I was running about 35 miles per week.

The Take Away:  For males over 40 and the women who love them...

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men after skin cancer. Found early, this cancer is very treatable. But, there are no symptoms in the early stages. Your doctor can detect most prostate cancers with the combination of a digital rectal exam and a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test. These screening tests should start by age 50. Guys, suck it up and go get that physical. Wives and partners, make sure your man gets screened for prostate cancer.


Run 19, Walk 10
.  So, on a base of seven weeks of training and a long run of 12 miles, I went to the starting line of the BPAC Six Hour with a range of goals:  minimally I wanted a 20-mile training run; realistically with some walking I expected to do at least a marathon and, if things went perfectly, I hoped to do 10 laps of the 3.25-mile course.

Ten laps in six hours would take 11:04 per mile or 36 minutes per lap.  My first two laps were pleasantly passed in 34 minutes each.  Laps 3 and 4 were also under 35 minutes but I was becoming aware of the increasing effort as the day turned warm.  Starting lap 6, I was still under 36 minutes per lap but my heart rate was edging toward my anaerobic threshold.  It was clear that I was not going to run 10 full laps, not even with an all-out effort.

So, I revised my plan consistent with keeping the day in the training column... I ran to the end of lap 6 for a 19.5-mile run and switched to walking to run out the clock.  Doing the math, I had a shot at completing 3 more laps.  Lap 7 was a recovery walk completed in 52 minutes... a little too slow to finish 9 laps.  Lap 8 went by in 50 minutes... I was right on the bubble.  On lap 9, I surprised myself and got under 15 minutes per mile, completing the lap in 48 minutes with less than two minutes left on the race clock.

On to Green Lakes.  My initial post-race recovery went great.  I got back to a pre-race level of training after a couple of easy weeks.  I started a 16-week marathon training plan to prepare for a return to competitive ultrarunning at the August 27th Green Lakes Endurance Runs 50K. That was the plan.  Then life intervened with my mother's sudden decline and death in July. 

My father's need for support and assistance took precedence over my plans for high mileage and sharpening speed work.  Between trips to Florida, I did make it to the starting line for one of my favorite races, the Phelps Sauerkraut 20K, finishing with another personal worst.  Three weeks later I started the 50K event at the Green Lakes Endurance Runs.   Knowing that my training was marginal at best, my goals for the race were scaled back:  1) finish the distance with dignity, and, if things go right, 2) finish in less than six hours.

Things started well.  Most of the certified 5K-trail loop in Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse was flat and fast, looping around the wooded shore of two beautiful glacial lakes.  I found it comfortable to maintain a sub-six hour pace for the first five laps, reaching half-way in 2:51.  I fell behind goal pace about 30 seconds per mile for the next two laps.  If I could maintain that pace, I would still squeak under six hours.  In the eighth lap, I slowed another 30 seconds per mile as fatigue and muscle aches were rapidly escalating.   I remember the internal debate at the end of lap 8... I could fight to avoid further slowing, risk possible damage to my screaming abductor muscles and finish a few minutes over six hours or I could wuss out and walk the last 10K.  Without really consciously choosing, I walked out of the aid station and kept walking.  The first few kilometers of lap 9 seemed slow and my legs ached.  Gradually, I was able to pick up the walking pace a bit and felt better.  At the start of the last lap, wanting to get the race over more quickly, I tried running again and found most of the soreness gone.  I was able to run the entire last lap, walking only the short uphill bits and while drinking.  My one lap recovery walk was pretty effective as my 10th lap was only 5 seconds slower than my 8th lap.  My time for 50K was 6:15:53... faster than some of my Mendon 50K runs but a personal worst for a flat, fast 50K.

The Take Away:  For runners going beyond what their training allows...

Of course your goal should be to run even splits... but when the wheels fall off and you can't run any more, don't give up.  Keep walking while you eat and drink.  You may be able to recover and get back to running like I did at Green Lakes.  You may have to walk the rest of the race.  Either way, you can get to the finish.


Totals for 2006
:  2 ultras (40th & 20th overall finishes); 1445 miles total running.

 

2007: Morton's Neuroma Ends the Comeback

In March 2007, I presented in this blog an analysis of my 2001 career year and the lengthy slide to the mediocrity of the past few years' results.  As I concluded the tale, "the data from my training log clearly show what it will take to again race well:  1) lose the extra weight and 2) follow a sensible training plan... What would 2007 bring?  More of the same or a return to a respectable level of fitness?"

A Good Start.  I promised to let my readers know after the 2007 BPAC Six Hour Endurance Run.  Well, I did a pretty good job on #2... following a Galloway marathon-training schedule.  When illness or other emergencies interrupted training, I got back on the plan as soon as it was possible.  Curiously for me, I had no trouble meeting or exceeding the speed work targets in the plan but did fall short on completing the full distance of some of the scheduled long runs.  As to losing the extra weight, I easily lost a few pounds from my full winter weight and then plateaued.  Just adding miles was not going to be enough.

The good news from the Six Hour is that I was able to run effectively for the entire six hours and complete 10 full laps for 32.5 miles.  I did slow a bit after the marathon mark but was able to finish strongly on the last lap.  The less positive news is that my pace is too slow to be competitive... the winner in my division lapped me.

Recovery from the Six Hour went well.  I started another cycle of Galloway marathon training, targeting either the Green Lakes 100K (62 miles in my 62nd year) or some other long ultra.  As noted in March, the key would be following through on both 1) and 2) above.

The Pain That Wouldn't Go Away.  It started as a tingling, burning ache in the ball of my left foot.  The pain would come on after a few miles and keep me company for the rest of the run.  Then I noticed that the foot hurt even more when walking fast up a steep hill... that really got my attention as uphill walking is a necessity for ultramarathoners.  Over perhaps six weeks, the condition gradually got worse.  By the time I made the appointment to see a podiatrist, just standing around would sometimes trigger pain in the ball of the foot that radiated into the second and third toes.

neuroma-dec08.pngFollowing an x-ray to rule out a stress fracture and the podiatrist doing a bit of squeezing and poking of the foot, I got my diagnosis.  The injury was a neuroma... a fairly common foot problem consisting of a benign tumor-like enlargement of a nerve at the ball of the foot.  The nerves involved are between and under the metatarsal bones.  On toe off, the metatarsal arch was probably collapsing (flattening) and pushing the metatarsal bones down and into the nerve.  This irritated the nerve and, over time, the nerve thickened to protect itself and paradoxically, took up more space and became more easily irritated.  My podiatrist described three treatment options:  1) cortisone injections, 2) surgery, or 3) new orthotics.  We decided to give the orthotics a try since I wasn't keen on having surgery and cortisone injections wouldn't address the underlying cause. 

After getting the diagnosis, I switched over completely to cycling to give the foot a rest and resolved not to plan any racing until after I could train pain-free.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that cycling, even climbing out of the saddle, didn't aggravate the neuroma.

After three months in the new orthotics with zero running, I continued to experience some pain in daily activities (e.g., walking the dog, etc.).  It seemed obvious that the new orthotics would not be an immediate fix for the neuroma, so my podiatrist gave me two cortisone shots in the foot.  The pain relief was immediate but within a month the intermittent pain gradually returned.

Fortunately, I continued to be able to ride a bike without aggravating the neuroma and maintained a reasonable base level of fitness:  320, 275, 420, 415, 400, and 245 miles for July through December respectively.

Totals for 2007:  1 ultras (25th place overall), 947 total miles running and 2147 total miles cycling

 

2008:  Keeping the Streak Alive

In January, with the clearance of my podiatrist, I began a cautious return to running with the optimistic goal of running the BPAC 6 Hour Distance Classic.  I ran my first marathon in 1974.  Every year since, I have run at least one marathon or ultra.  The BPAC was my opportunity to extend the streak by running at least 26.2 miles or optimistically, 50K in the six hours.

Cross Training Works.  Running two or three days a week, my January to April monthly mileage was about what I used to run weekly:  42, 50, 74, and 65 miles.  Long runs were limited to three 10 milers and one 13 miler.  Objectively, my running training was barely adequate for a 10K.  The wild cards were my extensive cross training bike miles (262, 121, 125 and 199 miles for January through April respectively) and my years of experience at going long.

I completed 10 laps of the 3.25-mile course in 6:08 for a pro-rated 31.83 miles in 6 hours (exceeding my 50K goal by 0.75 mile.  Using the familiar ultrarunning run/walk strategy (run a mile, walk a minute while eating and drinking, repeat until done), I ran remarkably even splits, 3:04 for the first 5 laps and 3:04 for the second 5 laps.  My last lap was my fastest as I skipped the walk breaks to get done quicker.

The Take Away:  Cross training works!

Base fitness can be maintained or increased with a high volume of cross training.  Races as long as the marathon or 50K can be completed on as little as four months at 20 miles per week of running if one also does enough cross training. 


My foot was pain-free during the race but was sore at the site of the neuroma for several days afterwards.  Eleven days after the race, I went for a run to test the foot.  The neuroma was sore for several days.

Back to Full-Time Cycling.  I enjoyed getting reacquainted with cycling.  On a warm, sunny day with the wind at your back and a smooth winding road through beautiful countryside, cycling can be truly wonderful.  I enjoyed the challenge of building up to do a flat century ride (100 miles) at the Rochester Bicycle Club Challenge Ride in July.  Encouraged by that result, I accepted the challenge of training for and completing the easier Lowlander route at the Highlander Cycle Tour in September.  With 5,000 feet of climbing and 100 miles, the Lowlander was enough of a challenge.

My summer of cycling was great fun but I really missed running and didn't want to go through another winter cycling in the cold and wet.  So, I had surgery in October after directing the Can Lake 50 Ultramarathon.

 Totals for 2008:  1 ultra (36th overall) and 2 Century Rides, 345 total miles running and 3291 total miles cycling

 

2009:  Coming Back from Foot Surgery

The Operation.  After making an incision in the top of my foot, the surgeon cut the ligament connecting the two metatarsals, spread the bones apart and removed the neuroma.  The procedure took about an hour and then I was sent home with a prescription for Vicodin and instructions to keep the foot elevated.

After four weeks hobbling around in post-op shoe, I get cleared to wear normal shoes, walk and cycle.  While there was still some inflammation, the incision appeared to have healed.  I started low-key training program alternating walking and exercycle days.  After a couple weeks my walking pace for 2-4 miles was only a minute or two slower per mile than prior to the surgery.  Eight weeks after the surgery, I began incorporating running into the walk days and continued cycling as alternate day cross training.

The Take Away:  Be patient coming back from surgery; start with low impact cross training.

Coming back from both surgeries, I started running soon than I should have and did too much too soon.  The swelling and inflammation around the incision in my foot would have gone away quicker without the impact of running.  I would have had far fewer episodes of blood in my urine after the prostate surgery if I started with cycling or some other low impact cross training.  


Back to the Six Hour
.  The BPAC Six Hour in April was the first real test of my comeback after 18 months of little to no running.  As only four months training (starting from zero running) is marginal for a marathon, much less an ultra, I planned a medium effort, completing 10 laps for 32.5 miles in less than six hours.

The first couple of laps I used my heart rate monitor to keep my pace slow enough.  As planned, I did a short walk segment every mile, i.e., 3 walks per lap.  I did this on every lap, from the first lap.  My first five laps went by exactly per my plan... all laps were in the desired 34 minute range. 

After five laps things changed and the pace I could sustain ratcheted up.  Laps 6-8 were in the 35-minute range and my last two laps took 36 minutes each.  The slow down wasn't huge (my first half/second half splits were 2:54 & 2:59), but the slowdown was enough to let me know that I wasn't adequately trained to go beyond 10 laps.  A quick review of my training prior to the race showed the problem... my weekly mileage was marginal and I had no runs longer than 20 miles in the run-up to the race.

On to Niagara.  My target race for the first half of 2009 was the Niagara 50K on June 20th.  My training for the 50K ended up being about 90% of what I had hoped to do.  I completed long runs of 19, 24 and 25 miles in May.  My long weeks totaled 47, 50 and 47 miles... not quite the 60 miles I would have liked to see but realistically, the high 40's was all I could handle after six months of training.  My repeat mile pace had dropped into the 8-minute range... plenty fast to prepare me for the 50K.

Race day turned out to be very wet at Niagara Falls.  It had rained overnight and the Niagara River Bike Path was still wet when the more than 130 ultrarunners set out from Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Within the hour, the rain resumed... first as a light shower that left hope that it might stop and feet might stay dry.  By the time the field made the 280-foot climb up the Niagara Escarpment and passed under the Lewiston Bridge, we were running into a steady rain that looked like it could last all day.  As the field entered the City of Niagara Falls, the rain had filled the usual puddles to overflowing and made creeks flow in the street gutters.  Runners skirted the deepest puddles when they could and continued on, dodging Japanese tour groups, to the 25K turnaround beside the Horseshoe Falls.

About half way back, the rain finally eased to a drizzle.  The bike path drained except for the occasional flooded section that runners could get around on the grass beside the trail.  Despite the conditions. 134 runners finished the 50K.  Plenty of good times were run, none more so than that of my friend Ed Housel.  Ed ran the 31.07 miles in 3:49:00, winning the race overall for his second career ultra win and first win as a Veteran (age 50+).  Back in the middle of the field, I finished a bit slower than I had hoped but was happy with my 5:17:06 for 69th place out of 134 finishers.

Peaking for a Final 2009 Race.  After a couple weeks to recover, I started another cycle of Jeff Galloway's Marathon Training Plan, targeting the Rhode Island 6 Hour on November 15th.  Along the way, I ran several more RROY Series races.   My training went well.  By October I experienced a breakthrough, indicative of a jump in running economy.  Over the space of about two weeks, my easy run pace got consistently faster by about 30 seconds per mile.  Looking back at my training over the summer, it looked like this was a result of getting my hard weeks up over 50 miles per week.

The ideal for any long distance runner is to build over the season, improving with each successive race and peaking for your most important race.  If that race is a long one, it will typically be the last race in your planned season of racing.  Then, satisfied that you've given your best, you promise yourself that you'll take some time off to let lingering injuries heal before carefully building next year to another, even higher peak.  But, the thing about peaks is that they are precarious.  You can easily fall off.  A badly timed injury or illness can prematurely put an end to your season. 

My Season Ends.  Three weeks before the big race, I had completed the last long run in my training plan.  I had run my fastest race in four years at the Hospice 5K.  All that was left was one more repeat mile session and a two-week taper.  On October 31st, I easily completed 8 miles which included 3 repeat miles.  I don't recall any pain during the run but later that afternoon I was hobbled by a new pain at the back of my left knee.  The pain was unlike the typical "runners knee" (patellofemoral pain syndrome) I've experienced on countless occasions over the last 35 years.  Rather than being at the front of the knee under the kneecap, the pain was distinctly at the back of the knee.  It felt like I had overstretched the tendons or ligaments at the back of the knee.  There was no obvious swelling and the knee hurt most when walking down stairs.  The next morning the knee seemed pain free so I followed my general approach to running injuries:  If it doesn't hurt to walk, try a short run and see what happens.  A couple miles into an easy run the pain became noticeable and I cut the run short.

The pain again went away after a couple of days off.  With my target race coming up in ten days, I decided to "test the knee."  This time a short run was no problem, so I took another day off and then ran two days in a row... that turned out to be too much and the pain came back worse than before.  At this point I reluctantly canceled the trip to Providence for the Rhode Island 6 Hour. 

When the pain in the back of my left knee wouldn't go away and stay away with a month off from running, I got a referral to a running orthopedist in a sports medicine practice.   After a very complete physical exam and X-rays of both knees (for comparisons between the injured and good knees), the doctor's diagnosis was that the cause of pain as either a meniscus tear or synovitus (inflammation of the lining of the knee joint).   Since the treatment for synovitus is cheap and quick compared to that for a meniscus tear, the orthopedist put me on the standard treatment for synovitus:  a 3-week course of anti-inflammatory meds, no running and physical therapy.  If knee gets better, synovitus is confirmed.  If not, then meniscus tears are suspected and we proceed to an MRI and possible surgery.

Fortunately, the knee got better and I was cleared to resume normal activities just before Christmas.  After approximately two months off with no running or cross training, I was back to square one.

Totals for 2009: 2 ultras (26th and 69th overall); 1598 total miles running and 293 total miles cycling 

 

2010:  Coming Back from Sinovitus.

Starting Over.  My first runs after the long layoff were discouraging... my gait felt awkward, my heart rate was elevated even though my pace was a minute or more slower than what was comfortable previously, and, even with walking breaks every half mile, I was done for the day after only 3 or 4 slow miles.

I had hoped for a swift comeback but it quickly became clear even to me that this comeback from two months off (with zero cross training) was not going to be as fast as my 2009 comeback.  I was going to have to slowly rebuild my base mileage, regain running efficiency and then put in the speed work to get faster.  I had two goals for 2010: 1) Return to injury-free, competitive running, 2) Finish at least one marathon or ultra. 

January went well but my progress was interrupted in February by a recurrence of PFPS (patellofemoral pain syndrome).  The pattern in January thru mid-April was up and down... I would have a couple of promising weeks followed by having to cut way back when the knee pain would flare up again.  Things turned around in May and June.  Starting in mid-April I followed a slightly modified Jeff Galloway marathon training plan.  With no more than four runs each week and two knee-friendly cycling workouts, I was able to successfully manage the knee pain, gradually build my training mileage and even enjoy some success in the RROY Series races, the best being an age group second in the Medved 5K.

The Take Away:  Patience is essential to any comeback

Trying to do too much too soon in a comeback is a quick way to a setback.  Put your excess energy into cross training that doesn't stress the injured muscles or joints.


 weekly-mileage-b4-marathon.png
 

37.75 miles - 8-Week Average Before One Week Taper for Marathon

"It's Always Something."  The graph above (from Daily Mile at www.dailymile.com/people/tperry) shows my weekly miles since early May.  You can see how I ramped up my training in May and June.  My fastest 5k came at the Medved 5k (Week 24 on the graph).  Following a good 20-miler on June 26th (Week 25), my lower back started complaining on my next run and significantly limited my running for weeks 26 thru 29.  And even after I got my mileage back up into the 40+ range, I did not do any runs longer than 12 miles to avoid reinjuring my back... not the usual set of 20+ mile runs associated with marathon success.

One of my favorite predictors of readiness for marathons and ultras is my average weekly mileage run for the eight weeks before tapering.  For the Rochester Marathon, that number was 37.75 miles.  For an unrealistic comparison, in 1976 I set my lifetime marathon PR after an eight week average of 86 miles.  My last sub-3 hour marathon was in 1988 after a 73.7 miles average. My best marathon after moving to Rochester was the 2001 Ontario Shore Marathon, 3:19 at age 55 on an average of 54.8 miles.   

Pre-race implications... while my 5-k times suggested it might be possible to run a 4:15 Boston qualifying time, I was clearly under-prepared for the marathon distance and would need to approach the early miles with caution.  My baseline goal was to finish and make this the 36th year I've finished a marathon or ultra.  My desired-state goal was to run a smart race and finish strongly over the final 10k.

Boston Qualifier!  As planned I went out at a comfortable pace and settled into a planned strategy of walking for about one minute every two miles.  Even with minor variations due to hills and the scheduled walk breaks, I was consistently hitting each two mile split in under 20 minutes, reaching the half marathon point in 2:08:03.  Over the next couple of miles, it slowly occurred to me that a slight negative split could get me a Boston Qualifying time of 4:15:59. 

Pushing a little harder, I was able to slightly increase my pace and hit 20 miles in 3:15:18.  The math going through my head was simple; if I could run 6.2 miles in less than 60 minutes, I could hit 4:15 exactly.  At 22 miles and 3:34:45, I needed to run 4.2 miles in 40 minutes.  At 24 miles and 3:53:20, it was down to 2.2 miles in 21 minutes.  At 25 miles and 4:03:07, I just needed to hold pace to cover the remaining 1.2 miles in less than 12 minutes.  The 26th mile had some nice downhill and was my fastest of the race as I hit the final mile mark at 4:12:13.  A few steps later and a sharp twinge hit my left calf.  I slowed a little and tried to get back on pace... another sharp twinge hit... and then another... I settled into what felt like a slow shuffle, watching in frustration as the seconds ticked by on the finish clock, finally crossing the finish at 4:14:40.  The last 385 yards took 2:28 (11:17 per mile pace).  Thankfully the leg held up until the finish was practically in sight and I was able to exceed all my goals for the race:  finishing a marathon in 2010, running a smart race, finishing strongly over the final 10k and getting a Boston Qualifying time.

The Take Away:  Treat the Marathon as a 20-mile run and a 10K race.

Get to 20 miles with some zip left in your legs and then race as hard as you can over the final 6.2 miles.

Totals for 2010:  1 marathon (382nd overall); 1163 total miles running and 854 total miles cycling

Preliminary Summary

Totals for 1974-2010:  60 ultras including 3 wins, 5 National Masters Medals (1 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze), 42 marathons including 8 sub-3 hour finishes and 193 races at all distances

Thanks for reading this far.  Next month I will go back to an eclectic mix of content.  Then, in a couple months I will conclude this autobiography with a summary of the key things I've learned about running and racing over the past 36 years.


 

Concluding Remarks

pdf running-bio-1974-2010-race-summary

Looking back over 37 years of training and 195 races (including 60 ultras and 42 marathons) listed in the PDF above, I want to close out this series by sharing some key observations and lessons learned:

 

•·         Keep a log of your training and races.
One of my most valued possessions is my training logs from 1974 to the present.  One of my regrets is that I didn't keep a log of my first three years in California (1977-1980).  All I have of those years is a fuzzy recollection of a few memorable training runs and results from about half the races I ran.  Logs are useful in planning training for the coming year.  Records of your training and racing will become more precious the older you get.

•·         Why did I focus on running ultras?
After a couple years simply finishing a marathon lost its challenge and my performance plateaued in the low 2:50s.  I realized that, while I might have been able to take another couple minutes off, I was never get down into the 2:20s run by the best runners in the region.  With the insight that I did better the longer the race in both running and cycling, I decided to move up from the marathon.
While marathons had lost their challenge, ultras presented a vast array of challenges... at different stages in my career I focused on the 50 mile road race, the 100K road race, the 24 Hour, the 12 Hour and most recently the 6 Hour and 50K road race.  I also sampled a variety of trail races in the mountains of California and the hills of Central & Western New York.  Ultras have never lost their challenge... in events beyond your longest training run there is always a real risk not just of having a bad race but of having to drop out.  In the world of ultrarunning, every finisher is honored.
I also got hooked by instantly becoming a contender.  In 60 ultras, I had 22 finishes in the top five overall.  I have had the great luck to win races in three different decades.  I have been able run in eight national championships, sharing the road or track with the best runners in the country.
And, last but not least, there is the wonderful ultrarunning community.  It's a small world but with a wonderfully supportive camaraderie, not unlike the distance running scene of the early 1970s when I ran my first races.       

•·         Multiple Comebacks
My running career is characterized by multiple comebacks.  I switched to running after 4 years of bike racing and quickly reached a personal high level of performance.   After three years of training too hard and racing too frequently in the late 70s, I was cooked.  Three years later, the hunger had returned; I got fit and was competitive for another 3-4 years before my motivation again lagged.   Since then I've had several more comebacks to competitive running, each lasting 2-3 years before being terminated by some combination of loss of motivation, nagging injuries or life changes (job changes, moves, children, becoming a race director).  Over the years I have been personally frustrated that I haven't been able to stick with the grind and stay race fit for more than a few years at a time.  In hindsight, there may have been a disguised blessing in that the off years gave my body a chance to recover so I could train and race hard during each comeback.

•·         Goals and expectations make a big difference.
How did so many marathoners in the 70s manage to break three hours?  I believe it had more to do with our goals and expectations than with our talent as runners.  If, like me, you were a young man running marathons in the 70s, your goal after the first one was to break three hours.  It was considered an achievable challenge and would qualify you for Boston.  Your running friends had probably already done it or were trying to do it.  You expected to be able to break three hours and were willing to train to make it happen.

•·         Want to get the most of the training hours you have? 
Get a coach to plan and supervise your training and racing... all too often we are blind to our own mistaken ideas and errors.  A coach's knowledge and objective analysis can save the ambitious runner from these common mistakes: 

•o    Too many races... the gap between major races needs to be long enough to fully recover, train appropriately and then taper for the next race.

•o    No off season after a series of major races... the natural tendency is to return to hard training and try to get another good race.

•o    No planed days off to ensure adequate recovery from especially hard workouts or to give lingering injuries a chance to heal.

•o    No planned easy weeks to allow recovery from hard weeks.

•o    Long, hard runs done too close to a major race, e.g., a fast 20-mile training run a week before a marathon... a three week gap would ensure adequate recovery and fresher legs at the race.

•o    No plan or structure to speed work.  I sometimes ran too hard close to a major race and more often missed opportunities for improvement. 

•·         If you don't have a coach, a training plan will help.
In the beginning about all I knew about training for a marathon was one simple fact:  the top guys ran well over 100 miles per week.  So I ran 14+ miles each day and tried to run every mile in less than eight minutes (anything slower was considered jogging).  Over the years I learned that I could race faster on less training by following a sensible training plan... one where every workout has a defined purpose with an appropriate duration (minutes or miles) and level of effort (pace, heart rate or perceived effort).

•·         Training needs to be specific for the target race.
This is one of those lessons I was slow to learn.  When the ultra scene in Southern California shifted from flat and fast road races to trail races in the mountains, I kept training on the roads convenient to my home instead of driving to the mountains to train.  Then on race day I would be disappointed when I finished way down in the field and well behind running buddies whom I used to "beat like a drum" in the road ultras.  In time I understood that to be fast on trails you have to train on trails.  The general rule is you need to train extensively on the same kind of surface and terrain as your target race. 

•·         When you fall off, get right back on the horse.
Many things can lead to a runner falling off his or her training plan weeks or months before the target race... an injury or illness, changes at work, family issues, etc.  The main thing is to quickly get back into the training routine, doing some form of each scheduled workout while taking care to avoid doing too much, too hard or too soon.

•·         How much mileage is enough? 
When I started running in the mid-70's, we heard that the top runners were doing over 100 miles per week and we obsessively counted miles, sure that it would make us faster.  And, if you could survive the experience, you did get faster until slowed by injury, chronic fatigue or mental burn-out.  So, how much mileage is enough? Or better, how much mileage is optimal?  A wonderfully obvious finding in the available research is that, the less mileage your run today, the more likely it is that more mileage will result in improved performance.  This is true up to a plateau of about 70 miles per week for most runners.  Beyond 70 miles per week, the gains get much smaller and the risk of injury increases sharply. 

•·         Use 8-week average mileage to predict marathon readiness.
One of my favorite predictors of readiness for marathons and ultras is 8-Week Average Mileage.
That is, the average weekly mileage for the eight weeks before tapering for a race.  My lifetime marathon PR came in 1976 after an average of 86 miles.  My last sub-3 hour was in 1988 on an average of 74 miles.  My best marathon in Rochester was the 2001 Ontario Shore, a 3:19 at age 56 on an average of 55 miles.  Want to run a strong marathon?  Seventy miles per week average should be close to optimal.  Fifty miles per week would be a good goal for older and more injury-prone runners.  Want to just finish a marathon?  A Galloway training plan and about 30 miles a week will get you there.

•·         No Recovery, No Gain 

"No Pain, No Gain?" I think there's a more appropriate slogan for our t-shirts. Ever wonder why every training plan from a competent coach has a mix of hard and easy days? We get stronger and faster by gradual adaptation to the physical stress of running.  A hard day stresses the body. The easy day (also known as a recovery day) is when the body rebuilds and gets stronger. Too many hard days in a row and you will actually get slower if you don't get injured first. Older runners may need two days of active recovery after each hard workout. The harder the workout, the more critical it is to keep the easy days really easy.

•·         Is it a good idea to run a race as part of your training?
The answer is obvious if your target race is a highly competitive 10K like the Lilac.  You will want to race several 5Ks to get race sharp for the event.  In training for a half or full marathon, an occasional 5K or 5 mile provides a good speed workout, gives you a chance to assess the progress of your training, gives your competitive juices an outlet without screwing up your training plan and gives you a chance to reconnect with your racing friends.  Moderation is advised:  Anything more than one short race every 3 to 4 weeks will probably interfere with the rest of your target race training and, especially for aging runners, increase your risk of injury.
One of my few regrets is that for many years I ran only marathons and ultramarathons.  I missed out on a lot of great times and camaraderie.

•·         How about running a marathon as a training run?
Here the answer is not so simple.  Run under control at an easy effort and you can get the benefits of a long training run.  But, if you get swept up in the emotion of the event and run even a little harder than planned, you'll blow your training plan and could need up to a month to fully recover.  I always got too competitive in "training races" and screwed up my training plan.

•·         Training errors cause most running injuries.
Over the last 35 years I've sampled most of the injuries associated with running and enjoyed repeat courses of some of them.  The most significant single factor in the onset of these injuries has been my training, specifically doing too much, too soon or for too long without adequate recovery.

•·         You can train through most running injuries.
Looking over my training log data from 1974 through 2005, I found the last time I took off more than a week without running or cycling was two weeks in 1986.  In most cases reducing mileage and/or avoiding hills was enough to allow the injury to heal while maintaining some fitness.  More recently I have learned that low impact cross training can be a huge aid in maintaining basic fitness and mental health while waiting out a stubborn injury.

•·         Be patient coming back from any surgery; start with low impact cross training.
Returning to running after surgery requires a different approach.  After foot surgery for a Morton's neuroma, I started running as soon as the surgeon said I could and did too much too soon.  The swelling and inflammation around the incision in my foot would have gone away quicker without the impact of running.  Also, I would have had far fewer episodes of blood in my urine after the prostate surgery if I started with cycling or some other low impact cross training.

•·         Patience is essential to any comeback.
Trying to do too much too soon in a comeback is a quick way to a setback.  Put your excess energy into cross training that doesn't stress the injured muscles or joints.

•·         Cross training works.
This is another thing I wish I had learned sooner in my career.  Base fitness can be maintained or increased with a high volume of cross training.  I have completed races as long as the marathon or 50K on as little as four months at 20 miles per week of running when I've also done two or three days of cycling each week.

•·         Coping with age-related slow down
A common issue for aging, long-time runners is coping with the knowledge that they are getting slower every year.  This was really brought home to me the past couple of years when I realized that my best racing times are just about the equal of the pace I ran on easy runs 30 years ago.  Some friends have shared with me that they have stopped racing and either just run for health or do other sports because they're discouraged about how slowly they run now.  There are a few things that help a little:

•o    Focus on how you are running compared to the other folks in your age group.  Get to know the regulars in your category and enjoy a friendly competition with them.

•o    Each year strive to get faster over the course of the racing season.  You may not be able to match the results of five years ago or even last year but you can improve and run faster in October than you did in May.

•o    Plug your current times into an Age-Graded Calculator.  You may be surprised how fast the equivalent times are for open runners.

•o    Limit the number of days you run each week and include more low-impact cross training on the days off.

•o    Ultimately, it comes down to accepting the things you can't change (age-related slowdown) and doing the things you can... keep running and train smarter to avoid injuries and make the most of what you can still do.

•·         "I'm not dead yet!"
It's getting harder to train adequately and the injuries are coming more frequently, but I hope I've still got a few more marathons and ultras in me.  I've entered the Rochester Marathon and will be doing my best on September 18th to run even splits and finish the race with a strong finish.
Note:  If you don't remember the quote in the title above, google "Monty Python I'm not dead yet".